GLENDALE, Ariz. – Justin Williams knew the Los Angeles Kings were going to win eventually. He knew Anze Kopitar would start scoring goals eventually and he would find his way on the score sheet personally – eventually.
But Williams admitted that if all three things didn't happen Saturday, when he assisted on one of two Kopitar goals and the defending champions won for the first time since hoisting the Stanley Cup seven months ago with a 4-2 win against the Phoenix Coyotes, the flight back to Los Angeles would feel a lot longer than an hour.
"No one in here thought we were going to go 0-48, but when you lose the first three you sure don't want to let things get away," Williams said. "It's been seven months and things don't come back at the snap of a finger. But it was time to win a game and get a little pressure off."
Jeff Carter and Jake Muzzin also scored for the Kings, who had scored only four goals while going 0-2-1 in their first three games The top line of Kopitar, Williams and captain Dustin Brown had combined for exactly zero points and were a combined minus-7 in the losses, but they produced on Saturday and for the first time since beating the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, they skated off a winner.
"There was no fire underneath me, but it was nice to get (the first goals and points) out of the way. You definitely think about it," Kopitar said. "We wanted to get off to a good start. We talked about it and we planned for it. But it's been a little bit of a struggle."
Their foes from the Western Conference Finals a year ago can certainly relate. The Coyotes have lost four of their first five to start the season, allowing 20 goals thanks to a toxic combination of bad turnovers, poor zone coverage and subpar goaltending – first from Mike Smith and now Jason LaBarbera, who is 1-2 in three games subbing for the injured Smith.
Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan scored for the Coyotes and Phoenix had two other disputed goals washed out during the night. But after blowing leads in their previous three losses, the Coyotes never led Saturday as the Kings scored off wide-open shots and gaping rebounds.
"It's frustrating. We do some good things in the game and then we give up a couple of chances and it ends up in the back of our net," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We have to pound away. It's the only thing we can do. I think there are players who can improve their play, we can improve our team play, but execution of simple plays … when you make mistakes like that it's going to come back to bite you.
"Adversity is hitting us right in the face, and we can either let it beat us up or get after it."
Jonathan Quick made 32 saves for the Kings, who still don't have a power-play goal -- they're now 0-for-23 -- but didn't need one Saturday. LaBarbera had 27 saves for Phoenix, but he struggled with his puck tracking and rebound control. Each time, Los Angeles capitalized.
"We've had moments in each game where we've felt like we've controlled 15 or 20 minutes at a time," Doan said. "But to a man, including myself, we haven't figured out how to play the full 60 minutes. We have to find ways to win games, not just come close."
Kopitar and the Kings got on the board 1:04, when he took a pass from Brown in the slot and beat LaBarbera up high.
"I played with Jason a lot (as teammates in Los Angeles) and I had a bit of an edge there," he said.
Just over a minute later, penalties to Muzzin and Colin Fraser gave the Coyotes two minute of 5-on-3 power play time and they cashed in. Oliver Ekman-Larsson drilled a shot off the post, but the rebound caromed right to Boedker, who popped in his first goal of the season at 3:47.
But Kopitar and the Kings answered quickly. LaBarbera was caught tracking Williams left of the crease and Williams' centering pass found Kopitar all alone for his second of the night at 5:08.
The Kings made it 3-1 midway through the period when LaBarbera stopped Simon Gagne's shot from the right wing, but left the rebound sitting in the slot for an unmarked Carter to bang home at 11:33. The two-goal lead was the Kings' first of the season.
Phoenix appeared to cut that lead in half seconds later when David Moss tipped home a Michael Stone shot from the point, but Moss was called for interfering with Quick in the crease and the goal was disallowed.
The Coyotes started the third period quickly when Doan hammered a Lauri Korpikoski feed past Quick just 22 seconds in and earned a power play less than a minute later. But the Kings survived the surge and put away the game at 8:35, when Muzzin's wrist shot from the left point eluded LaBarbera's glove.
Phoenix had a second goal washed out with 39.6 seconds left when the whistle blew an instant before Radim Vrbata slid in a rebound sitting behind Quick in the Kings' crease into the net.