LOS ANGELES – A quick two-goal lead enabled the Colorado Avalanche to concentrate on defence the rest of the game.
Ryan Smyth and Jaroslav Hlinka scored 62 seconds apart early in the first period against Jason LaBarbera in the goalie’s first game off the injured list, and the Avalanche went on to beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 on Monday night for their third straight victory.
Peter Budaj helped send the Kings to their fourth straight loss, making 19 saves after stopping 61 of 63 shots in Colorado’s home-and-home sweep of Nashville.
“The guys played great defensively,” Budaj said. “I mean, we only allowed 21 shots against a very skilled team. We’re thinking defence first. And when that happens, we’re going to create chances for ourselves and not allow many. Guys were blocking shots and playing on top of their game. It’s nice to see that the team is playing so well in front of me.”
Paul Stastny also had a goal and defenceman Brett Clark had two assists, the first one coming on Smyth’s power-play goal. The Avalanche entered the game with only five goals in 65 power plays on the road, the worst percentage in the league.
“We came out really strong in the first period and we kind of rode that through the game,” defenceman Scott Hannan said. “It’s always good to get two early goals because it’s tough for the other team to come back from those kind of deficits.”
Dustin Brown scored for the Kings on a power play and Michal Handzus added a short-handed goal. LaBarbera made 36 saves after missing eight games because of a rib injury.
“It’s frustrating,” said LaBarbera, who blamed himself for the first three goals. “You can’t get behind 3-0 against a team like that because you’re not going to come back on them. We did a pretty good job trying to – but what’s the point, you know?”
The Kings got on the board just 36 seconds into the third period while Hannan was off for hooking Anze Kopitar. Brown got his stick on Rob Blake’s one-timer from 40 feet out in the slot and redirected it between Budaj’s legs.
“We played a pretty good game, except maybe for that little lapse on the Brown goal, when we let them come to us for a couple of minutes,” Ian Laperriere said. “But you’ve got to expect that. We’re in their building, they’ve got so much pride on the other team and they took it to us a little bit. But we responded really well. When you put 40 shots on net in the other team’s building, it means you did a lot of good things.”
Handzus sliced the deficit to 3-2 with 15:14 to play, beating Budaj with a 20-foot wrist shot from the right circle while teammate Michael Cammalleri was serving a tripping penalty. It was the first short-handed goal Colorado has given up this season, leaving Ottawa as the only team in the league that hasn’t allowed one.
“I don’t want to take anything away from him, but I think he fanned on it because the puck didn’t come down flat,” Budaj said. “I thought he was going low-blocker because I know Michael pretty well and that’s his go-to shot. But he went 5-hole.”
Ben Guite’s empty-net goal wrapped it up with 1:07 remaining, enabling the Avalanche to take over first place in the Northwest Division from idle Minnesota and Vancouver.
“We stuck with what we had to do and got rewarded. First place was on the line, and that’s the reward,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve been playing better as a team, and we’re harder to play against. We’re more diligent with our positioning and playing the kind of road game that can frustrate the opposition and lead to turnovers.”
Smyth, who had two goals against the Kings in a 5-2 win on Dec. 1 at Staples Center, opened the scoring in the rematch during a power play at the 2:37 mark. He converted a rebound on his backhand from the edge of the crease for his 11th goal, while Brown was off for holding Clark.
Colorado made it 2-0 with Hlinka’s fifth goal. He beat Lubomir Visnovsky to a lose puck above the right circle, tapped it between the defenceman’s legs and went in alone on LaBarbera, who committed too early and flopped to the ice as the Avalanche centre held onto the puck an extra second before flipping it over him.
At that point, Kings coach Marc Crawford burned the team’s only timeout to settle his team down. But the Avalanche kept buzzing around the Los Angeles net, and Stastny was credited with his 15th goal at 14:12 of the first when Blake inadvertently tapped the puck across the goal line as it lay in the crease behind LaBarbera.
Notes: Quenneville recorded his 413th regular-season victory as an NHL head coach, tying Jack Adams for 18th place all-time. … Quenneville won the Jack Adams award as Coach of the Year in 1999-00 with St. Louis, and one more victory will make him the 12th winner of that award to accumulate more wins than the man the trophy was named after – including Crawford. … Budaj and Handzus were both born in the same town in Slovakia – Banska Bystrica. … The Smyth-Stastny-Milan Hejduk line has combined for 38 points over the last nine games. … D John-Michael Liles had two assists for Colorado. Avalanche defencemen have recorded 34 points over the last 14 games.