LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings dropped 10 spots in the Western Conference standings during a two-week skid. Anze Kopitar’s quick stick finally stopped the freefall before they bottomed out.
Kopitar scored the tiebreaking goal on a rebound with 2:43 to play, and the Kings snapped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Peter Harrold tied it early in the third period for Los Angeles and Jarret Stoll also scored. The Kings rallied for just their second victory in nine games after falling from first place to 11th during the uncomfortably long slump for a young roster still learning consistency in the 82-game grind.
“It’s been a while since we played like that for a full 60 minutes,” Kopitar said. “It’s definitely a chip off the shoulder, and hopefully we can continue to play like that. When you go through a tough time like that, nothing comes easy. It was good to get the win and get on the right track again.”
Los Angeles had plummeted since mid-November, when San Jose coach Todd McLellan described the Kings as “the measuring tool in the conference, maybe the league,” capped by a listless effort in a 2-0 loss at Anaheim on Monday night. The Kings held a players-only meeting after practice Wednesday, and responded with their most consistent effort in quite some time—although it nearly wasn’t enough until their third-period scores.
“We’ve been giving up those goals at the end of the game, and those are backbreakers,” Kings defenceman Matt Greene said. “To go out and have (Kopitar) give you that effort and give you that goal means a ton for the guys on this team. With our top players, we go as they go, so for him to step up and get that goal was huge for us. I think everyone in here feels about 60 pounds lighter.”
Jonathan Quick made 24 saves in the Kings’ sixth consecutive win over the Panthers since Nov. 27, 2002.
Michal Repik and David Booth scored for the Panthers, who have lost five of six. Tomas Vokoun stopped 21 shots, but Florida lost for just the second time in 10 games this season when leading after two periods.
“It’s finally good to put it in the back of the net, but one’s not good enough, especially when you lose by a goal,” said Booth, who hadn’t scored in 12 games since Nov. 5. “We’ve shown that we can compete with anyone in this league, but competing isn’t good enough right now. We’ve got to start winning some games.”
Los Angeles went ahead when Michal Handzus forced a turnover in Florida’s zone after losing a faceoff. Captain Dustin Brown fired a wild shot at Vokoun before Kopitar backhanded the rebound under the goalie for his ninth goal of the season.
“I saw the D was going to try to clear it in the corner, and I just whacked at it,” Kopitar said.
Los Angeles, which improved to 41 for 41 killing penalties at home this season, hopes to get its game together during a favourable schedule. The Kings have just four games, all at home, during a 12-day span ending Dec. 11.
Stoll scored his eighth goal of the season in the first period on a pass from Justin Williams. Repik tied it 3½ minutes later with his first goal of the season.
The Panthers went ahead with 4:09 left in the second period when Steve Reinprecht made a pass from the side boards to Booth, whose nifty wrist shot handcuffed Quick. After finishing the second period short-handed, Los Angeles left the ice to a small chorus of boos.
But Los Angeles tied it with 17:24 to play when Kyle Clifford walked the puck to the net and created a screen for Harrold, who put his first goal of the season through traffic. Clifford’s assist was the 19-year-old rookie’s first NHL point in his 20th game.
“We played great,” Florida centre Stephen Weiss said. “We battled hard. Unfortunately, we were just two minutes short of at least getting it into overtime and getting a point, possibly two, so it stinks.”
NOTES: Florida and Los Angeles met for the only time this season. … Florida LW Cory Stillman sat out his second straight game with a sore back. … Los Angeles is expected to return 19-year-old C Brayden Schenn to his junior team Friday. Schenn, who scored 99 points in 59 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings last season, hasn’t played for Los Angeles since Oct. 30, and the club can avoid activating the first season of his entry-level contract by sending him back. He’s also likely to play for Canada at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo after Christmas.