GLENDALE, Ariz. – Cycling pucks, moving their feet, and finding the open man, the Los Angeles Kings put together an impressive shift in the third period. Jarret Stoll finished it off with a flourish, scoring on a backhander as he sailed through the air.
For a team in desperate need of a win, this was a great way to get it.
Justin Williams scored his 18th goal to start an opening flurry, and Stoll had the sprawling capper during the game’s biggest shift, giving Los Angeles a 4-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
“It was a special kind of shift,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “That’s a shift you would pull off and show your team, encourage them to follow that template.”
Los Angeles certainly needed it.
Frustrated by what they felt was a bad call in a game against Phoenix two nights earlier, the Kings seemed to have an extra jump early, getting first-period goals from Williams, Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez.
Phoenix, despite playing without top defencemen Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris, rallied from a sluggish start with Lee Stempniak’s two goals and another by Martin Hanzal to tie it heading into the third.
Los Angeles gathered itself to start the third, and Stoll’s line came through with the game-turning shift.
After working the puck for close to 30 seconds, the Kings set up Jack Johnson for a shot between the circles that caromed off Los Angeles wing Ryan Smyth just left of the crease. Sensing he needed an all-or-nothing effort, Stoll dived and swiped simultaneously, sending the puck to the back of the net.
Invigorated by the workmanlike shift, the Kings limited Phoenix’s chances the rest of the period and ended a three-game losing streak.
“I just knew I had to get there as quick as possible,” Stoll said after his 14th goal. “Diving, whatever, I just knew I had to get my stick on it and get it on net.”
The Kings needed something good to happen after feeling they were shortchanged on a high-sticking call on Thursday.
That play came in the second period, when a goal by Hanzal was upheld by NHL officials despite replays appearing to show his stick above the crossbar. The Kings were furious at the call, and general manager Dean Lombardi was still peeved after the 2-0 loss, drawing a US$50,000 fine for questioning the integrity of league vice-president Mike Murphy.
The Kings’ problems run much deeper than one call, though.
Once atop the Western Conference, Los Angeles has tumbled down the standings as the pucks have steered away from the net. The Kings came into Saturday’s game with two goals in their previous three games, including the shutout on Thursday when they sent 36 shots at Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Kings seemed to be catching the Coyotes at a good time.
Despite winning seven of their previous 10 games, the Coyotes were a tired bunch, getting consecutive days off just once since Christmas and playing four games in six days this week. Phoenix also was without Jovanovski for the fifth straight game due to a lower body injury. Morris sustained a similar injury against the Kings on Thursday.
Los Angeles took advantage early, hassling Phoenix into numerous turnovers in its end. The pressure led to a goal just 1:22 in, when Williams turned a blue-line cough-up by rookie defenceman Chris Summers into a two-on-none, give-and-go goal with Smyth.
Doughty added another before the midpoint of the first period, ripping a shot from top of the left circle through traffic. Martinez made it 3-0 with a shot from the opposite circle that Bryzgalov didn’t react to in time.
“We weren’t hard enough on the puck, we weren’t advancing the puck,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “They were owning us down low in our own zone.”
Phoenix got something right late in the period, when a long shot by Taylor Pyatt caromed off Stempniak’s glove and past goalie Jonathan Quick.
The bounce seemed to energize the Coyotes, who pulled within 3-2 early in the second when Hanzal took a pass from Keith Yandle in front of the crease, then backhanded it—no high stick this time—past Quick on a power play. Stempniak got the Coyotes all the way back in the closing minutes, whipping a wrister past Quick’s glove side after a drop pass from Pyatt for his fifth goal in five games.
Phoenix couldn’t finish it off, unable to get another shot past Quick after Stoll’s goal to lose for the third time in four games.
“We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but I think it did show good character for our team to come back (from) down three,” Yandle said.
Notes: Los Angeles ended a five-game losing streak to Phoenix. … The Coyotes didn’t get their first shot on goal until nearly 8 1/2 minutes into the game. … Phoenix C Shane Doan went out after a hard fall into the boards in the third period, but returned.