After a sluggish start to the lockout-delayed season, the Los Angeles Kings appear to be rounding into playoff form – particularly on defense.
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Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter scored first-period goals, Trevor Lewis added his first career short-handed goal, and the defending Stanley Cup champions beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 on Saturday for their third straight victory.
Anze Kopitar also scored and Jonathan Quick made 23 saves for the Kings, who won for the fifth time in six games after beginning the day 11th in the Western Conference and two points behind the postseason cutoff.
Last season, Los Angeles became the first team to win the Cup as a No. 8 seed, and the first to knock off the top three seeds in its conference to get there.
”We’re not giving teams too much time and space to make plays, and not giving up too many shots,” center Jarret Stoll said. ”We still have to clean up some little defensive zone stuff, but we’re not giving up too much, and our goaltending’s been good.
”We’ve given up a few too many Grade-A scoring chances, and Quickie had to make some big saves again.”
Milan Hejduk scored a power-play goal for the Avalanche, who had won five straight against the Kings. Semyon Varlamov made 22 saves after stopping 33 shots in a 1-0 overtime win against St. Louis on Wednesday.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who missed 11 games because of a concussion sustained Jan. 26 at San Jose, returned to action. The 20-year-old left wing from Stockholm was last season’s rookie of the year.
”It’s exciting to be back,” said Landeskog, who played 19 minutes and had two shots on net. ”It was a tough game, though. L.A. came out hard, and they were strong on the puck, and they made us play in our zone. I was really rusty with the puck, but my hands, timing and conditioning will come.”
The Kings, outscored 18-5 in the first period through their first 15 games, took a 1-0 lead 58 seconds after the opening faceoff. Brown converted a cross-ice pass from Justin Williams for his fifth goal, beating Varlamov to the stick side with a one-timer.
Carter scored his ninth goal and fifth in six games, beating Varlamov low to the stick side with a wrist shot from the slot for a 2-0 lead after Mike Richards backhanded the puck to him from the left boards.
”We’re playing well as a line and we’ve been winning a lot of puck battles lately,” Carter said. ”Richards is doing a great job of finding me, Lewie’s doing a great job of getting on pucks in the forecheck and turning them over for us. I’ve just kind of been hanging out in the slot, and it’s been working for us.”
Quick helped keep the score that way through the end of the first, robbing Paul Stastny just in front of the crease in the final minute after a perfect setup by Landeskog.
”I think it might have been a little bit of a broken play,” Quick said. ”(Landeskog) didn’t look like he had too much space, so you kind of make that read there and figure that if he does shoot it, he’s not going to get off a quality shot.
”The smart play for him was to get it over to (Stastny), which he did. But luckily, the bad ice here got the puck rolling when it got to him. He tried to get as much wood on it as he could, but he didn’t get as much as he would have liked, and I was able to get a body part on it.”
The Avalanche eventually got on the board at 1:16 of the second period with a goal by Hejduk during a 4-on-3 power play, but the Kings made it 3-1 just 1:35 later with their first short-handed goal of the season. Lewis put a soft wrist shot between Varlamov’s pads from the right circle after Stoll blocked a slap shot by Tyson Barrie at the other end.
”They made some good passes, and I just tried to get into the lane in desperation,” Stoll said. ”We got a little lucky, and Lewie did a great job of getting down the ice and putting it away.”
Kopitar made it 4-1 at 16:42 of the second with a snap shot that beat Varlamov to the stick side after Dustin Penner circled the net and fed Kopitar in the slot.
The Kings began a 16-game stretch in which they will play 13 times at home. They played eight of their previous nine on the road, going 5-4.
”We’ve got a lot of home games coming up, so we’ve got to try and bank these points and win games,” Stoll said. ”Everybody on the team has their roles, and there are certain guys on the team that need goals and points to get their confidence going.
”Confidence is a funny thing. It comes and goes. And when you have it, you’ve got to try to keep it.”
NOTES: A moment of silence was observed for Jerry Buss, who died Monday at age 80. Buss purchased the Kings, Lakers and the Inglewood Forum from Jack Kent Cooke in 1979, and owned the Kings for nine seasons. … C Ian Laperriere, whose 15-year NHL career included nine seasons for Los Angeles and four with Colorado, was honored in a pregame ceremony – the first installment of the Kings’ annual ”Legends Series.” Kelly Hrudey, the only goalie other than Quick to lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals (1993), will be honored on March 9. … Kings D Drew Doughty is still looking for his first goal after 16 games, the five-year veteran’s longest drought from the start of a season. … Colorado has allowed five goals in 38 short-handed situations in 11 games.