L.A. Kings finally earn consecutive wins: Pheonix Copley shines, Jordan Spence gets a shot


LOS ANGELES — Thirty-five days.

That was the length of time the Kings went without consecutive victories from their season-high fourth straight win on Nov. 12 to Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over San Jose when Pheonix Copley made a decisive stop on Alexander Barabanov in the fourth round of a shootout.

The victories in Boston and then at home against the Sharks both required extra time and the shooter-versus-goalie skills competition but that doesn’t matter much when the toughest opponent Los Angeles has gone up against this weird season is momentum. Every tussle with that has been a losing battle. They couldn’t spank a struggling San Jose outfit but that wouldn’t dim the good vibes in the Kings’ locker room afterward.

“Everything’s better when you win,” Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “Coming to the rink. Confidence around the room within the team. Players. Everyone. It brings a lot of positive momentum and it’s something I know we haven’t been happy with as a group kind of going one and one all the time. We’re happy to get two and now we just worry about the next one and try to make it three.”

That next one comes Tuesday in their first of three matchups with Southern California rival Anaheim. This will be the test to see if they will finally build on success and make it last for more than a couple days. The Ducks are just above Chicago at the bottom of the league but there should still be plenty of motivation to keep a good thing going.

Until they rode home from Boston with their victory over the league-leading Bruins, the Kings alternated wins and losses while throwing in overtime defeats, third-period faceplants and scoreboard-scorching goal-fests in a weird 5-6-4 run that didn’t include a strong victory other than the excellent Nov. 16 one-off in Edmonton. Never mind that one-time would-be No. 1 goalie Cal Petersen was demoted to the American Hockey League during that time.

But here the Kings are, 17-12-5 and hovering behind first-place Vegas in a Pacific Division packed with teams that can’t get out of their own way. Yes, they’ve played more games than every other NHL team and have a negative goal differential so it makes making hay right now more important once the division contenders catch up and Todd McLellan’s group finally gets some breaks in a brutal schedule.

“It doesn’t matter how it happened,” said Trevor Moore, who had the decisive shootout goals against the Bruins and Sharks and is now armed with a well-earned five-year contract extension. “But I think we like the way that it happened. I think we were consistent. Stuck with it the whole time. Tried to play our game, unlike Buffalo and Columbus where we kind of slipped away and tried to do it the wrong way.

“Shootout wins are shootout wins and we’ll take them.”

Considering what the Kings have been through, Saturday’s contest was a calm, workmanlike affair that might have brought some long-sought-after stability. The teams traded power-play goals in the first period and while San Jose grabbed the lead in the second on Kevin Labanc’s slap shot off a rush, the Kings responded just 50 seconds later when Jaret Anderson-Dolan buried a rebound past Sharks goalie James Reimer.

It was the reward for a hardworking shift by the fourth line. The Kings’ bottom six has been in flux and this line had Rasmus Kupari and Gabriel Vilardi — with a team-leading 13 goals but none in eight games — as the win in Boston didn’t stop McLellan from throwing his lineup in a bag and giving it another good shake. For instance, Viktor Arvidsson returned after missing two games to be with his wife for the birth of their second child but that didn’t drive McLellan to throw him back with Moore and Phillip Danault. Instead, Arvidsson skated on the newest configuring of the third line with Arthur Kaliyev and Blake Lizotte. Alex Iafallo stayed with Moore and Danault.

“We have a few players that had real good, hot starts right now that are struggling a little bit,” McLellan said of his lineup changes. “But there’s ups and downs with everybody. We’re trying to position them so maybe they can gain a little more confidence and get going again.”

Another notable change was inserting Jordan Spence on the blue line for his season debut with the club. The 21-year-old has torn up the AHL over the last two seasons but his path to full-time NHL duty has been blocked by the defense’s loaded right side that includes hot prospect Brandt Clarke, who played his first nine games with the Kings and is now with Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championship.

It might have been a long wait between back-to-back wins for the Kings but the wait for Spence was 225 days since he last played for them in Game 3 against the Oilers. With Sean Walker having a spotty comeback from major knee surgery, Spence got his chance on the third pairing with Alex Edler. And he felt his 24 games with the Kings along with invaluable experience in the Stanley Cup playoffs made for a seamless return.

Of remaining patient, Spence said, “For me, I don’t really want to think about it too much when I’m with the Reign. I just wanted to play my game. If I play my game well and if I’m doing well, I’ll eventually get called up. And, luckily, I got called up last week and had the opportunity to play (Saturday). It’s always an honor playing. To have another big win tonight in the shootout, it’s always a great feeling.”

Spence didn’t play a ton — just 13:47 and none of that in special teams. But he posted solid underlying metrics in his ice time and didn’t shy away from San Jose’s Evgeny Svechnikov trying to ruffle his feathers, even drawing a roughing penalty. And that was the Australian-born defender out there in overtime, getting two great chances to win the game. “I wanted to score there but at the end of the day, we won,” he said.

“I thought he looked great,” Anderson said. “Obviously, he’s more offensive-minded and we got a few guys right now that are good on the offensive side of it. He’s been patient. But I thought he did good. He made some really good, poised plays. Especially on breakouts. He didn’t throw pucks away. Held onto it and maybe come back and found a good play instead of just chipping it out.

“Happy for him. He’s a great guy. When he comes in, he fits right in the room which is nice.”

Spence’s summer mission was to get stronger, which he did by gaining “eight or nine pounds,” he estimates. He’s among several on a smallish L.A. blue line that many contend is desperate for some type of reshaping if the Kings want to be back in the playoffs and take the next step toward becoming a team that can make a run. McLellan acknowledges that Spence still being in the AHL is a circumstance that’s “out of his control” but added that players were always asking about him and that he’s already earned their trust even if he’s not always with them.

“Well, he’s done everything that he can do (with AHL Ontario) and he’s done it at a very high level,” McLellan said. “The offensive part of his game down there is elite. His vision. His ability to create. And create without risk is something that he has in his toolkit.

“We asked him this summer because of his size — not because of lack of competitiveness or anything, but because of his size — to get a little stronger so that he can handle those plays in and around the net. I know he did that. That area has improved as well. Credit to him for taking information, applying it and now benefitting from it.”

The other things that emerged out of Saturday are a penalty-killing unit that got the job done in their second straight win and Copley continuing to give the Kings some consistent netminding. They’re still 28th on the penalty kill and gave one up on the power play as they did in Boston. But just as that occurred, they also erased penalties in overtime. (And also, on Saturday, took care of a Kevin Fiala minor late in regulation.)

Even Meier’s goal didn’t bother McLellan too much. “We had a chance to clear it,” he said. “Didn’t quite get there. But the rest of the night, we did a pretty darn good job. Really good in overtime.”

The bigger story is Copley, who has started three consecutive games and has won four of his five since subbing in for Petersen. Throw out the six-goal third-period mess in Buffalo and the 30-year-old Alaskan is stopping pucks at a .938 clip. It is now his net, not Petersen’s. Not even Jonathan Quick’s.

“He’s fit in very well, which isn’t a surprise,” McLellan said. “He has experience and carries himself well. Guys enjoy being around him and want him to be part of the group. When he’s in the net, he looks confident and calm which can calm things down for all of us.

“He’s made some really big saves. He’s made some simple, easy saves. Obviously, in the shootout, he’s had success back-to-back nights. We have three quality goaltenders in our organization. They’re all going to have to play at some point. Right now, he’s running hot and we’ll likely keep going there.”

Let’s see if Saturday’s momentum-keeping win means the Kings will start running hot.

(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)


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