LOS ANGELES — After a day of reckoning on Wednesday, it was a night of resilience on Thursday, when the Kings surmounted a two-goal deficit and some poor puck luck to upend the Arizona Coyotes, 5-3, at Crypto.com Arena.
A day earlier, practice was canceled abruptly in favor of an all-hands-on-deck meeting during which General Manager Rob Blake addressed the entire roster and coaching staff.
And there was more than just talk.
Struggling goalie Cal Petersen, once anointed the Kings’ netminder of the future, was waived and sent to the American Hockey League so he could play consistently and regain consistency. Joining him were forward Rasmus Kupari and defenseman Jordan Spence, while goalie Pheonix Copley, forward Tyler Madden, winger Samuel Fagemo and defenseman Tobias Bjornfot were called up to the Kings. It was a fitting flurry of swaps between the Kings and their top minor-league affiliate ahead of the Kings’ “Ontario Reign night.”
Fagemo and Bjornfot dressed Thursday and contributed an assist apiece. It was the captain, center Anze Kopitar, leading the way with the Kings’ first goal and the game-winner. Wingers Trevor Moore, Carl Grundstrom and Kevin Fiala also scored, with Fiala chipping in an assist. Jonathan Quick made 18 saves for the Kings, who had dropped five of their previous six games, including a wild 9-8 overtime defeat against Seattle on Tuesday.
Wingers Christian Fisher and Matias Maccelli each scored a goal for Arizona, as did center Nick Bjugstad. Karel Vejmelka saved 27 of 31 shots. Maccelli added an assist while center Dylan Guenther had two.
“I don’t know about a statement game, but I thought our energy was there right off the start. It was a bit of a test in the second period the way we went down two goals, you know, we came back” Kopitar said.
Late in the game, the Kings withstood a scramble from Arizona, which only registered one shot on goal in the third, before they saw Fiala ring the post with a shot and then seal the deal with an empty-net goal with 1:58 left. Fiala also collected his team-topping 20th assist Thursday on Kopitar’s first goal, making him the fifth fastest player to 20 assists after joining the Kings.
“Going into the third period with the game tied, and being able to play the hockey that we want to play, stingy and tight, not giving up a whole lot, that was a great third period,” Kopitar said.
Kopitar put the Kings ahead for good 5:22 into the final frame. During a four-on-four sequence, he drove hard on defenseman J.J. Moser, beating him badly to the outside before cutting toward the middle to let a shot rip to the far side. It was his seventh goal of the season and his fourth in as many games, as well as his 89th point in 86 career games against the Coyotes. That’s the most he has scored against any team and more than any other Kings player has scored against the Arizona franchise, whose existence began in Winnipeg.
“He was tremendous tonight,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s been good all along, sometimes the goals coming off his tape aren’t there, but he’s done really good things this year.”
In the second period, the Kings fell down by a pair of goals and rallied back to even through 40 minutes.
The fourth line generated a two-on-one rush on which Grundstrom elected to keep the puck and fire high to the short side, knotting the score at three with 1:32 remaining. Fagemo’s assist on the play was his first NHL point.
The Kings’ power play had closed their gap to a goal. Defenseman Sean Durzi’s keep-in and cross-ice pass for winger Viktor Arvidsson created space for Moore to flash to the net. There, Arvidsson’s touch pass through the seam found him for a redirection goal at 9:09, just over two minutes after Arizona cushioned its lead.
Already feeling heat from the Arizona forecheck, the Kings allowed a third goal and their second of the night after a defenseman stumbled. Alex Edler took a spill in the corner of his own zone against pressure after his skate blade came loose. The Coyotes gobbled up the giveaway before Guenther sent a pass to an unmarked Bjugstad for a goal in tight.
The Kings already faced their second deficit of the night just 4:28 into the second period. Guenther won an offensive-zone draw cleanly back to defenseman Troy Stecher. Stecher, who spent part of last season with the Kings, let fly with a shot that glanced off Maccelli on its way past a screened Quick.
“I thought there was a missed call on the faceoff, for interference on Mooresy,” McLellan said of the Maccelli goal. “Then Edler loses his steel in the corner, we’re down a player and can’t recover. So, strange scenarios that, right now, with our team, could push us one way or the other, and I thought the end of the second, coming back, set up for the third.”
The Kings headed into the first intermission deadlocked at one with a calamitous bounce and some purposeful puck movement that both came in the span of 37 seconds during their second power play.
A clever entry put Arizona on its heels before winger Gabe Vilardi set up Kopitar’s one-timer from below the right faceoff dot.
Kopitar’s goal erased the edge Arizona gained during that same power play when Durzi fell down near the blue line, leaving Fischer with an unmolested shorthanded breakaway that he finished with a simple shot along the ice to Quick’s glove side.
While Blake was vague in many of his remarks Thursday morning, he identified the Kings’ struggling penalty kill concretely as an area that needed improvement. They killed a 4-minute, double-minor penalty midway through the first period. The kill was punctuated by four saves from Quick and a near own-goal by Vejmelka at the other end, foreshadowing two clutch third-period efforts that were part of a perfect performance on the PK on a night when the Kings continued their success a man up with two power-play goals.
Blake also spoke of reconciling their expected goals against with goals allowed, a gap that has actually shrunk from last season to this year, even as the Kings’ save percentage has continued to plummet. Beyond that, there were few details about the closed-door convocation.
The Kings had the sort of start one might expect after some inferable combination of hand-wringing and motivational discourse, registering nine of the game’s first 10 shots on goal. That included a spirited effort on their first power play, during which they hit the net six times.
After the game, McLellan downplayed the upheaval surrounding Petersen’s demotion, the personnel shuffling and the meeting called by Blake. Kopitar said the room also took it all in stride.
“We’re all pros. We know what we’ve got to do, and, ultimately, this business comes down to wins and losses, and it’s a lot more fun when you win games,” Kopitar said.