Kings 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Eight keys to the game:
THE FACTS: The Darryl Sutter-era continues to sink its claws into L.A., as the Kings wore down the highest-scoring team in the NHL from the opening drop, pushing and shoving their way to a 4-1 victory Saturday night against the Canucks at Staples Center. The victory moved the Kings atop the Pacific Division standings.
THE STAT: Matched against a team known for its finesse and skill, the Kings countered with their muscle. Dustin Brown, who has finished in the top three in the NHL in hits the last five seasons and came into this game ranked No. 3, set the tone with five slams in the first eight minutes and seven of his team’s 17 in the opening period. He finished with nine hits, helping the Kings to a 30-22 advantage.
TURNING POINT: With the Kings clinging to a one-goal lead midway through the second period, Mike Richards went to the penalty box for four minutes after his high stick cut the lip of Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler. Vancouver, with the No. 1 power-play unit in the league, was snuffed out by the Kings for their 25th consecutive penalty kill. Seconds later, Justin Williams led a rush into the offensive zone and passed to Anze Kopitar on his left. Kopitar dragged his right skate at the blue line to stay on sides, cut in front of the net with the puck and lifted a tough-angle backhand over sprawled Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo. The goal was a big one for Kopitar, ending a career-long streak of 17 consecutive games without a goal.
HOT: Kings third liner Brad Richardson, mired in a confidence-zapping slump the first two months of the season, scored the first goal for the Kings, swatting in a rebound after Luongo had stopped his first swipe. The goal was Richardson’s third in December, which ties him with Williams for second most on the team this month. Richardson got involved in the second goal as well, providing a screen on Luongo as defenseman Matt Greene let go a slap shot for a 2-1 lead with 11:40 remaining in the second period.
NOT: Kings defenseman Drew Doughty looked like a marked man by the Canucks and their antics seemed to knock him off his game. He finished with three giveaways and a minus-1 rating.
GOOD MOVE: Kopitar made a nice move on his goal and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick delivered his regular staple of highlight-reel saves, but it was actually Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin who probably made the biggest jaw-dropping move. He made a no-look drop pass to trailing defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who banked his shot off the left goal post for a 1-0 lead on Vancouver’s first shot of the game.
BAD MOVE: Vancouver defenseman Keith Ballard appeared to spear Kings second-year forward Kyle Clifford behind the Vancouver net after the Kings had taken a three-goal lead in the third period. Clifford took exception and appeared to challenge Ballard to a fight, but nothing ensued until Clifford was knocked down by a couple other Canucks, then Ballard decided to throw a few sucker punches while Clifford was on his back. Both players received roughing penalties and 10-minute game misconducts, but Ballard definitely took an additional blow to his reputation.
NOTABLE: Sutter, who improved to 4-0-2 since taking the job last week, started Richards with Kopitar on the top line for the first time this season . . . Kings rookie forward Andrei Loktionov had two assists for his second multi-point game of his career. He had two assists in 17 games coming in . . . Luongo was 9-1-1 in last 11 games coming in . . . The Kings played a home game on New Year’s Eve for just the second time in franchise history. The other time was in 1991, a loss to the Canucks at The Forum . . . The Kings scored a first-period goal for only the 10th time in the last 34 games . . . The Kings scored more than two goals for just the second time in the last 18 games . . . The Kings improved to 70-0-4 when leading after the second period.
UP NEXT: Monday vs. the Colorado Avalanche at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.