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Monday Gut Check

Last time I posted, I was concerned the Kings would dip a bit against Columbus and Dallas after raising their game against Detroit.

So far, that hasn’t been the case.

In fact, that final minute in Dallas is probably something cynical Kings fans wouldn’t expect.

After allowing a goal to Jamie Langenbrunner to tie the game 3-3 with 43 seconds on the clock, I could have sworn I heard that groan heard last week when the Kings blew a lead to Dallas at the Staples Center and lost in overtime.

Not so fast, said Michal Handzus. Actually, so fast — about 22 seconds. Like a thunderbolt or pimpslap from the hand of Zeus himself, Handzus stepped up and scored the game-winner, redirecting Alexei Ponikarovsky’s feed and past Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen.

From Handzus’ point of view (via LA Kings Insider):

I was coming in, but I was thinking Poni [Alexei Ponikarovsky] might throw it in. The goalie was outside the crease, so I was kind of coming in and looking for the puck. It hit my stick and I was able to redirect it. It was a great play by those two guys, Simmer [Wayne Simmonds] and Poni, and obviously Mitchell too. He found a lane to get it to the net, and it was a scramble after that.

What got my attention was Handzus’ other quote, after Dallas had tied the game:

Obviously we were disappointed. We don’t want them to score that late, but after those goals we’re always talking about the next shift, to have a good next shift. There’s no panic. We’ve got a lot of confidence right now. Obviously it’s not great that they score, but we had to keep going. It was a 2-2 game on the road, so we just played the situation … I think it’s huge. We didn’t want one of those three-point games, obviously. It’s huge that we won in regulation, and we jump a little bit ahead of them.

I don’t think I need R. Lee Ermey to tell me that’s leadership, son.

Dustin Penner, who has been here two weeks, sees it too: “For us to bounce back, it showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. It’s almost like ignorance, or a naive attitude, to where we don’t care if they tied it up. We’re going to come back and get the next one. Other teams might fold the tent,” he said.

Handzus is a free agent this summer. You have to wonder if it’s worth keeping the guy for what he’s done the past few seasons and the veteran presence or give his spot up for someone coming up in the organization.

Another change has been obvious: Penner. Since first suiting up for the Kings in a scoreless performance against Phoenix (though it could be argued he had a role in the deciding goal that night) he has scored a point in five straight games. His presence definitely gives room for Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, who have also gone on scoring streaks. Kopitar has scored in all contests except the March 5 loss against Vancouver, notching four goals and four assists since being paired with Penner. Williams, who has been with the line from the third period of the 1-0 Phoenix win on March 3, has eight points since and has scored in the past five games as well.

Still, I didn’t like what I saw in the third period on the power play. The Kings almost allowed a short-handed goal to Jamie Benn (who has four this year) and nearly got cooked when Langenbrunner got out of the box.

And for all of Jim Fox’s and the NHL Network’s hoopla about the Kings keeping the shots down in recent wins, it’s hard to not forget they were outshot 34-22 in Columbus.

Terry Murray still has kinks to work on.

For now, enjoy fourth place in the standings.

Other observations:

- Still find it shocking that the first Kings goalie to get 30 wins in back-to-back seasons is Jonathan Quick. I would’ve thought Rogie Vachon or Kelly Hrudey in the Gretzky heyday had that milestone. Congrats.

- Drew Doughty is lucky he didn’t get the same results as Max Pacioretty. Frightful check in Columbus the other night in the wake of that mess. Check it out here.

- Quisp over at Jewels From the Crown had an interesting first person take on the changes in the game’s equipment, and how that may be a factor in injuries. Read it here.

- Seen on the Twitterverse: “If Drew Doughty dedicates his life completely to hockey starting Friday, he could be Ray Bourque ll. He is stupid talented.” — ESPN.com’s John Buccigross. You just noticed?

- Finally, some sad news as hockey history passes by: Rick Martin, part of the famous “French Connection” line in Buffalo and a brief LA King, has died at the age of 59. Here’s The Buffalo News’ obit.

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