KINGS OFF TO A GOOD START IN '07 L.A. WINS BEHIND GARON'S SHUTOUT KINGS 3, COLUMBUS 0.
Here's the good news for the Kings at the midway point of this season: Things can't get (much) worse.
The Kings opened the second half of their 82-game schedule Wednesday night and sat just two points ahead of the last-place, but rapidly improving, St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference standings.
With their inconsistent scoring, goaltending and special teams, the Kings have plenty of room for improvement, but they need a lot of it, and soon, if the playoffs are to be anything but a pipe dream.
To that end, 2007 started on a positive note for the Kings, who took an early lead over the equally bad Columbus Blue Jackets and earned a 3-0 victory in front of an announced 16,451 at Staples Center.
Michael Cammalleri scored a goal 8:17 into the game and goaltender Mathieu Garon, still playing his way back into game shape, recorded his second shutout of the season.
``I just wanted to win, but in the last minute of the game I started to think about (the shutout),'' Garon said. ``My timing wasn't really there (in the past two games) but tonight it was.''
Sean Avery gave the Kings a 2-0 lead with 8:48 remaining when he started a rush in the defensive zone, passed to Alexander Frolov and one-timed a return pass past Fredrik Norrena. Lubomir Visnovsky added a power-play goal with 4:47remaining for the final margin.
Garon, who had allowed a combined 10 goals in his past two games, made 26 saves.
Garon previously shut out the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 19.
His biggest save came midway through the first period, on a breakaway by Sergei Fedorov.
``I had no idea what he was going to do,'' Garon said. ``I tried to stay focus on what he was doing. I got a bit lucky. It just hit the shaft of my stick.''
The game didn't figure to be a showstopper. The Kings and Blue Jackets entered the night with 29 combined victories, just one more than the conference-leading Ducks have by themselves.
Columbus has at least been strong lately, with a 9-4-2 record in their past 15 games. The Kings were 5-9-1 in that same span and were coming off road-trip losses to Calgary and Detroit.
``Good teams string wins together. We're in desperate need of something like that,'' Cammalleri said.
The victory actually catapulted the Kings from 14th place in the conference to 12th.
``As a team we need wins,'' Garon said. ``We don't have to focus on being No. 8 in the playoffs. We just need to focus on getting wins and giving ourselves a chance.''
If nothing else, the Kings at least seem to have solved their goaltending problems. For a while they were stuck with struggling veteran Dan Cloutier and rookie Barry Brust. Now Cloutier is on injured reserve with a hip injury and Garon has returned from the groin injury that cost him 12 games.
Garon struggled in his previous two outings and had not regained the strong form he showed in November, when he pushed Cloutier for the No. 1 spot. But Garon looked strong against Columbus.
That's not difficult, given that the Blue Jackets had scored the fifth fewest goals in the NHL entering Wednesday.
``I wanted to be sharp,'' Garon said. ``I wouldn't say I stole one. We played awesome tonight. If I can just make one save that makes a difference, I'll be happy with that.''
Midway through the first period, the Kings had outshot the Blue Jackets 11-2 and had taken a 1-0 lead on Cammalleri's goal. The goal came in a 4-on-4 situation and was the only goal of the period.
That was just the eighth time in 42 games this season that the Kings held a lead after the first period.
The Kings' Mattias Norstrom, right, and Columbus' Jody Shelley get tangled up Wednesday.
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer