Williams returns as Hurricanes visit Kings

LOS ANGELES — Justin Williams played a key role in the first two Stanley Cup championships won by Los Angeles Kings, but he’ll return to Staples Center as a visitor for the third time since he waved goodbye two years ago.

Williams is in his first season back with the Carolina Hurricanes after spending the past two seasons with the Washington Capitals.

The 36-year-old right wing continues to put up good numbers, entering the weekend third on the Hurricanes with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists). He had an assist in a 5-4 overtime loss at the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

Williams was traded from the Hurricanes to the Kings during the 2008-09 season, a deal that ended up being one of the best made by general manager Dean Lombardi during his 11 years with the Los Angeles organization.

Williams scored 15 points during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, helping the Kings win their first title.

He was even better during the run to the Stanley Cup in 2014, totaling 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists), including the game-winning goal in Game 1 against the New York Rangers, and the first goal in a 3-2 comeback win in Game 5 to clinch the Cup.

Williams was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in those playoffs.

He signed with the Capitals following the 2014-15 season and the Kings haven’t won a playoff series since.

Los Angeles (19-8-3) is having a strong season, however, owning the best record in the Western Conference entering Friday.

The Kings won seven in a row following their 4-3 overtime win against the visiting Ottawa Senators on Thursday. They lead the league with the lowest goals-against average (2.2) and have the best penalty-kill rate at 89 percent.

“We just don’t give up, whether we’re down, whether we’re up, we’re trying to play the same way,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who scored the game-winner against Ottawa. “When we were losing games, we were up and down. When we would score we would get too high and we’re trying to stay level, and I think we’re doing a great job of that and that’s why we’re winning.”

Carolina (11-10-6) has yet to string three straight wins together, but managed to keep its record around .500 most of the season. The Hurricanes have four more stops on the six-game road trip, and haven’t won away from home since beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Nov. 18.

Special teams have been a major issue for the Hurricanes. They enter the weekend 28th in the league in power-play efficiency (15.7 percent) and 29th on the penalty kill (75 percent). In the past two games, they’ve gone 0-for-5 on the power play and 2-for-5 on the penalty kill.

“We just need to create more opportunities,” said left wing Sebastian Aho, who had two goals against the Sharks. “We have to play better. We need to go back to work and play our game for 60 minutes.”

Williams might be the right guy to unlock that door.