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Don’t Burn Your Tape Of This One

by Gann Matsuda

December 7, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The last time the Los Angeles Kings and the Buffalo Sabres met, Kings television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller said during his broadcast, “...burn your tape of this one!”

Indeed, the Kings were never in that game, an embarrassing 10-1 defeat on January 14, 2006, at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

Almost two seasons later, revenge was not really on the minds of the Kings, but after bombing the Sabres in a 8-2 blowout victory in front of 15,980 fans at Staples Center on Thursday night, payback was certainly welcomed.

“It’s funny,” said Kings right wing Dustin Brown, who scored two goals and contributed an assist. “I remember our plane broke down and we had to stay in Buffalo until 4:00 PM the next day, so it was pretty miserable.”

“I think [Lubomir] Visnovsky, [Michael] Cammalleri, [Derek] Armstrong and I were here—only four of us remembered,” added Brown. “We reminded these guys not to let up because they had us in the same situation and didn’t let up on us. The guys who were here remembered that and that makes this victory sweeter for us.”

To be sure, the Kings did not let up. In fact, they kept the pressure on the Sabres from start to finish, putting in a solid effort and going for the jugular in a game—a rare sight for this team.

Cammalleri and Brown started the scoring for the Kings in the first period with goals at 3:55 and 7:53, respectively.

And when defensemen Tom Preissing and Jaroslav Modry, neither of whom have been offensive contributors of late, scored at 18:20 and 19:27, respectively, it was apparent that the stars were aligned just right for the struggling Kings.

“It’s fun to go through one of these games,” said Modry. “But on the other side, all the respect to the Sabres. They played hard. We just got all the bounces in this game. Sometimes that happens. You just have to enjoy it.”

But even if you believe that the Sabres played hard, they certainly did not play smart at all, as they abandoned goaltenders Jocelyn Thibault and Ryan Miller, leaving them to fend for themselves, by and large.

Thibault got the start, allowing four goals on 14 shots in the first period.

“I made a mistake on the first goal, and that happens,” said Thibault. “I didn’t do what I had to do in the first period to keep the score as low as possible, and it just got worse. There was a lot of traffic in front of the net and it was difficult to see the puck. It was not a fun game to be in.”

Thibault was relieved by Miller to start the second period, but Miller also got no help from the Buffalo skaters, and wound up allowing four goals on 19 shots.

Despite the fact that the Sabres’ defensive effort was lacking, which might be a generous description of their play, Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff was not happy with his goaltenders, either.

“It was just a night where we made enough mistakes and couldn’t get a goalie to make a save for us,” said Ruff.

The Kings scored three more goals in the second period, with two of them also coming from unlikely suspects.

Center Michal Handzus scored just his second goal of the season at 1:56 while the Kings were shorthanded, reaching out from behind the left goal post to knock in a rebound of Brown’s shot from the bottom of the right circle.

Center Derek Armstrong finally scored his first goal of the season at 5:45, while the Kings had a two-man advantage. Armstrong was standing at left crease when he batted in an airborne pass from Kings center Anze Kopitar, who was just outside right crease.

The Sabres got goals from Drew Stafford at 13:43, followed by Thomas Vanek at 1:20 of the third period, before Preissing scored his second goal of the game on the power play at 10:20.

For the Kings, everything worked, and they got contributions from those who had not been contributing, including Preissing, who was a healthy scratch for two games before returning to the lineup for this game, and Modry, who scored his first goal in 83 games.

“A game like that works wonders for everybody,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “You could see that a weight was lifted off a number of people on our team.”

Indeed, after he scored his goal, Armstrong lifted his arms in celebration, not just because he scored, but also because he finally broke out of his season-long slump.

“It’s nice,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve gone that long in my career without scoring a goal.”

Not contributing offensively as much as he wanted was certainly weighing on Armstrong.

“The frustration tends to creep in,” Armstrong explained. “It’s tough, especially with Kopitar’s line carrying us all year. We’re looking for secondary scoring and some of us could help out like we did tonight. [Kopitar’s line was] dynamite again tonight. But the points don’t matter to me. It’s all about the wins.”

“I’ve said that all along,” Armstrong emphasized. “It’s more about winning to me than anything else. I think that’s where the frustration is for me—we weren’t winning and I wasn’t helping with the scoring. But we got our two points tonight and it was nice for the young guy to get his win.”

The young guy Armstrong was referring to was rookie goaltender Jonathan Quick, who made his Kings and National Hockey League debut after being called up from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League on December 2.

Quick allowed two goals on 17 shots and looked solid for a wet-behind-the-ears goaltending prospect.

“I thought I played well, good enough to get the win,” Quick beamed while sitting in front of his locker with the game puck behind him. “Of course, it was a lot easier with the support my teammates gave me. They played spectacular. The power play was clicking. It was great.”

“I felt great,” Quick added. “To get your first win in the NHL and to do it in an arena like this with great fan support is a great feeling. The fans were into it, the players were going, it was just a great experience.”

Like most rookie goalies, Quick had a few butterflies before the game.

“You dream about playing in the NHL your whole life,” he said. “Finally, the opportunity was here, so I was a little nervous at first. But the team did well in front of me and they scored a lot of goals, so it make it a little easier for me.”

Quick’s best save came in the first period, when the Sabres came in on him, three-on-one. But he got across his crease quickly after anticipating the pass to the right side. He ended up doing the splits, but remained upright and made the glove save.

“I was just focused on the puck, just trying to stop the puck,” he said.

“He played well,” said Armstrong. “He made that big glove save in the first period and controlled his rebounds. It was awesome to see him play really well against a team like Buffalo who’s great offensively. He looked great out there and didn’t look like a first-game goalie. The guys are all happy for him.”

Quick also made a positive impression on his coach.

“He made a couple of very nice saves, said Crawford. “It’s great when you get a lead like that after one period. It allows you to settle in. He didn’t get a lot of work. But he did have some and I thought he was good.”

“That was a good game for him and he should enjoy it,” added Crawford. “He’s a very good prospect and he got a chance to show a little bit of what he has tonight.”

“To see a kid come up like that, it has to be the thrill of a lifetime,” said Armstrong. “He’ll remember that for the rest of his life and that’s the most important thing.”

Quick’s debut was a big part of the story in this game, but the team effort by the Kings was bigger.

“We had a lot of energy tonight,” said Crawford. “Scoring on our power play was important and we have some guys who were in prolonged droughts break out of it. Both Handzus and Armstrong both scored great goals for us and you could see they had a lot more bounce in their step and speed in their stride.”

The Kings had that bounce in their step from the opening face-off, and a difference in the game was making sure that they took the body against the Sabres.

“We scouted them,” Brown explained. “The key is they don’t like being hit. They’re a skilled team that doesn’t like the physical game.”

“We had a lot of jump and they’re a team that obviously does not like physical play,” Brown elaborated. “I think we got under their skin really early and when they get off their game like that they think about running around and not playing hockey, and we took advantage of that.”

But as well as the Kings played, a bigger factor in the game was that the Sabres were, in a word, atrocious.

From the opening face-off to the final horn, the Sabres looked like they were skating in quicksand in their own zone, they were constantly being knocked off the puck and were unable to respond to the physical play by the Kings.

For all intents and purposes, the Sabres just didn’t show up to play, right from the get-go.

“We’ve got to be embarrassed, each and every one,” said Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. “It was a bad, bad effort from the beginning.”

After a similarly embarrassing performance on Wednesday night at Anaheim, a 4-1 loss, the Sabres put in an even worse effort against the Kings.

“I don’t think it can [get worse],” said Ruff. “There wasn’t anything that was good in the game.”

Early on in the game, the attention to detail was not there,” said Miller. “It was the same thing [Wednesday] night.”

For the Kings, going for the jugular is not something anyone has seen from them recently, but to their credit, they did that in this game.

“Our team played well,” said Kings defenseman Jack Johnson. “We caught Buffalo on a bad night, but we took advantage of it.”

“When your team is struggling, no lead is safe,” Crawford explained. “When your team is feeling good, you feel like you can win any game, even when you’re down by a goal. We know we’re not at that end of the spectrum just yet. Tonight was a very good step in the right direction. What it came down was our intensity in puck battles and races to loose pucks.”

“A game like that, they don’t happen a lot, can serve your confidence well,” Crawford added. “I was pleased with how many puck battles we won and just how we were skating. It was very noticeable, along with our physical play.

Although he did not put the puck in the net on Thursday night, Kopitar was a major factor in the game, contributing four big assists.

“I felt really good tonight,” said Kopitar. “And with the big start that we had, it makes it a lot easier to get your confidence back and to make plays that you usually wouldn’t.”

“When you get up by two or three goals, those seam passes open up,” added Kopitar. “And that was the case tonight. Everybody was making plays and it was really enjoyable to play this game.”

As Armstrong said, Kopitar’s line came up big in this game, combining for three goals and seven assists for ten points.

“That line was particularly good,” said Crawford. “They looked like they did early in the season the way they were moving the puck. It looked like they had it on a string. It was a really good game for them and Dustin was a big part of the success of that line tonight.”

“It was a game that everyone contributed to,” added Crawford. “They’re all happy, but now we have to see if we can keep that going against a stubborn Phoenix team on Saturday.”

For the on-and-off (mostly off) Kings, that is yet another understatement.


THREE STARS (OFFICIAL)
#3 - Preissing; #2 - Brown; #1 - Kopitar

ONLINE KINGDOM’S THREE STARS
#3 - Preissing: Two power play goals, assist.
#2 - Kopitar: Four assists, dangerous on every shift, made his linemates better.
#1 - Brown: Two goals, assist; An offensive and physical force that did the most to get the Sabres off their game and provide the knockout punch.

For more information, including more interviews with the players and coaches, we invite you to check out:

OFFICIAL SCORING AND STATISTICS
NHL Scoresheet
NHL Superstats
NHL Play-By-Play

WIRE SERVICE REPORTS
Associated Press Report From ESPN.com

LOCAL NEWSPAPERS/SITES
Daily News
Quick Start Lifts Kings

Inside The Kings
Rich Hammond/Matthew Kredell Blog Entries Covering the Game

Los Angeles Times
Kings Make It Easy For Rookie Goalie

BUFFALO NEWSPAPERS
Buffalo News
Sabres Royally Battered By Kings

NEXT GAME: On Saturday, the Kings try to end their three-game losing streak to Ilya Bryzgalov and the Phoenix Coyotes. Game time: 7:30 PM PST at Staples Center. Televised in the Los Angeles area on FSN West.

Gann Matsuda, who has been writing about the Kings since 1986, is the News Editor for the Online Kingdom and covers the Kings for Hockeytalk.biz. He also covers professional hockey players of Japanese descent for the English section of the Rafu Shimpo (Los Angeles Japanese Daily News).
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