Kopitar Leads Kings To Rare Winning Streak
November 9, 2008 2 Comments
LOS ANGELES — Believe it or not, the Los Angeles Kings are on a winning streak.
Sure, it is only two games and the two teams victimized by the Kings are among the bottom-feeders in the league standings. But for the fledgling Kings, none of that matters.
Wins are wins.
On Saturday night, Anze Kopitar scored a goal and contributed two assists, Alexander Frolov, Tom Preissing, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown scored a goal and added an assist each, and Erik Ersberg looked sharp despite allowing three goals to lead the Kings to a 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in front of an announced crowd of 17,182 fans at Staples Center.
Andy McDonald, Patrik Berglund and Brad Boyes scored for the Blues, who have now lost their last five games.
Kopitar, who seemed to have more jump in this game, opened the scoring at 3:01 of the first period with a power play goal off a wrap-around chance at the right goal post.
Frolov gave the Kings a 2-0 lead with a power play goal at 7:14 of the second period, deflecting a point shot by Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey.
Preissing gave the Kings a 3-0 lead at the 18:41 mark, firing a slap shot through heavy traffic, beating Blues goaltender Manny Legace, who was hopelessly screened, top shelf, upper right corner.
The Blues came on in the third period, with McDonald scoring on a one-timer from the high slot off a face-off at the 1:50 mark.
Doughty answered at the 11:58 mark on the power play, taking a feed at the top of the slot from Kopitar. All alone, Doughty moved into the high slot and with linemate Kyle Calder standing in front of the crease, screening Legace, Doughty blasted a slap shot, beating the Blues netminder high, just inside the right goal post.
But the Blues were not going to go quietly.
Berglund scored at 13:23, flinging a low wrist shot through heavy traffic from the high slot, beating a screened Erik Ersberg low, just inside the left goal post.
Kings rookie forward Oscar Moller went off for hooking at 17:58, giving the Blues a power play. St. Louis head coach Andy Murray pulled Legace for the extra attacker and the move paid off when Boyes took a pass across the slot from McDonald. From the left face-off dot, Boyes fired a low one-timer before Ersberg could get across to his right, bringing the Blues to within a goal.
But that was as close as they would get, as Brown scored an empty-net goal at 18:49.
For the Kings, they won two straight games for the second time this season and maybe…just maybe they are starting to settle on line combinations that will work for them and, most notably, get the top line of Kopitar, Brown and Kyle Calder going.
As reported earlier, Kopitar appeared to have more jump in this game. He was more of an offensive threat and he had two hits, one of which was a rather heavy one.
Kings head coach Terry Murray said that his ability to keep Kopitar fresher by reducing his ice time is the key.
“The fact that we’re playing four lines—it becomes more of a real situation in the early part of the season,” Murray explained. “The first seven games I was going with three lines. Kopitar was playing 22, 23 minutes, 24 minutes a night. That’s a big workload.”
In this game, Kopitar was on the ice for 19:23.
“With the fourth line now, the way they’re set up, it allows me to get four lines going and then, at the end of the game, you can look at Kopitar’s line to play critical minutes, to be able to shut the game down and he’s a lot fresher because of the four lines.”
Kopitar was very happy that he finally broke out of his eight-game goal scoring slump, dating back to October 17 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Seemed like we were on,” said Kopitar. “We were working hard in the previous games too. It just didn’t go in. We had chances. But tonight, it really came true. I’m personally pretty happy and I’m sure the other two guys [on his line] are pretty happy. Hopefully, we can keep on going.”
“[He was happy with his game] especially because of the goal,” added Kopitar. I was waiting for that one but the most important thing was that we won the game. We want to get a streak going.”
Perhaps most significant, two of Kopitar’s three points, including his goal, came on the power play, which has been a problem for the Kings so far this season.
“If you can win the special team battles, that’s always huge,” Kopitar stressed. “We had three tonight and they had [one] too. But it’s a great feeling to win and hopefully we can keep on going.”
“The percentage of power play success rate is incredible when you shoot the puck from the blue line,” Murray explained. “You’ll see, over the long haul, the very successful ones are shooting the puck from the blue line with traffic looking for second and third opportunities and [two of their power play] goals tonight came from there.”
The Blues entered Saturday’s action with the second-best power play in the National Hockey League with a rating over 28 percent, but the Kings won the special teams battle in this one.
“They have the number two power play in the league,” said Murray. “But overall, our penalty-killing was good and they made it happen with that one play [late in the third period] and we were able to shut it down. We came back with a good play with their goaltender out and scored the empty net goal to secure it.”
Overall, the Kings outworked the Blues in the first and second periods, and were able to hold off a hard-charging Blues team in the third period.
“We played pretty well,” said Murray. “St. Louis played a good game too. They had a lot of traffic, a lot of pucks at our net. We had to do a good job in the defensive part of things.”
“A lot of the game was in the trenches,” added Murray. “There was a lot of battling along the boards and in front of the net. You really had to be ready. Especially with a guy like [Blues center Keith] Tkachuk, he’s going to get to the front of the net. He’s going to make you work hard. With their game plan of throwing the puck through the crease, looking for tips and re-directions, you’ve got to work hard to defend against that plus pushing on big people. If you don’t dig in, you’re going to take yourself out of the game pretty quickly.”
Murray also got another solid performance in goal from Ersberg.
“I thought Ersberg was good,” said Murray. “He was very good in the second period and on a couple of their power play opportunities he came up for us. It’s nice to get a second win, absolutely. [We have] to keep building on it.”
“It was a great week, two wins in the last two games and it’s fun for me to play games, too,” he Ersberg. “When we play like we say we are going to play I think we are a tough team to beat. When we play our system right and everybody is digging in and working hard it’s going to be tough to come and beat us here.”
“If we allow less shots that means we played good defense,” added Ersberg. ”Today they helped me out with a couple of rebounds. They cleared it in front of me so I have to thank the defense. They played a great game in front of me tonight.”
After getting off to a slow start in training camp due to illness, Ersberg’s fortunes may have turned. His strong play may soon force Murray to reconsider his goaltending hierarchy which has Jason LaBarbera as the number one goaltender…for now.
“We’ll go back to work on Monday at 10:00 AM and we’ll have an opportunity to evaluate things, take a look at everything,” Murray said about deciding who will start in goal on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. “But I sure like what he’s done for us. He’s winning and that’s the most important thing for us right now. We’re trying to put together a lineup on a game-to-game basis that will allow us to do that and he’s been a big part of [that].”
Another player whose fortunes have turned is Preissing, who got off to a good start at the beginning of the season, but quickly found himself watching games from the press box. But now, he appears to be back on task, having re-dedicated himself to working harder and solid play in the defensive zone.
“Preissing is doing a good job,” said Murray. “He’s playing with composure. He’s got a bigger focus on the defensive part of the game. He’s competing from the dots to the boards a lot harder than what he was at the start of the [season].”
Of course, his offensive abilities don’t hurt, either.
“He has that ability to come up with a big goal when it’s needed like he did again tonight,” added Murray. “The puck seems to be able to find its way through a lot of people when he’s shooting the puck. We like what he’s doing.”
The one downside for the Kings was that they struggled to finish off the Blues, despite having a three-goal lead going into the third period.
“I’m not worried about it,” said Murray. “We did close it out. We won. We got the big goal when we needed it.”
“They scored on the power play with less than two minutes left in the game to get it within a goal and that’s hockey,” added Murray. “There’s stuff that happens in the game when you’re trying to do things. Penalties are going to be called.”
“We kind of let them get back into the game,” said Kopitar. “Maybe we weren’t as sharp at the end and we made some poor decisions. But right now, who cares? We won the game.”
NOTES: Doughty recorded his second straight multi-point game. He has a goal and three assists for four points in the two games; The Kings have won the two contests against St. Louis this season. They have not beaten the Blues more than once in a season since the 2005-06 season when they won all four games; Ersberg is now 2-1-1 on the season with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage
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