It wasn't anti-Anze hockey, but for the last month or so, Kings center Anze Kopitar wasn't looking quite like his usual dominant self.
He scored three goals in February and March and just twice in the last 15 games before Monday's action and was a combined minus-five in games last week against Anaheim and Vancouver with two assists.
Against the New Jersey Devils? Pluses all around.
Kopitar was a significant force Monday with a hand in all three Kings goals in their 3-1 victory over the Devils at Prudential Center. He had a goal and two assists, and was a plus-two, for his first three-point game since March 3 at Edmonton, showing vision and patience along with his high-end, goal-scoring skill.
"He's played really well lately," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. "Handled the puck well and managed the game and looked like a dominant player on the ice the last few games."
For Kopitar, he thought it was one of his better efforts in the last five to seven games. But he always turns individual matters to the larger team issue at hand.
"It was huge. We knew that the start of this road trip was going to be huge," said Kopitar, who scored his 15th goal of the season. "I guess on paper this was supposed to be the easiest game because they're not in a playoff position. But you know they're a very good team, a very structured team. We wanted to make sure we didn't come out easy, and I thought we did a pretty good job in the first period."
Defenseman Andrej Sekera had his first goal — to make it 1-0 in the first period — with the Kings, and Kopitar's linemate Marian Gaborik had two assists, and their other goal, via a five-on-three advantage, came from forward Tyler Toffoli, his 21st of the season.
Toffoli's goal, at 19:22 of the first period, made it 2-0. If not for Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who faced 16 shots in the first period and 33 overall, the scoreline could have been more one-sided. New Jersey's lone goal came from Scott Gomez, cutting the deficit to 2-1 at 2:12 of the second period.
The main storyline(s) for the Kings had been the return of Kings center Mike Richards, who was recalled from the minors and played his first game with the Kings since Jan. 21. If that wasn't enough, defenseman Alec Martinez (concussion-like symptoms) appeared in his first game since the injury occurred at Tampa Bay on Feb. 7.
"Conditioning-wise, I felt great," said Martinez, who played 16-plus minutes. "Obviously, the only way to get back in game shape is to play games. I felt pretty good, wind-wise. I think I can sharpen some things up. I thought probably a couple of reads I could have made a little quicker, a little bit better. But I've got Greenie [Matt Greene] back there to help me out."
The lingering nature of his injury made him feel isolated, especially when the Kings were on trips and Martinez was home in Los Angeles.
"Oh, being out [stinks]," Martinez said. "There's no way around it. Especially with that particular injury. You don't really come around much, and it's pretty easy to start to feel you're not a part of things. ... It's a fun time of the year, a real serious and important time of the year. I'm just happy to be back and be a part of it."
Richards, meanwhile, said he felt better after his opening shift and appeared more comfortable as the game went along. He and Martinez spoke about rejoining the team at a crucial juncture.
"I think it's a relaxed focused attitude," said Richards, who played 11 minutes 41 seconds and had a shot on goal. "Everyone knows what they need to do. They aren't Game 7s, but it's starting to be crunch time, and I think everyone understands that."
Said Kopitar: "It's great to have those guys back: Alec, just the presence back there, and Mike, maybe it's not going to show on the scoresheet, but he's a huge part of this team."
KINGS VS. RANGERS
When: Tuesday, 4 p.m. PDT.
Where: Madison Square Garden.
On the air: TV: NBC Sports; Radio: 790.
Etc.: The Rangers have allowed two goals or fewer in 10 consecutive games. It's the second game of the year between last season's Stanley Cup finalists. New York won at Staples Center, 4-3, on Jan. 8.