The Kings were listless and the crowd had fallen silent. The home opener Tuesday night against the Atlanta Thrashers was in desperate need of a spark.
Then it came.
Ryan Smyth slapped in a rebound to tie the score, then center Jarret Stoll took a pass from Smyth and slammed the puck toward the Atlanta goal, getting a timely deflection off the stick of a Thrashers defender for a score.
Suddenly, the Kings were alive and the sellout crowd was ecstatic.
“It could be a fight, it could be a great shift, a couple big hits, whatever,” Stoll said. “As long as we got going and woke up a little bit.”
Smyth added an empty-net goal in the final minute and the Kings came away with a 3-1 victory, their first win in a home opener since 2006.
“We were struggling to put the puck in the net,” Stoll said. “We were getting chances and hitting the posts. At the end of the day, you’ve got to somehow find a way to score, and mine was a lucky bounce.”
Stoll has proved to be a valuable addition since he joined the Kings two years ago. His ability to win faceoffs, play stellar defense, finish scoring chances and provide a calming influence in the locker room have been a huge asset for a team that remains one of the youngest in the NHL.
Coach Terry Murray has been especially impressed with Stoll’s play in the offensive zone.
“Stoll is reading and finding seams, finding an open area in that gray area in the high slot,” he said. “He had five or six opportunities, not only to shoot but to look for that little back-door play where [ Justin Williams] or [Smyth] are beating their man off the boards to the net. That’s nice stuff.”
Stoll, 28, is one of a handful of Kings who have played in the Stanley Cup finals, getting there in 2006 as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. He realizes how rare a trip to the finals can be.
“A lot of guys don’t get past the first or second or third round,” he said. “You’ve got to take advantage when you get there and realize it’s a very fine line between winning and losing.”
Stoll won 56% of his faceoffs last season, 10th best in the NHL. That brings a comfort to his linemates. “The presence of knowing he’s going to win a faceoff out there, knowing he’s never going to be lazy out there, he’s always going to be playing hard,” Williams said.
Getting points from the second line was difficult last season, but Murray is pleased with what he has seen so far.
“That’s exactly the kind of effort we need, and we’ve got three players in place there at the peak time of their career,” he said. “That’s the way we need to ask them to play every night.”
Murray said he plans to stick with the scoring lines from Tuesday’s game, including keeping Andrei Loktionov on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
“There were some shifts that were very good,” Murray said. “I liked the skill level and the plays they were trying to create, and I want to give them another opportunity.”