A change in the calendar to 2017 has resulted a big upturn in Anze Kopitar’s production for the Los Angeles Kings.
Kopitar tries to help the Kings win their fourth straight game and avoid a fourth straight loss to the league-worst Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Kopitar averaged 24.3 goals and 44.1 assists over his first 10 seasons, but couldn’t find that form over the first 2 1/2 months of the season. In 32 games from Oct. 12 through Dec. 31, Kopitar had three goals and 13 assists, and Los Angeles was 15-14-3 in those contests with three three-game losing streaks.
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As of Jan. 1, though, Kopitar nearly matched that production with three goals and 11 assists in 12 games, as Los Angeles went 7-5-0. The Kings captain tied a season-high with three points on a goal and a pair of helpers in a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
“He’s a pretty powerful player,” coach Darryl Sutter said of Kopitar. “Even if you look at the third period, all the faceoffs he won on that side of the ice and drew penalties. He was a pretty dominant player tonight.”
Two of Kopitar’s three-point games have occurred this month. He assisted on all three goals in the Kings’ overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 14.
Kopitar has 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 36 career games versus Colorado. In the last eight matchups, Kopitar recorded at least one point, totaling two goals and seven assists.
Tuesday’s victory wrapped up a five-game road trip in which Los Angeles went 3-2-0, and Kopitar is not the only player who’s been standing out recently. Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty drew an assist Tuesday, giving him a goal with six assists in a five-game points streak.
“We have a few games in hand and we have to take advantage of that,” said Jake Muzzin, who scored the game-winner with 1:49 remaining Tuesday. “That comes by winning in regulation, especially in your division, so we were able to do that tonight and we’ve got to get on the plane here, head back and get ready for Colorado tomorrow.”
With the Kings (25-21-4) returning to the site of Sunday’s All-Star game, their focus is on a team that’s managed only 94 goals.
The Kings surrendered four power-play goals while being outscored 12-5 in three consecutive losses to the Avalanche. Los Angeles, playing without Kopitar because of an upper-body injury, dropped a 4-1 decision Nov. 15 in Denver — a game Colorado coach Jared Bednar said was a high point of the season.
“It’s our first chance to get to L.A. and play them in their building, but we did like our game (against the Kings) at home, it’s one of the better games we played all year defensively, so hopefully the guys can dig deep and in their memory and try to find some positives out of that one,” he said.
Colorado (13-32-2) opened a two-game stretch in Southern California with a 5-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. Mikko Rantanen scored for the Avalanche who have dropped eight in a row — and 18 of their last 20.
The chances of ending the skid don’t seem good as Colorado is 2-10-2 against Pacific Division foes.
Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are Colorado’s top two goal-scorers with 15 and 11, respectively. However, Duchene has two in his last 11 games — both coming Jan. 17 in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. MacKinnon hasn’t scored in seven straight.
Scoring is not the only challenge the Avalanche are saddled with. With Semyon Varlamov out for the season with a groin injury and unless a trade for a veteran is made, Colorado will go with Calvin Pickard and Spencer Martin the rest of the way.
The pair has a combined 62 games of NHL experience with Pickard logging 60. He turned aside 26 of 31 shots Tuesday, and has surrendered 17 goals in his last five road games.
“Picks is going to play more games than he ever has before in his career at this level, and it’s going to be a good learning curve for both of those guys,” Bednar told the team’s official website.
Los Angeles may have Tyler Toffoli back in the lineup after he missed the last 18 games with a lower-body injury. Toffoli, who took part in the morning skate Tuesday but didn’t face Arizona, has eight goals and 12 assists in 32 games.