For the Kings’ young goalie, simply doing it was much easier than thinking about it.
Anze Kopitar scored two goals and Brust made 34 saves in his first NHL victory, leading Los Angeles to a 4-2 victory over the Sharks on Thursday night.
Brust, who spent last season and most of this fall with the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, had been enjoying a quiet stint as Dan Cloutier’s backup while Mathieu Garon nurses a groin injury. But Brust unexpectedly got the call for his second NHL appearance when a shot hit Cloutier in the arm during pregame warmups.
Instead of pulling on a cap and watching from a folding chair in the tunnel leading to the visiting locker room, he was in the center of the action—and he responded like a veteran.
“After that first shot, I calmed down and got some confidence,” said Brust, a free-agent signee who spent parts of the two previous seasons in the ECHL. “I’m pretty elated. I waited 23 years for this, and it was worth it. … My confidence built as I made my first saves, and that confidence seemed to get transferred to my teammates.”
“We played well against them earlier in this week, (but) we had taken a few too many penalties, and that allowed their power play to dictate the game,” Kings coach Marc Crawford said. “I thought if we could play them 5-on-5, that’s where we want to play them.”
Though the Kings got off to a slow 7-13-4 start in Crawford’s first season, they have encouraging road victories over West Coast powers Anaheim and San Jose in their last five games. Two rookies starred as the Kings built a four-goal lead and coasted to the win.
Kopitar scored the game’s first two goals in the opening 7 minutes before Brust backstopped a solid defensive performance against the lifeless Sharks, who avoided a shutout on Christian Ehrhoff’s power-play goal with 10:01 to play.
“Usually we’re down a goal at the beginning, and then we’re playing catch-up,” Kopitar said. “It always energizes you when a fellow teammate steps up like that. (Brust’s play) was a real energy boost.”
Mike Grier added a late goal, and Vesa Toskala stopped 27 shots for the Sharks, whose three-game winning streak was snapped in the opener of a six-game homestand. San Jose, which has the NHL’s third-best point total, had an inauspicious warmup for the club’s first visit from the league-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
“We just weren’t ready to play from the get-go,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “It just wasn’t there for almost two periods. Maybe the last 15 minutes of the game, we played with a sense of urgency. … We’ll get beat 10-0 if we bring this performance against Anaheim.”
Kopitar scored just 5 minutes into the first period to snap his seven-game goal drought, then added his first career short-handed goal moments later on a beautiful pass from Alexander Frolov. Kopitar has 27 points in his first 33 games, putting him second behind Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin among rookie scoring leaders.
“If you don’t come to play and you’re not hungry, it’s hard,” Toskala said. “It’s hard, especially against L.A., which we should be able to beat every time we play against them.”
The Sharks nearly scored twice before Ehrhoff’s power-play score, but Mark Bell’s second-period goal was waved off because of a high stick, while defenseman Brent Sopel swept Thornton’s shot off the line with 14 minutes left in the third. Sopel returned to the Kings’ lineup after missing 16 games with a foot injury.
Ehrhoff’s goal snapped a 15-game drought for the German defenseman. Grier added a rebound goal with 3:23 left, snapping his eight-game scoreless slump.
Toskala has lost two of his last three starts—allowing nine goals in those defeats, with a shutout victory in between—after opening the season 13-2. … The Sharks haven’t been able to complete a home-and-home sweep of the Kings in nearly four years. … Thornton assisted on Ehrhoff’s goal, giving him 10 points in the Sharks’ last five games.