The meager number of shots Jeff Carter and the rest of the Los Angeles Kings sent toward Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne wasn’t much of an issue. Rinne’s inability to stop the puck once the Kings got their offense going in the third period certainly was.
Carter completed his fifth career hat trick with two goals in a 19-second span of the final period, and the defending Stanley Cup champions beat the Nashville Predators 5-1 Monday night despite taking only 16 shots on net.
”We probably would have had a lot more on net if we got pucks past their D and to the net, but they do a great job of blocking shots,” said Carter, who has 10 goals over his last 10 games. ”It’s pretty easy to get frustrated when they’re stepping in front of everything and we’re not getting much to the net. We didn’t start the game particularly well, but to our credit, we didn’t get frustrated. We stuck with it and played some pretty good hockey in the third period.”
The Predators, who tied a season high for shots allowed on Saturday when they yielded 39 in a 2-1 loss at San Jose, outshot the Kings 13-6 through the first two periods. Rinne was pulled by coach Barry Trotz after giving up five goals on 13 shots.
”These were two different games. This kind of game should have made it easier for me, but I didn’t respond,” Rinne said. ”I just have to make sure I’m doing my job. Out of the last three games, I’ve been pulled twice, so I’m not doing my job and just I have to focus on that. I can’t focus on how many goals we’re scoring. I have to be able to help this team.”
Rinne, who led the league with 43 wins last season, stopped 55 of the 56 shots the Kings put on him during the first two meetings. The only goal he let in was by Brown in a 2-1 victory on Jan. 31 that was decided in an eight-round shootout.
Kings backup Jonathan Bernier made 18 saves and has won five consecutive starts for the first time in his NHL career, equaling his entire win total from last season in 16 games. The five-year veteran didn’t play at all during the Kings’ championship run as Jonathan Quick captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.
”Every time (coach Darryl) Sutter puts me in, I’ve got to do my job,” Bernier said after the Kings’ sixth win in seven games. ”I’m lucky that the guys have been playing very well in front of me, and that makes my job a lot easier.”
Mike Richards and Dwight King also scored during a four-goal third period and defenseman Slava Voynov had a career-high three assists. Richards’ goal, a one-timer from the right circle, came during a power play while Martin Erat was serving a boarding penalty. King’s first of the season came on a centering pass from the right corner by Jarret Stoll.
Nashville’s Craig Smith was off for high-sticking Dustin Brown when Carter opened the scoring at 5:28 of the second period. He chipped the puck away from Kevin Klein in the left circle and backhanded it toward the crease from a sharp angle before it slid under Rinne’s right leg and off the goalie’s left skate.
”He’s been unbelievable for us and he’s scoring some big goals,” Bernier said. ”We need a guy like that who takes over, and he’s doing that right now.”
Carter made it 2-0 at 4:39 of the third period after Colin Fraser set him up in front of the net. Moments later, he found himself on a breakaway after a turnover by Nashville defenseman Roman Josi at the red line, and a number of hats from the sellout crowd of 18,118 already had hit the ice before Carter tucked his 14th goal behind Rinne with Nashville captain Shea Weber right on his heels.
It was only the eighth shot on net by the Kings to that point.
”I was just kind of playing the middle there and was able to get a stick on it,” Carter said. ”I made a good guess on which way (Josi) was going, and it was another lucky one because Weber got my arm before I shot it.”
Gabriel Bourque spoiled Bernier’s bid for his sixth career shutout with 6:55 to play. The Predators, who came in with a league-low 46 goals, haven’t won a game in regulation since beating Phoenix 3-0 at home on Feb. 14.
”We’ve got to get our game back,” defenseman Scott Hannan said. ”We’ve been slipping over the last little while, so we’ve got to battle through it and get back to that workmanlike approach. Sometimes you’re going to face adversity during a season, but we’ve got a long way to go and we’ve got to buckle it down and turn it around as a group.”
Los Angeles went 15 minutes, 26 seconds before its first shot on net, a 30-foot backhander by King that Rinne kicked out with his right leg. The Kings had a season-low three shots during the opening period.
”The guys came to work in the first two periods,” Hannan said. ”We bottled them up and our forwards were coming back hard, which allowed the D to have a good gap.”
The Kings began a 12-game stretch in which they will play 10 times at home. They are 6-1-1 at Los Angeles, including the shootout loss to Nashville. Their only regulation loss at Staples Center was in their season opener against the Blackhawks, who have since set a NHL record to open a season with a current streak of 22 games without a regulation loss.
NOTES: The Kings’ club record for fewest shots on net came on Oct. 28, 1997 with 12 in a 2-2 tie at Florida. … Kings D Alec Martinez returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 11 after missing eight games because of an upper-body injury. … Bernier’s winning streak has stretched over the Kings’ last 10 games. He is 7-1 against Nashville. … The Predators were swept by all three California teams on the same road trip for the fifth time in franchise history. … The Predators came in averaging a league-low 10 penalty minutes. But they have allowed eight goals in 16 short-handed situations over their past five games.