Friday, January 20, 2006

Thrashers 6; Kings 8

In the fall of 1986, the Kings next superstar, the heir apparent to Marcel Dionne, made his debut. Selected with the second pick in the 1986 entry draft, Jimmy Carson was the player that would lead the Kings into the '90s, the star around whom the team would be built.

Also making his debut that night was a left wing with gaudy numbers in the QMJHL, but who surely couldn't skate well enough to stick in the NHL. Despite scoring 85 points in 70 games as a 17 year old, Luc Robitaille wasn't drafted by the Kings until the 171st pick, the ninth round, five rounds after the Kings selected future Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine. Robitaille responded with 339 points over his next two seasons with the Hull Olympiques before opening the 1986-1987 season in purple and gold. The kid who couldn't skate well enough to make an impact in the NHL scored 45 goals and added 39 assists in his rookie season and skated off with the Calder trophy. To his credit, Carson added 37 and 42 that season, and would score over 50 the next season. But the prodigy who was traded for Wayne Gretzky disappeared somewhere around 1994, while the slow kid kept scoring, and scoring, and scoring.

Almost 20 years later, Luc Robitaille has amassed 663 goals and 723 assists. He's the highest scoring left wing in the history of the NHL. He put together the greatest offensive season by a left wing in NHL history in 1992-1993 when he scored 63 goals and 62 assists for 125 points. He did that in a season where Wayne Gretzky missed a boatload of games with a back injury. Later that season, he helped lead the Kings to within three games of the Stanley Cup.

Tonight, currently in his third stint with the Kings after stops in Pittsburgh, New York, and Detroit, Robitaille scored the 550th, 551st, and 552nd goals of his career in a Kings uniform, passing Marcel Dionne, becoming the greatest goal scorer in the history of the Los Angeles Kings. They needed all three to hold off an immensely talented Atlanta team. In the first period, he laid a huge hit on Andy Sutton, and followed it up seconds later with a nifty move in front of the net to open the scoring, tying Dionne in the process. Seconds after that, Dustin Brown ripped home a rebound to put the Kings two goals in front. The lead was short lived, however, as the Thrashers took advantage of favorable bounces to tie the score. Jeff Giuliano put the Kings back on top late in the period. The second period was all Thrashers, as they scored three times to take a 5-3 lead before Tom Kostopolous redirected home a Matty Norstrom centering pass to cut the lead to one.

Nortstom continued to contribute offensively (he would finish with a goal and 4 assists) in the third with a rifle shot for a shorthanded goal that tied the score. A few minutes later, Mike Weaver made a perfect pass to spring Robitaille on a break away where he netted his second of the game, giving the Kings the lead, and making him the greatest goal scorer in Kings history. After a second Marian Hossa goal tied the score at six, Giuliano added his second of the night to retake the lead at 7-6, where it would stay until Robitaille capped the evening with a 140 foot shot at the empty net. For the 15th time in his NHL career, Robitaille completed the hat trick.

The win stops a two game slide where the Kings have looked fairly listless, and although they went through stretches tonight where Atlanta pretty much owned them, they fought back time and time again, and got contributions from some unlikely sources to turn back a Thrashers team that was on a roll. With five of the next six games against San Jose and Anaslime, the Kings needed to gather a little momentum. Garon will be back in goal on Saturday, and hopefully Visnovsky will have knocked off a little rust. They need to start skating a little better, and lordy do they need to cut down on the turnovers. But if they can win four of the next six, they'll be in fairly decent shape. The schedule softens up a bit before the Olympic break, when hopefully they'll get some of the wounded warriors back.

Luc made his debut when I was 13 years old, and over that time, he's been as close to a constant in the Kings lineup as anyone, save for his two forays into other uniforms. L.A.'s siren song has always called him home, and soon enough, his jersey will reside in Staples Center's rafters with Rogie Vachon's, Wayne Gretzky's, Dave Taylor's, and that of his mentor, Marcel Dionne. He's been a Kings since he made his debut, and every time he left, you always got the sense that it wouldn't be long before he was back in the Southland. Congratulations on a wonderful Kings career, Luc. Now if you can just play like that kid who wore the purple and gold again over the next 30 games or so, I think everyone will be very happy.

No comments: