LOS ANGELES – Derek Armstrong is well aware that he’s closer to the end of his NHL career than the beginning, so he enjoys the game now more than ever.
Armstrong scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, ending a 29-game drought and helping the Los Angeles Kings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Saturday. The 35-year-old centre played in his third straight game after sitting out nine of 10 as a healthy scratch.
“It’s definitely tough, but that’s my role here now and that’s what I’ve got to accept,” said Armstrong, whose four shots were two fewer than his total in 11 previous games this season.
“We’ve got a great team here, so it doesn’t matter what your role is – especially when you get older. It’s all about winning games. As you get older, you appreciate winning hockey more than anything.”
Alexander Frolov had a goal and an assist in his 400th NHL game. Jarret Stoll and Patrick O’Sullivan had a goal and an assist each, Kyle Calder ended a 12-game goal-less streak during a power play, and Kyle Quincey and Michal Handzus each had two assists. Erik Ersberg made 22 saves.
“They’re really talented, especially up front. So we knew we had to play smart, stay with our structure and work hard as a group,” Frolov said. “We did that and good things happened to us.”
Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist for Chicago. Cristobal Huet, making his eighth start and third straight while Nikolai Khabibulin recovers from an undisclosed lower-body injury, stopped 23 shots in his first game against the team he began his NHL career with in 2002-03.
Armstrong’s first goal since Feb. 15 of last season came with 13:44 remaining. O’Sullivan beat defenceman Brent Seabrook to a loose puck behind the net and fed it to Quincey, whose wrist shot bounced off Huet’s chest. Huet couldn’t control the rebound, and Armstrong stuffed the puck under the goalie’s outstretched right leg for a 3-2 lead.
“Sully’s been really good. For a young guy, he shows a lot of maturity,” said Armstrong, who has nine game-winners among his 68 career goals. “I’m supposed to be the old wily veteran, but the last couple of games he’s settled me down and made some good plays for me.”
Calder, who spent his first six NHL seasons with Chicago, made it 4-2 with 6:08 remaining after the Blackhawks were penalized for having too many men on the ice. O’Sullivan scored into an empty net with 2:09 to play.
“I don’t know what it is. We’ve just got to find a way to motivate ourselves a little bit better,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who led NHL rookies in goals last season with 24 and has four through 22 games this season. “We had them right where we wanted them, and halfway through the game we let it slip away.”
Kings rookie Oscar Moller received a four-minute, high-sticking penalty at 14:35 of the first period for cutting Dave Bolland while chasing him through the neutral zone. The Blackhawks scored 47 seconds into the power play to take a 2-1 lead.
Sharp got a pass from Brian Campbell and faked a slap shot from the top of the left circle before feeding Kane in the right circle for a one-timer that beat Ersberg to the glove side. Kane, last season’s NHL rookie of the year, has 12 goals and 27 points in 22 games.
The Kings tied it at 8:58 of the second period, two seconds after Chicago killed off Bolland’s hooking penalty. Frolov scored from in front of the crease after Tom Preissing’s slap shot hit the right post.
“It’s real disappointing. I think guys felt good, but I don’t think the battle was there,” Campbell said. “We started turning the pucks over and tried to play guys one-on-one. The more times it happened, the more changes they got. So they were bound to get something. We have to do the little things better.”
Stoll opened the scoring 1:18 in, redirecting Handzus’ short backhander past Huet for his 13th goal. Sharp tied it at 10:43, beating Ersberg with a wrist shot from the left circle.
“We showed maturity,” Armstrong said. “We had a couple of lapses during the game, but we found a way to win.”
Notes: Huet spent his first two NHL seasons in Los Angeles, going 14-20-11 with a 2.41 goals-against average in 53 games. The Kings have used 12 goalies since Huet was traded to Montreal in June 2004. … The Blackhawks, 0-for-2 with the man advantage in Friday’s 1-0 loss at Anaheim, haven’t gone consecutive games without a power-play goal since getting blanked on eight attempts in the first two games of the season. … Frolov is fifth in career goals by a Kings right wing with 125. … The Blackhawks ended their annual circus road trip 3-2-1, the first time they’ve had a winning record on the excursion since 1997 (3-1 with two ties).