EDMONTON – The game of musical chairs in the NHL’s Pacific Division continues.
Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist as the Los Angeles Kings took a hold of the division lead with a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.
Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez also scored for the Kings (39-27-12), who moved from eighth place in the Western Conference to third ahead of Dallas after the Stars lost 5-2 to Vancouver.
“We got the two points, that’s what we want,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “All of the games are really important right now. Dustin Brown was awesome for us tonight. It was a funny first period. They have all that skill over there with those kids and they were wheeling and dealing and we had to make some adjustments to handle them.”
Kopitar said the team was happy to rack up some offence and make life a little easier for goaltender Jonathan Quick.
“We came out strong right off the hop and kind of denied that loose game that they wanted to play,” he said. “We came out and played a good system game and it led to all of the breakdowns on their part. It was good for us to make it a little easier on Quick so he doesn’t have to bail us out every time.”
Jordan Eberle replied for the Oilers (31-38-9), who have lost two in a row after a 5-0-2 run in their previous seven games.
“They were stronger and more determined than us,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “The Kings are a desperate team. They were right there on the cusp of being in the playoffs and they are playing with every bit of urgency you can possibly imagine. And we’re hanging on for dear life trying not to embarrass ourselves. When you do that, that’s exactly what happens.”
There was a quick start to the game with a pair of goals in the first minute and a half.
Los Angeles scored on its first shot of the game as Dwight King looped out from the corner and took a long hopeful shot that was tipped by Kopitar through the legs of Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Edmonton got that goal back less than a minute later on the power play as Eberle snapped a shot from the right face-off dot that went just inside of the post past Kings starter Quick. It was the 33rd goal of the season for the second-year forward. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins picked up an assist for the 50th point of his rookie season.
The Kings went up 2-1 midway through the first period as Jeff Petry missed a puck at the point on an Edmonton power play and Richards sped away on a breakaway before lifting a backhand shot past Khabibulin for the short-handed goal.
The Kings took a 3-1 lead seven minutes into the second as a Doughty power-play point shot hit the stick of an Oiler defender and deflected past Khabibulin.
The Oilers found themselves with just four defencemen midway through the second after Petry took a puck in the face and joined Ladislav Smid in the dressing room. Smid suffered a neck injury late in the first.
Edmonton was pressing late in the second period but Quick came up with a pair of huge glove saves on Nugent-Hopkins and Andy Sutton.
The Kings padded their lead eight minutes into the third as Martinez showed pretty good reflexes, kicking the rebound from a pad save to his stick and sliding the puck into a wide-open net.
Los Angeles outshot Edmonton 32-14 in the contest.
Notes: It was the third of four meetings between the two teams, who will play again in Los Angeles on Monday. Edmonton won the first two games of the series. The Kings swept their four-game series with the Oilers last year.…Quick has had his share of success in goal in Edmonton. The Kings goalie came into the contest with a 5-1-0 record at Rexall Place with a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.…The Oilers recalled forward Magnus Paajarvi from the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League but them promptly had to send him back after being informed they had exceeded the number of call-ups allowed after the trade deadline.…Oiler Eric Belanger was a healthy scratch for the first time this season.…The Kings were without forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne. Carter was out with an ankle injury suffered in their last match against Calgary. Gagne remained out with a concussion.