GLENDALE, Ariz. - Lee Stempniak has always scored his goals in bunches during this NHL career. He's never gotten this big a bunch in one night.
Held to a lone assist through Coyotes' first four games when his 13 shots seemed to hit everything but the back of the net, Stempniak broke loose with two goals 2:54 apart in the first period and completed his first career hat trick with an empty-netter to give Phoenix a much-needed 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
Missing two of their top six forwards in captain Shane Doan (suspension) and Martin Hanzal (injury) and in desperate need of a win to escape the Western Conference cellar, the Coyotes got 3 assists from defenseman Ed Jovanovski and a shorthanded goal by AHL callup Andrew Ebbett to kick-start what has been a sluggish beginning to the season.
"We're missing two big parts to our team and everyone had to collectively step up their games tonight," said Stempniak, who hadn't scored since the final week of the 2009-10 regular season after going without a goal in seven playoff games against Detroit last spring. "I was getting a little frustrated, but I knew I was getting chances and our line was playing well. My goals have always come in clumps, so I hope this is the beginning of a little streak for me."
Phoenix fans are used to seeing Stempniak score in bunches. He had 14 goals in 18 games after coming to the Coyotes in a trade deadline deal with Toronto last spring. The Coyotes thought they would lose Stempniak to free agency, but he re-signed with the team in August.
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick had allowed just three goals while winning his first three starts, but Stempniak tipped home a Jovanovski blast from the point 4:30 into the game and then cleaned up a Taylor Pyatt rebound on Quick's doorstep at 7:54 to give the Coyotes the quick start they were looking for. Phoenix outshot the Kings 16-7 in the period and Pyatt and Stempniak teamed with center Vernon Fiddler for a scoring chance on nearly every shift.
"Those guys are all the same kind of hard-nosed players and I know a group like that can tick you off to play against," said Jovanovski, who now has a team-high 5 assists. "We've been sitting around (after coming back from the trip to Prague to start the season) and watching all the other teams play and win games. We have six games in the next 10 days and we have some catching up to do, so this is a good start."
Down 3-0, the Kings came back behind two goals by Wayne Simmonds; the second came when he banged in the rebound of Brad Richardson's shot with 2:41 left. But Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov shut the door from there, and Stempniak split the posts from center ice with 34.6 seconds left to ice it.
The Kings played without defenseman Drew Doughty, who didn't make the trip due to an upper body injury. Doughty will miss at least a week.
"It feels good (to score twice) but it's kind of a win-lose situation," Simmonds said. "I think the first period did us in. In this League, you've got to come out with a good start. We didn't and we paid the price."
Los Angeles coach Terry Murray pointed to the shorthanded goal by Ebbett, called up from AHL San Antonio this week to replace Hanzal, as the backbreaker. The Kings had a strong start to the second and forced a penalty -- but Ebbett finished a 2-on-1 rush started by Jovanovski by beating Quick between the pads at 5:49.
"That was the game-winner," said Murray, whose team has now allowed more shorthanded goals (2) than its power play has scored (1). "Our power play needs to be more of a shot mentality. We're trying to be real cute with it. We're not shooting enough pucks 5-on-5 either."
It was the first shorthanded goal for the Phoenix penalty killers, who have allowed only two goals in opposition 21 power plays.
Doan didn't play for the first time in 193 regular-season games as he sat out the first of a three-game suspension. Hanzal will miss at least the next two games as well, leaving the Coyotes in need of others to step up.
"When we talked as coaches before the game, we knew it was going to take a collective effort to win this game. It had to be," coach Dave Tippett said. "It puts pressure on a lot of key veteran guys, and Jovanovski was a guy who stepped up and did a great job for us."