Kings don’t let a pregame surprise derail their game plan in win over Ducks

Kings captain Anze Kopitar, right, celebrates with Adrian Kempe, center, and Alex Iafallo after scoring in the second period.
Kings captain Anze Kopitar, right, celebrates with Adrian Kempe, center, and Alex Iafallo after scoring in the second period of a 4-1 win over the Ducks at the Honda Center on Friday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The way the Los Angeles Kings are playing, not much seems to faze them.

Only 20 minutes before the opening faceoff of Friday night’s game against rival Anaheim at Honda Center it was revealed that Kings coach Todd McLellan had entered COVID protocol and assistant Trent Yawney would serve as acting head coach. Over the next three hours, from his vantage point behind the bench, he had to like what he saw.

The Kings broke the game open with three consecutive goals in the second period on their way to a 4-1 victory — their fourth win in a row and sixth straight on the road — to put more distance between themselves and the Ducks in the Pacific Division with 30 games left.


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“We’d love to have Todd back but as of right now it’s status quo,” Yawney said when asked about the possibility of being back behind the bench. “He could’ve slept it off but to his credit he went and got tested. As a staff it’s been a collective effort and for the last year or so uncertainty seems to be the trend. We’ll make do for the time being. Todd’s only a phone call away and the guys didn’t need anyone behind the bench the way they played tonight. They knew what they had to do and they went out there and did it.”

A playoff intensity was felt as the two franchises wrote the latest chapter in their “Freeway Faceoff” and with two points up for grabs and two points separating the teams in the standings, the players were engaged.

Kings forward Anze Kopitar shoots in front of Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg during the third period.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Figure skater Nathan Chen, who captured the Olympic gold medal in Beijing 15 days earlier and trains up the road at Irvine’s Great Ice Park (owned by Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli) energized the sellout crowd by dropping the ceremonial first puck.

The Kings struck first at the 7:50 mark of the first period when Quinton Byfield broke down right wing and centered to Carl Grundstrom, whose one-timer in the slot beat netminder John Gibson. It was the right winger’s seventh goal of the season and 18th of his career.

Los Angeles doubled its lead early in the second period when Adrian Kempe fired home a feed from Anze Kopitar. Less than seven minutes later, Kopitar tallied his 15th goal of the season when his quick wrist shot on the power play fooled Gibson. Kempe scored his 25th goal of the season at 12:51 of the period to make it 4-0 at which point Gibson was replaced by Anthony Stolarz.

“It feels good, obviously,” Kopitar said. “It’s a little crazy how Todd [McLellan] went down and nobody saw it coming, but Trent [Yawney] and Marco [Sturm] did a good job preparing us and being behind the bench for us.”


Early in the third period, Troy Terry finally gave the home fans something to cheer about when he slapped the puck past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick for his 27th goal of the season. The Ducks continued to apply pressure for the next five minutes but Quick was unfazed by seeing shutout bid ended.

“This is tough to swallow,” Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We didn’t have the compete level and intensity that we needed. It’s embarrassing. They’re our crosstown rivals, we knew where they are in the standings and where we are. Our second periods are becoming a thing and they shouldn’t be. We have to get those bad habits out of our game. Hopefully tonight is another learning lesson.”

The Ducks entered the night having won consecutive games over divisional opponents. The Kings arrived as one of the hottest teams in the league, having posted back-to-back victories over Arizona and an overtime win in Las Vegas. The Kings own a 10-game road point streak (8-0-2) and are one of only a few teams to hold a better record on the road (15-6-5) than on home ice (13-11-2).

Ducks forward Rickard Rakell, left, battles Kings defenseman Matt Roy during the second period.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, top, helps goaltender Jonathan Quick make a save against the Ducks in the second period.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Kings nearly added an empty-net goal with Anaheim on the power play but up two men with Stolarz pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, but the puck traveled the length of the ice and slid inches wide of the post. Quick stopped 25 shots for his 350th win. Stolarz stopped all 12 shots he faced upon relieving Gibson, who saved 16 of 20 shots.


Friday’s game was the teams’ first since the Ducks prevailed in a shootout Nov. 30 at what was then still known as Staples Center. The teams will conclude their four-game series with a home-and-home set in the season’s final weeks, April 19 at Honda Center and April 23 at Arena.

Anaheim leads the all-time regular season series 77-57-11-16 since their first meeting in 1993. The teams have met only once in the postseason with the Kings prevailing in seven games in the 2014 Western Conference semifinals on their way to their second Stanley Cup in three years.

“They played a more structured, disciplined game and it was hard to establish a forecheck,” Shattenkirk added. “Our power play was another sore spot. We couldn’t generate much and that has to change. Teams now are in their best form so it’s not going to get an easier.”