LOS ANGELES – The up-and-down Los Angeles Kings hardly resembled the team that was humiliated at home by the Detroit Red Wings just two days earlier.
Jonathan Bernier came up with a huge effort in net to keep the Kings in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference playoff race. He recorded his third NHL shutout and Jarret Stoll converted a penalty to Phoenix’s Rostislav Klesla into a power-play goal against Ilya Bryzgalov with 7:47 remaining, leading the Kings to a 1-0 victory over the Coyotes on Thursday night.
“It was a battle. There wasn’t that much open ice out there,” Stoll said. “It was a pretty defensive-minded game. Bryzgalov plays us pretty well, so the main thing was getting traffic in front of him. We didn’t get as many shots as we would have wanted, but we did a lot of good things. We just had to stay with it and be patient.”
Stoll’s fifth winner of the season came on the Kings’ 18th and final shot on net, which equalled the season low they had on Feb. 23 in a 3-2 win at Anaheim.
Klesla, playing his second gave with Phoenix after a trade with Columbus on Monday, was sent off for high-sticking Anze Kopitar 41 seconds before Stoll beat Bryzgalov through a screen with a one-timer from the left point.
“It was just a great job of cycling by those guys and good work along the wall,” Stoll said, referring to Kopitar and Ryan Smyth. “I know Kopi likes to find that seam, and I try to be open for him and shoot the puck. That’s why I’m out there, so I better be shooting it. Anytime there’s a broken play like that, usually the penalty killers aren’t ready and aren’t set. So that’s what happened.”
The Coyotes have lost a season-worst five straight after an eight-game winning streak that put them atop the Pacific Division for 10 days. They were coming off a frustrating 3-2 home loss Tuesday night in which Radim Vrbata got a hooking penalty with 13 seconds left in the third period and Dallas’ Jamie Benn burned them on the power play with five seconds remaining.
“They have some really big forwards, especially on the power play, and they create a lot of traffic. But the guys battled really hard and let me see quite a few pucks,” said Bernier, whose previous shutout resulted in a 1-0 shootout loss at Minnesota on Feb. 1.
Coming off a sobering 7-4 home loss to Detroit on Monday in which Jonathan Quick surrendered six goals on 24 shots before getting pulled in the third period, the Kings went with Bernier in net. He faced only one shot through the first 14 minutes and finished with 25 saves in his 18th start of the season.
“There was no message there. It was just a decision that I made,” said coach Terry Murray, who was noncommittal as to whether he’d start Bernier again Saturday at home against Vancouver.
“Bernier’s played very well in the last outings that he’s had. Through that long road trip in February, he had a couple of real big games. It was just a matter of making a call and trying to win a hockey game. Bernier was really on top of his game, and the guys in front of him played well.”
The victory put the Kings into a three-way tie with Phoenix and Chicago for fourth place in the conference. Los Angeles is 12-2-3 since a 2-0 home loss to the Coyotes on Jan. 20, which capped a 2-10-0 slide by the Kings.
It was the third 1-0 game involving the Coyotes, who beat Dallas and Minnesota in the other ones.
“We got to find ways to get a goal,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. “We had opportunities to win, but we couldn’t find ways to score. Right now every point is so huge that you have to find ways to get one to give yourself a chance.”
Right-wing Dustin Penner, who won a Stanley Cup ring with Anaheim in 2007, made his Kings debut after joining the club in a trade from Edmonton on Monday. He became the 22nd player to appear in a regular-season game with both Southern California teams.
“Penner was good,” Murray said. “I thought he had an impact in the game and he used his size several times and had some impact hits in the offensive zone on the forecheck. He’s very responsible away from the puck and he made some good plays coming through the middle of the ice on a couple of breakouts. It was a nice first game. Welcome to the team.”
NOTES: Phoenix C Eric Belanger played in his 700th regular-season game. His first 328 were with the Kings. … Only once in their last 15 games have the Coyotes scored more than three goals — a 4-3 victory against Atlanta. … Stoll needs two goals to give the Kings six 20-goal scorers in one season for the first time since 1992-93, when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals for the only time in franchise history. … Kopitar hasn’t scored a goal in his last nine games against Phoenix, and Dustin Brown has played seven straight games against the Coyotes without one. The duo has combined for 41 goals this season. … The Coyotes’ penalty-killing unit has allowed 10 goals in 23 short-handed situations over the last five games. … Bryzgalov, who shut out the Kings on Jan. 20 at Staples Center with 36 saves, faced only four shots in the opening period.