Tomorrow’s game story tonight …
Anze Kopitar skated into the attacking zone in the opening minute of the Kings’ 7-4 victory Thursday over the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center. He and his teammates were on a power play and they buzzed around goaltender Mike Smith’s net in search of an early goal.
Kopitar fired a dangerous-looking shot, but Smith made the save. In a nanosecond, the puck came back to Kopitar as he drifted toward the center of the ice. He turned and took another crack at beating Smith. This time, the puck hit the back of the net.
Now, that wasn’t so hard was it?
Yeah, well, about that.
In fact, it was Kopitar’s first goal of 2013-14 and his first regular-season strike since last March 25 against the Chicago Blackhawks, ending a drought of 26 games. It also was the first goal by a Kings center in 11 games this season, halting another head-scratching streak.
“It just went in instead of hitting the post,” Kopitar said. “Nothing I did special. I ate the same pregame meal and everything. Nothing was, I guess, different than any other night. … It’s nice. Too close too many times now. It’s definitely nice to get the first one.”
Kopitar’s goal was merely the opening salvo Thursday for the Kings, who built a 4-0 lead by the end of a very lopsided first period. Dwight King scored two of his three goals, with an assist from Kopitar on his first one, and Jordan Nolan also struck for the Kings in the opening period.
Things were anything but crisp and clean the rest of the way.
Phoenix rallied to tie the score at 4-all with two goals in the second period and two more in the first 2:50 of the third. Just when it seemed the Kings had cracked, they regained the lead 5-4 on Mike Richards’ shorthanded breakaway at 4:19 of the third, his first goal of the season.
Matt Frattin’s first goal since the Kings acquired him in the deal that sent goalie Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer then made it 6-4. King recorded his first career hat trick, adding an empty-net goal in the closing seconds.
“Good thing they didn’t kick a field goal on the last play of the game,” coach Darryl Sutter joked after the Kings improved to 7-4-0.
King said he had a three-goal game in juniors and another in the minor leagues, but couldn’t recall the details of either. He sure seemed a little nonchalant heading back to the bench after whistling home his third goal of the game, according to teammate Jarret Stoll.
“It was a big game for him, it was great to see,” Stoll said. “He usually has that smile on his face 24/7. He wasn’t smiling too much when he came back to the bench. I said, ‘Where’s that smile?’ I think he was thinking like a 50-goal scorer there.”
Goals from Kopitar, King, Nolan and King (again) staked the Kings to a 4-0 lead in the first period. Jeff Halpern and Martin Hanzal got the Coyotes’ rally started with second-period goals. Hanzal and Shane Doan then scored to tie the score at 4-all only minutes into the third.
Mike Richards’ 28th career shorthanded goal, tied with Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most among active players, put the Kings ahead to stay at 4:19 of the third. Matt Frattin and King scored to pad the Kings’ lead in the closing minutes.
“He’s been pretty good the whole time,” Sutter said of King’s play so far in 2013-14. “He goes about his business every night. He doesn’t sand out, but … it’s good to see him rewarded for goals. He’s our most-solid left winger night in and night out.”