If the Los Angeles Kings expect to take their game to the next level under new coach Darryl Sutter, their best players have to be their best ones on a consistent basis. That includes Anze Kopitar.
Kopitar ended a career-worst 17-game goal drought less than five minutes after defenseman Matt Greene’s go-ahead score in the second period, and the Kings beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Saturday night in the NHL’s final game of 2011.
”When you go through struggles like this, it always feels good when you get it off your back,” Kopitar said. ”And there’s no better place and time to do it, I guess, than when you’re playing Vancouver. It was a huge win for us to end this year on a good note.”
Coming off a 1-0 overtime loss at Winnipeg on Thursday with backup goalie Jonathan Bernier in net, the Kings began a six-game homestand with their fourth victory in six games since Sutter replaced Terry Murray. Justin Williams had a goal and an assist, Brad Richardson also scored and Jonathan Quick made 27 saves, helping hand Vancouver just its fifth loss in 20 games.
Greene put the Kings ahead 2-1 at 8:20 of the second with a one-timer from the right point after getting a pass from rookie Andrei Loktionov. Kopitar added his 11th goal at 13:08, slipping behind the defense with a short pass from Williams and putting a nice deke on Roberto Luongo before flipping the puck inside the right post with the three-time All-Star goalie spread-eagled on his stomach.
”It was a quick 3-on-2. Williams made a great play on the blueline and I was able to stay onside,” Kopitar said. ”I made up my mind that I was going to put the puck on my backhand. Luckily, I stretched him out pretty far and was able to put it in.”
Kopitar had 49 shots on net during his 17-game drought, which began after his goal on Nov. 22 at St. Louis.
"Maybe you guys (in the media) have been making a big deal out of it, but he’s been doing everything for us,” Greene said. ”I mean, he hasn’t been scoring, but he logs 27 minutes of ice time every game and he’s on the ice in every situation.
”If you ask the guys in here if his play has dipped at all, I don’t think so. He just hasn’t been finding the back of the net. And for him to do that tonight, that’s great. But he’s been our best player throughout the whole year.”
Kevin Bieksa scored Vancouver’s goal and Luongo stopped 29 shots. The Canucks, who came in with the league’s best percentage on the power play, were 0 for 4, including a four-minute stretch of the second period after Kings center Mike Richards was sent off for cutting Ryan Kesler with a high stick.
”We weren’t good enough,” Henrik Sedin said. ”We got our chance on the power play, but we weren’t sharp enough and didn’t create enough chances to score. They played well. But still, I thought we had chances to maybe get a few more shots to the net and we were passing up opportunities to shoot. That can’t happen against a team that doesn’t give up a whole lot of shots.”
The Kings have killed off 26 straight short-handed situations, and their opponents are 2 for 47 on the power play during the last 13 games.
”That doesn’t have much to do with me,” Sutter said. ”The penalty-killing has been really what’s kept them in it this year. That’s a commitment from some intelligent penalty killers.”
Williams ended the scoring on a power play, redirecting Jarret Stoll’s wrist shot from the high slot at 9:33 of the third period while Daniel Sedin was off for hooking Stoll.
”We’ve been playing pretty good, and tonight we got contributions from different guys,” Sutter said. ”We’re trying to get everybody to play up-tempo. It can’t be hit-and-miss. They all have different levels of skill-set. So, if we can get them to play with a little bit more of a push, then we can all play at a higher level.
”The greatest loss you can have is a loss of confidence,” he added. ”So, if any of the young guys in here were struggling with confidence, it’s not my job to pile dirt on it. It’s to try and help them out of it.”
The Kings outshot Vancouver 15-7 through the opening period, but could do no better than a 1-1 tie. The Canucks scored on their first shot on net, as Bieksa beat Quick to the stick side at the 3:06 mark with a one-timer from 35 feet after Daniel Sedin backhanded the puck to him in the slot.
Richardson tied it at 9:13 of the period, scoring on his second whack at the puck after teammate Trevor Lewis overskated the rebound of Loktionov’s sharp-angle shot from the right of the net.
NOTES: Henrik Sedin also got an assist on Bieksa’s goal for his 46th point, giving him the league lead by one over Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux. … The Kings’ previous nine games on New Year’s Eve all were on the road. The only other time they played at home was in 1991, when the Canucks got all of their goals in the third period against Daniel Berthiaume for a 5-3 win. … Vancouver finished the calendar year 54-24-6, and the Kings were 43-29-11. … Los Angeles has allowed just 11 goals over its last seven games following an 8-2 loss at Chicago. … This was only the second time in 18 games that the Kings scored more than two goals in regulation. … Despite Williams’ goal, the Kings are 3 for 47 on the power play over their last 13 games. … The Kings have garnered 12 standings points in their last seven games after losing six of their previous seven. … Los Angeles is 10-0-0 when scoring more than two goals.