COLUMBUS, Ohio – Anze Kopitar reached the 100-goal level. He didn’t stay long.
Kopitar, perhaps in the middle of an offensive resurgence, scored the 100th and 101st goals of his young career as the Kings kept rolling on the road, this time by overcoming a slow start to beat Columbus 4-1 on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.
The Kings have matched their season high with a four-game winning streak, have won six of their last seven and now, at 31-19-3, are a season-best 12 games over .500.
They’re also 3-0 on this five-game road trip, which continues Saturday at Boston and ends Sunday at New Jersey. The Kings remain in sixth place in the Western Conference, two points behind fifth-place Phoenix and six points clear of ninth-place Detroit.
Matt Greene scored a big goal, the game’s first, and Ryan Smyth added a goal. After a bumpy start, the game felt almost cool and businesslike and the Kings cruised to a 4-0 third-period lead, and that’s a high compliment to the Kings.
In a game in late January, with immense playoff implications, against a team that still has a faint playoff pulse, the Kings had circles skated around them by the Blue Jackets for the first 10 minutes, but settled down after Greene’s goal and controlled the rest of the game.
Patience and poise -- and ``postseason’’ -- are words that haven’t been associated with the Kings in recent years, but things appear to be different right now.
``Playoffs is the driving force,’’ coach Terry Murray said. ``We had a great start to the season. We had some bumps along the road, a little bit of a dry spell, and the next thing you know, we're right there on that (playoff) cut-off line, and it was important to get back into the thick of things by playing better hockey. We just stayed with it.
``I thought, even during a couple of those losses, we played very well and just didn't come out on the right side of it. But we stayed with it, and now we've got a few wins under our belt, confidence is better. So it's a good thing. We continue with this road trip now, two more games.’’
But will those two games include Jack Johnson? Johnson, one of the Kings’ top defensemen, suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury late in the second period. Murray said he would described Johnson’s status as ``day to day.’’
``It's a little bit of an upper-body injury,’’ Murray said. ``I haven't got any medical report on it, quite honestly. I don't think it's something we are overly concerned about. We're hoping that he's able to recover from it and help us be a part of the next two games on the road.’’
The momentum in Thursday’s game took a sharp turn midway through the first period.
Columbus owned the early part of the period. The Blue Jackets outshot the Kings 7-0 before two minutes had been played, and the Kings had to kill two Columbus power plays within the game’s first seven minutes.
They did, and kept the game scoreless, thanks largely to some magnificent play from goalie Jonathan Quick, who finished with 29 saves. The Kings managed the lead when Greene’s long-range slap shot beat Steve Mason with 8:55 left in the period.
The goal was the fifth of Greene’s five-year career and his second of the season.
``It was a little chaotic there,’’ Quick said. ``(The Blue Jackets) came out hard, they came out flying, and we got a couple bounces there at the beginning. We were fortunate to have it 0-0 after that first 10 minutes.
``Then Greener scored a big goal, and I feel like that kind of deflated them and we didn't look back after that. We played a great game from then on out.’’
Quick finished the first period with 14 saves, and while the Kings’ play improved dramatically, they didn’t take a 2-0 lead until 4:14 remained in the second period.
Wayne Simmonds made a long pass to Smyth, who waited for Kopitar in the Columbus zone and dropped a short pass. Kopitar held the puck and flipped a wrist shot to the far top corner to beat Mason for Kopitar's 100th career goal, in his 289th game.
``It's pretty special,’’ Kopitar said, with the puck sitting in his locker stall. ``You see the guys reaching 300, 400, 500, those big guys, and it's pretty nice. Now I've got it started, a little milestone, and I'm ready to score a couple more now too.’’
Kopitar started this season with 14 goals in his first 18 games and 33 points in his first 24 games, but his pace slowed considerably from mid-November through December.
In 12 games in January, though, Kopitar has six goals and 14 points.
``He's an elite player, and for him to grab a hold of 100 goals is awesome,’’ Smyth said. ``And counting. It's nice to see. Obviously he works hard, not only offensively but defensively, and he's a well-rounded hockey player.’’
The Kings made it 3-0 at the 4:05 mark of the third period. Dustin Brown chased down a puck in the corner and sent it to the front of the net. Smyth got tied up with Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda right in front of the net, and Smyth was credited with the tip-in.
Kopitar’s second goal came on the power play, at the 9:26 mark of the third period. With a 5-on-3 advantage winding down, Kopitar shot from the right side, picked up his own rebound and beat Mason with a high shot from close range.
The goal, according to the scoreboard and the stat sheet, came with one second remaining in the two-man advantage, so it should have counted as a 5-on-3 goal and the Kings should have remained on the power play for another 28 seconds. But, for reasons unknown, the teams were 5-on-5 for the ensuing faceoff.
Quick's potential shutout bid ended with 9:22 remaining in the third period, just 1:12 after Kopitar's goal. Kristian Huselius made a nice move in the slot and tried to carry the puck to the net. He lost it, but Antoine Vermette was there to put a wrist shot past Quick for the Blue Jackets’ only goal.
``We seem to play really good on the road,’’ Kopitar said. ``I thought the first 10 minutes, we were just flat-footed and Quickie stood tall for us and made some crucial saves. I thought our penalty kill came through too. We had to kill off some penalties and, at the same time, I think good teams just find a way to win.
``With Greenie scoring that goal, I thought it was just a big relief on the bench. After that, we kind of got our game back and made good decisions again. Then obviously it's a lot easier playing with the lead. We managed to score a couple more after that and bring the game until the end.’’
1 - 0 LAK