LOS ANGELES, Calif. – After playing 38 scoreless minutes, the Los Angeles Kings finally got a goal off a turnover and another from a fortuitous deflection. Then their backup goalie lost his shutout late, and they had to hang on by their fingernails to beat the NHL’s worst team.
The defending Stanley Cup champions aren’t winning with flair. As long as they’re winning, though, coach Darryl Sutter won’t care.
Kyle Clifford opened the scoring late in the second period, Jonathan Bernier made 12 saves and the Kings beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 Friday night for their first regulation win at home this season.
Mike Richards scored during a two-man advantage in the third period for the Kings (5-5-2), who climbed over Columbus and out of last place in the Western Conference with their second straight victory. Not much about it was eye-catching, but the Kings’ slow start to their title defence and a brutal February schedule can make any win look beautiful.
“We’re trying to play really good defensively and score big goals,” Sutter said. “That’s the way we’re going to have to play, right? … If you limit them to that many shots, it means as a group you did enough to win.”
Although Nick Foligno ended the shutout bid with 2:25 to play, Bernier largely shut down Columbus’ punchless offence, even picking up his second career assist in his second straight victory in place of Jonathan Quick.
In his first back-to-back starts since January 2011, Bernier and his patchwork defence—which is missing three of last season’s six regulars due to injury—kept the Kings firmly in control for most of their second win over Columbus in 11 days. Los Angeles returned from a five-game trip for their only Staples Center appearance in a nine-game stretch over the first three weeks of February.
“It got pretty tough at the end, but it definitely helps when you can keep those shots on the outside,” Bernier said. “We’re trying to win some games in a tough stretch, so we needed it, no matter who we’re playing.”
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots for the 30th-place Blue Jackets, who opened a six-game trip with their fourth loss in five games.
After scoring six goals against San Jose on Monday, the Blue Jackets’ offence vanished again in their first outing since firing general manager Scott Howson on Tuesday. President of hockey operations John Davidson replaced Howson with Jarmo Kekalainen, but the first European GM in NHL history won’t join Columbus for a few more days while working out visa issues back in Finland.
“We didn’t win a lot of battles tonight,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “There was more urgency in (the Kings’) game than there was in ours, as far as winning those 1-on-1 battles in the offensive zones. We were spending more time in our defensive zone, using up our energy.”
Clifford finally opened the scoring with his first goal in 10 games with 80 seconds left in the period, taking the puck from Nikita Nikitin at mid-ice and wiring a wrist shot past Bobrovsky. Los Angeles finally had a lead at home for the first time all season, and Richards added to it early in the third period when his centring pass deflected into the net while Jeff Carter roared through the crease.
Foligno ended Bernier’s shutout late with a rebound goal in front of the net, but Columbus couldn’t equalize during a lengthy stretch of empty-net play.
Defenceman Jack Johnson had an assist in his first game in Los Angeles since the Kings traded him to Columbus last February for Carter, whose arrival kick-started the Kings’ late surge into the playoffs and on to their first NHL title.
After a quiet first period, Columbus had multiple scoring chances on power plays in the second, but they all missed, including Foligno’s botched chance on a breakaway with Vinny Prospal.
“When you have that much time, sometimes you think too much,” Foligno said. “And that’s exactly what I got caught doing. I was thinking, ‘Do I shoot or throw it back to Vinny?’ And by that time, Bernier came out with a poke-check and I mishandled it and put it into the corner. That’s something I’ve got to bear down on so that it goes in the back of the net. Then it would be a little different game.”
NOTES: Columbus D Adrian Aucoin returned from a six-game absence with a lower-body injury, but D James Wisniewski stayed home with his wife for the birth of their first child, and D John Moore sat out his fifth straight game despite being available to return from a lower-body injury. … D Keaton Ellerby played his first home game for the Kings, who acquired him from Florida one week earlier. He partnered with former Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty, a minus-10 with no goals in Los Angeles’ first 11 games. … Kings D Slava Voynov is from Chelyabinsk, Russia, where an exploding meteor injured more than 1,000 people Friday. Voynov checked in by phone with several friends who were all safe.