LOS ANGELES – The Phoenix Coyotes haven’t been getting a lot of breaks this season, as their dismal record indicates. They received a huge one Saturday night when Rob Blake of the Kings got himself ejected at the end of the first period.
Radim Vrbata scored on a power play as a result, and the Coyotes ended a four-game road losing streak with a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Defenceman Keith Ballard scored the go-ahead goal with 7:16 remaining and Ilya Bryzgalov made 22 saves for the Coyotes, who improved to 4-0 against Los Angeles this season.
The teams began the night tied for last place in the Western Conference with 24 points each, and Blake let his frustration get the best of him – getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct from referee Dan O’Halloran.
“He’s obviously a big part of our team and a big part of our power play, so we definitely missed him out there,” said Anze Kopitar, who opened the scoring with a power-play goal.
Blake was peeved about a roughing penalty he got after Kings goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin was knocked down by a Phoenix player in the crease, giving the Coyotes a 5-on-3 power play for a minute and 35 seconds. Adding to Blake’s fury was a cross-checking call that he felt should have been made against the Coyotes moments before Mathias Tjarnqvist’s tying goal.
“I don’t disagree with the penalty call he got there, but the referee should know what the climate of the team is – and I know they’re told by their superiors what the climate is,” coach Marc Crawford said. “We’ve lost our No.1 goaltender (Jason LaBarbera) because of (Colorado’s) Ryan Smyth crashing the crease, so our guys are obviously very sensitive.
“All I can say about Rob is that he’s a classy guy, he’s a guy who’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and usually those types of players get the benefit of the doubt,” Crawford added. “We didn’t get the benefit of the doubt there, and Rob was a little upset about that.”
The ejection of the 1998 Norris Trophy winner left the Kings with five defencemen, and Vrbata converted Blake’s minor penalty into a power-play goal at 1:09 of the second period to give Phoenix a 2-1 lead. Martin Hanzal made a cross-ice pass to Vrbata, who had a wide-open net to shoot at with Aubin out of position.
“We knew we would have to dig down and play the other five defencemen as much as we had to, and it should have served to fire up our group,” Crawford said. “In the end, we just didn’t have enough good players.”
Michael Handzus tied the score for the Kings with 9:21 left, but the Coyotes regained the lead when captain Shane Doan circled the net with the puck and fed Ballard in the slot for a 15-foot wrist shot that beat Aubin to the stick side.
“It was big shot after they scored, and we wanted to try to get something back,” Doan said. “There was a race for a loose puck, and I think they were thinking it was icing. But Petey makes a nice play, I come around the net and pitch it to Bally, and he makes a good shot.”
Bryzgalov has started all 11 games the Coyotes have played since obtaining him off waivers from the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, allowing more than three goals only once. He made 28 saves in each of his other three starts against Los Angeles after joining the Coyotes, winning 1-0, 4-1 and 4-1.
“I think we tested him a little bit tonight,” Dustin Brown said. “We had some chances to get a few more goals, but he made some big saves.”
Fredrik Sjostrom assisted on three of Phoenix’s goals, including Doan’s empty-netter with 14 seconds remaining.
Aubin stopped 20 shots, including a breakaway by rookie Daniel Carcillo with 4:45 to play.
The Kings, who scored a season-high four power-play goals in Thursday’s 8-2 win over Buffalo, cashed in the first time they had the man advantage against Phoenix. Carcillo, who leads the NHL with 238 penalty minutes, was sent off for roughing at 5:42 of the first period and Kopitar capitalized with his 13th goal. It was the fifth goal and 12th point in eight games for Kopitar, who had a career-high four assists on Thursday.
The Coyotes tied it at 18:30 of the period. Ed Jovanovski took a wrist shot from the left point that glanced off Tjarnqvist’s leg and past Aubin’s stick.
Notes: Los Angeles D Jaroslav Modry began the night with a plus-minus rating of plus-six. The other five defenceman who played for the Kings came in a combined minus-41. Blake, who turns 38 years old on Monday, was minus-11. … C Mike Zigomanis was a healthy scratch after playing in each of the Coyotes’ first 27 games. He has only two goals and one assist.