LOS ANGELES — Wayne Simmonds may have found a permanent job location.
After spending most of the season on the third line, the 22-year-old right wing is making the most of his recent audition with top-line center Anze Kopitar.
Simmonds scored two goals Thursday night to help the Kings defeat the Minnesota Wild, 4-2, at Staples Center and move into sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
It was his first goal in 16 games and the second multi-goal game of his three-year career. Simmonds scored twice against Phoenix in October, but that game ended in a 4-2 loss. He had a lot more to celebrate this time around.
“I just haven’t been getting a lot of bounces,” Simmonds said. “I’ve been going to the net hard and tonight I was just getting bounces, trying to get my shots off quick, and I got two goals.”
Each time Simmonds hit the net, his shot came from directly in front of goalie Niklas Backstrom. On the first score, he received a pass from behind the Minnesota goal from defenseman Jack Johnson during a first-period power play and hammered the puck into the net for a 1-0 lead.
After the Wild tied the score in the second period, Simmonds worked to retain possession along the boards, dumped it off to Kopitar and then skated between the face-off circles. Kopitar passed the puck back to Simmonds and he blasted a shot into the top left corner.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve played with Simmonds before,” Kopitar said. “It takes a little bit of time to get the chemistry going ... now I think we’re getting to the point where we’re going to get over the hump, and now we’re creating chances.”
Kings coach Terry Murray said the second goal by Simmonds stood out in his mind.
“He was moving his feet,” Murray said. “That, in my opinion, is why he has been playing really well in the last dozen games. He’s doing the right things in the offensive zone when he’s getting the puck on his stick. He’s creating separation and now everything opens up to make some plays.”
Simmonds now has 11 goals on the season, well within reach of the career-high 16 he scored a year ago. More important, Simmonds helped the Kings stay in the middle of a tight playoff race.
“We’re going to have to scratch and claw for everything,” he said. “Whether you get one point or two points, every one is valuable.”