LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Kings are reigning Stanley Cup champs for a reason. They have puck-controlling snipers up front, an intimidating defense and an All-World goaltender. When they’re at their best, they can beat anyone.
They weren’t in Cup form Thursday night, but they didn’t need to be.
Los Angeles put forth a methodical effort to drop the Buffalo Sabres, 2-0, in Staples Center. It was the third time being shut out in four games for the Sabres, who have just eight goals in eight outings.
“It’s frustrating,” said Sabres right wing Chris Stewart, who had a game-high seven shots. “It’s three games and no goals, and that’s a big problem. Especially against teams like this, you’ve got to score goals.
“To say that you’re getting chances, that’s just an excuse. You’ve got to bear down and put them away.”
The game continued a trend for both teams. The Sabres lost their fourth in a row to fall to 1-7. Los Angeles won its fifth straight to improve to 5-1-1. That’s to be expected when one team is contending for championships and the other is a major player in the NHL Draft Lottery.
The Sabres’ California trip will come to an end Saturday when they play in San Jose. So far, the only thing they’ve enjoyed is the warm, sunny weather.
“Our intention’s there, our work ethic’s there, we’re just not doing the smart things right now,” coach Ted Nolan said. “The position we’re in right now, we just can’t afford any mistakes.”
The Sabres were going to have all they could handle playing the Kings five-on-five, but just 29 seconds after puck drop, it became five-on-four. Tyler Myers went to the penalty box for hooking. He didn’t stay long.
The Kings won the faceoff, and Jeff Carter slipped a shot between the post and the screen set by Tanner Pearson to make it 1-0. In just 36 seconds, L.A. had more power-play goals than Buffalo had scored all season.
“They’re a great team,” Sabres alternate captain Matt Moulson said. “They’ve obviously shown that, and they capitalized on their opportunities.”
The Sabres were on the defensive from there. The Kings’ edge in Corsi rating, which measures pucks directed at the opponent’s net versus shots taken on a team’s own goal, was a whopping 35-13. The Kings had plenty of near misses, and Enroth stymied them on their best chance.
Sabres defenseman Andre Benoit set up Pearson perfectly – yes, you read that right – and the Kings forward sent a rocket toward the top corner. Enroth reached out his glove to snare it, getting a reaction from the sellout crowd of 18,230.
Nolan elected to dress seven defenseman and only 11 forwards, and it was down to 10 midway through the first. Former Buffalo blue-liner Brayden McNabb caught Torrey Mitchell with his head down and labeled the forward. Drew Stafford took exception and was sent to the dressing room with two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.
Myers’ third trip to the box – he had a fight early in the second and followed with a cross-check with 6:41 left in the period – allowed Los Angeles to double its lead.
The Kings’ power play worked a slow-motion give-and-go to make it 2-0. Anze Kopitar passed to Carter down low, and the center calmly waited for Kopitar to glide to the slot. The Slovenian Olympian beat Enroth with 4:49 to go.
The Kings’ power play entered the night just 2 for 20 this season. The unit got right in a hurry, going 2 for 3.
“It’s the difference in the game, two power-play goals,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said.
In a small victory, Buffalo possessed the puck more during the second period than it did during the first. The Kings’ Corsi edge was only 19-14.
Still, the Sabres trailed, and they were 0-4 when behind after two periods.
Enroth finished with 37 saves, while counterpart Jonathan Quick stopped all of Buffalo’s 29 shots.
The Sabres altered the roles of their coaching staff for the night. Assistant coach Bryan Trottier went from the bench to the upstairs booth, while assistant Tom Coolen spent the game on the bench. The moves allowed Trottier to focus on certain players.
“There’s a few of our guys that I really want him to key on and with his experience he can talk to,” Nolan said. “I’ve got Bryan to really look at a few guys and have heart-to-heart discussions with those guys.”