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Kings keep climbing with 4-1 throttling of Vancouver

by Curtis Zupke
LOS ANGELES – Momentum swings don't get much bigger than this.

The Vancouver Canucks were primed to take control of Saturday's game with a four-minute power play. But the Los Angeles Kings came up with a huge penalty kill and perhaps their biggest win so far under coach Darryl Sutter.

Nine seconds after the Kings killed off a high-sticking double minor to Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar scored for a two-goal lead and the Kings added a rare power play goal for a 4-1 victory in front of a sellout New Year's Eve crowd.

Los Angeles improved to 4-0-2 under Sutter, a mark that also includes a victory at Chicago earlier in the week.

"Coming right back and scoring a goal is huge," said Kopitar, who snapped a 17-game goal-scoring drought.

"It flattened them out. I thought the second period tonight was good for us. That's what we have to build on."

That they played a 60-minute game against one of the premier NHL teams wasn't lost on the Kings. Vancouver, which was attempting to tie the franchise record with 11 wins in a month, suffered only its third regulation loss in 14 contests.

"It says we have a lot of character," Kopitar said. "We can definitely do it. Now it's a just a matter of doing it night in and night out. That's what Darryl's pushing for us. We have to recognize it."

The game played out as expected with L.A.'s stingy defense colliding with Vancouver's high-powered offense. The Kings' fourth-ranked penalty-killing unit nullified four attempts by Vancouver's top-rated power play and extended its streak to 26 straight penalties killed.

The difference was what constitutes as an offensive outburst for L.A., which scored more than two goals in regulation for only the second time in the past 18 games. Sutter moved Richards to the top line with Kopitar and Dustin Brown. He has stressed balance among all the lines, and there appears to be more quickness.

"We're just trying to get everybody to do that," Sutter said. "It can't be hit and miss. It's just getting everybody to do it."

There also appears to be a different attitude under Sutter, whose no-nonsense approach seems to be the right medicine for L.A.

"What's that line -- the greatest loss you can have is a loss of confidence," Sutter said. "If everybody was struggling with confidence, it's not my job to pile dirt on them. It's to take them out of it. It doesn't mean you're always going to win, but as long as they're going in the right direction, that's a good thing."

After Richards' penalty expired, Justin Williams laid out a deft pass for Kopitar, whose backhand left Roberto Luongo flat on his stomach for a 3-1 lead. It was Kopitar's first goal since Nov. 22. Despite the slump, he is second on the team with 11 goals.

"It was big," Kopitar said. "Always when you go through struggles like that, it feels good to get it off your back. No better place and time to do it, too, than Vancouver."

Vancouver knows it might have been a different game if they score on the four-minute advantage.

"That's an opportunity for us to get a big goal there," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "We had some chances. Maybe a little bit sloppy but the ice obviously wasn't in the greatest of conditions. Power play is what hurts teams. We had an opportunity there and we didn't take capitalize."

Bieksa was asked about the Kings breaking out with four goals.

"We gave them lots of chances," he said. "We gave them lots of power plays. We were a little loose, at times, in our zone. It wasn't so much them. I think it was a little bit more us."

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault was more diplomatic.

"I think you have to give L.A. credit," Vigneault said. "Both teams had basically the same schedule here for the last little while, but they seemed to have more jump and more energy and obviously better execution than we had tonight. They deserved to win."

Williams tipped in Slava Voynov's shot for a 4-1 lead with Daniel Sedin in the penalty box for hooking. It was only L.A.'s second power play goal in six games.

It was a turnover by Sedin that led to the go-ahead goal. Sedin gave the puck to Andrei Loktionov in the corner, and Matt Greene's shot from the right point made it through Luongo, who lost his stick on the play.
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