LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Anze Kopitar realizes the Los Angeles Kings’ outstanding start will be a whole lot tougher to maintain without Drew Doughty in their lineup on a rough trip.
At least the Kings hung on without their star defenceman to beat the Carolina Hurricanes, who have nearly survived their own brutal travel schedule.
Andrei Loktionov scored his first NHL goal from behind the Carolina net early in the third period, and the Kings completed a perfect three-game homestand with a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
Kopitar scored his first goal of the season for the Kings, who lost Doughty to an upper-body injury while earning their fourth win in five games. Los Angeles returned from a four-day break to begin a stretch of seven games in 11 days, but Doughty wasn’t expected to travel to Phoenix for a game Thursday night that starts a five-game trip.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we did enough things to win tonight, and hopefully we can keep that up,” Kopitar said. “Everybody feels confident. Everybody believes in each other this year. When you get off to a good start, it feels good, and hopefully (Doughty) will be right back in it with us.”
Doughty apparently was hurt late in the first period, and didn’t return to the bench for the final 40 minutes. The Norris Trophy finalist has just one assist in five games after scoring 59 points last season.
Ryan Smyth and Michal Handzus scored first-period goals for Los Angeles, but Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner’s first NHL goal evened it heading to the third.
Loktionov put the Kings ahead when he circled behind the net and attempted an apparent pass that deflected off goalie Justin Peters’ stick blade for the 20-year-old Russian’s first goal.
Jonathan Bernier made 27 saves, including 15 in a sharp third period, to earn his fifth career NHL victory despite making a handful of early mistakes. Bernier stopped Erik Cole on a breakaway midway through the third period, and the Kings killed two Carolina power plays in the final minutes.
“We made it a lot harder than it should have been with our play with the puck,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “The bottom line is we got some big plays at the end with special teams and penalty killing.”
Chad LaRose and captain Eric Staal scored in their second straight games for the resilient Hurricanes. After beginning the season with two wins over Minnesota in Helsinki, Carolina still has one more stop on a five-game trip—in Phoenix on Friday night—before the Canes’ true home opener in Raleigh on Oct. 27.
“I don’t look at it as an excuse, but I look at our situation that we’re in,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “You wonder how much jam we were going to bring to the game tonight, because we’ve been halfway around the world on back-to-back nights. You hate losing, but I’m pretty impressed with the way 85 per cent of our team played tonight.”
Peters stopped 23 shots, making his season debut for the Hurricanes in the meeting of backup goalies. Carolina won 5-2 in San Jose on Tuesday night with starter Cam Ward in net, but Loktionov’s fluke deflection cost Peters.
“I was just trying to take away the pass to the middle,” Peters said. “Unfortunately, it was a tough bounce, but they happen. The timing of it turned out to (decide) the outcome of the game, which is unfortunate.”
Kopitar put the Kings ahead 3-2 with a quick wrist shot midway through the second period. The Slovenian centre led the Kings last season with a career-best 34 goals, but hadn’t found the net in Los Angeles’ first four games this fall.
Skinner tied it on another error by Bernier, who caught Anton Babchuk’s slap shot but couldn’t close his glove on it. Skinner tapped the rebound past Bernier for his first goal in his sixth NHL game for Carolina, which surprised many by choosing the former figure skater with the seventh overall pick in last June’s NHL draft at Staples Center.
“It’s definitely been long, but you can’t really use that as an excuse,” Skinner said of Carolina’s trip. “We just have to keep going and finish strong in Phoenix. I think we had some good scoring chances, but Bernier made some big saves for them at big moments.”
NOTES: Kings D Matt Greene has been cleared to resume hockey activities after missing training camp while recovering from surgery on his left shoulder in late July. Greene, an assistant captain, scored nine points and blocked 126 shots last season. He will travel on the Kings’ upcoming trip. … Staal’s goal was his 196th, tying him with Geoff Sanderson for fifth place in franchise history. … The game was the clubs’ only meeting this season. Carolina hasn’t beaten Los Angeles since Oct. 17, 2008.