Kings’ emphasis on power play pays off

Special teams, for the Kings, has become something of a Wild West stand-off. For now, it’s good enough.

The Kings have been airtight on the penalty kill of late — they have killed 26 consecutive penalties — but haven’t really been able to take advantage of it, because they’ve been equally awful on the power play.

Perhaps, Saturday night brought a glimmer of hope, as the Kings scored a power-play goal in the third period of a 4-1 victory over Vancouver. The Kings had been 2-for-44 in their last 12-plus games. Next up for the Kings are the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.

New coach Darryl Sutter has made the power play a point of emphasis since taking over two weeks ago, and has tried to stress the positives with his players.

“Our power play is awesome, other than the 5-on-3, in the two games we just played (Thursday in Winnipeg),” Sutter said. “In Chicago, we had six minutes of power play in the first period and we had 12 shots. The next part is you and me tipping one in. Literally, in the first period, we had 12 shots, and we called seven of them good opportunities.

“I know, if I’m watching upstairs or I’m covering, I’m saying, ‘Oh, the power play,’ because it’s 14 percent or whatever, but you have to give them — especially the young players on the power play — you have to give them the ability to use their ability. My responsibility in that is to give them their two or three options against whoever they’re playing, get them to focus on that and then actually having the puck and making the play that they can.”
 
NOTES, QUOTES
   –Saturday’s game started a six-game homestand, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for the Kings, who have been surprisingly weak at home over the past two seasons. The Kings entered Saturday’s game with a 9-8-1 record at Staples Center — their first two games of the season, in Europe, were designated as home games — but on Saturday, the Kings were able to record their third consecutive home win. Coach Darryl Sutter knows the importance of picking up important points at home. “The positions (in the Western Conference) at six, seven through 12, what’s the difference?” Sutter said. “Nothing. Good week, bad week, if you lose two or three, you drop. You win two or three, you go up. It’s going to go right down to it. It’s going to come right now to three or four wins, three or four points.”
   –There was a clear momentum turn in the Kings’ favor Saturday, and not surprisingly, it involved the penalty kill. The Kings have now killed 26 consecutive penalties, and perhaps none bigger than in the second period, when the Vancouver Canucks had a four-minute power play after Mike Richards’ double-minor high-sticking penalty. The Kings not only killed all four minutes, but they scored nine seconds after the end of Vancouver’s power play to take a 3-1 lead. The Kings have now killed 73 of their last 76 penalties, dating to the Nov. 19 game against Detroit.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “With the young guys, they’ve got some different skill sets and different ideas, so we’ll just kind of give them a little more freedom but, at the same time, make sure we understand the importance of us.” — Kings coach Darryl Sutter, on trying to improve the power play.
 
ROSTER REPORT
   PLAYER NOTES:
   –C Anze Kopitar scored a big second-period goal to give the Kings a two-goal lead. It was Kopitar’s 11th goal of the season, good for second on the team, and it ended a long scoring drought. Kopitar, who leads the Kings in points (35), has remained on the first line, even though he had gone 17 consecutive games without scoring a goal. That ended Saturday. After the Kings killed off a double-minor penalty to LW Mike Richards, Kopitar took a short pass from RW Justin Williams and beat Vancouver G Roberto Luongo with a nifty backhand shot from close range.
   –LW Mike Richards made the move from center to left wing, as the Kings made a small but high-profile lineup tweak. Richards had been the Kings’ second-line center all season, but before the game, coach Darryl Sutter made a change, shifting Richards to the first line alongside C Anze Kopitar and RW Dustin Brown. The Kings have had a major problem scoring goals for much of this season, and Saturday’s move united the Kings’ top three goal scorers — Richards has 13, Kopitar has 11 and Brown has nine — on one line. LW Brad Richardson moved to the third line and scored a goal Saturday.
   –RW Trevor Lewis hasn’t yet made an impact on the score sheets, but he has made an impression on new coach Darryl Sutter. Asked to identify a player who had surprised him during his first two weeks on the job as Kings coach, Sutter pointed out Lewis, a former first-round pick who hasn’t scored a goal this season and had often been a healthy scratch under former coach Terry Murray. “He’s got a good enough skill set, and I’m impressed with his attitude, quite honestly,” Sutter said. “How come he hasn’t scored? I don’t know. You (media) know better than I do. But I think he gives us a speed dimension.”

MEDICAL WATCH:
   –LW Simon Gagne (upper body) was put on injured reserve on Dec. 28.
   –LW Scott Parse (lower body) was put on injured reserve on Nov. 9 and underwent hip surgery on Dec. 2. Parse will be out until at least early April and might be out for the season.

GOALTENDERS:
   –Jonathan Quick
   –Jonathan Bernier
   DEFENSE PAIRINGS:
   –Rob Scuderi, Drew Doughty
   –Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov
   –Jack Johnson, Matt Greene

FIRST LINE:
   –LW Mike Richards, C Anze Kopitar, RW Dustin Brown
   SECOND LINE:
   –LW Dustin Penner, C Jarret Stoll, RW Justin Williams

THIRD LINE:
   — LW Brad Richardson, C Andrei Loktionov, RW Trevor Lewis

FOURTH LINE:
   –LW Kyle Clifford, C Colin Fraser, RW Trent Hunter