Column: Kings finish perfect homestand but there’s a hitch: Anze Kopitar hurt

Kings center Anze Kopitar beats Blue Jackets center Michael Chaput to the puck during the second period Sunday.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

There was much for the Kings to celebrate Sunday, but their joy was tempered by the harsh realities that are part of a game played by ever-bigger, faster players in a confined space.

That the Kings pulled away from the hard-hitting Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period to earn a 5-2 victory at Staples Center was commendable. That they got another exceptional performance from the line of Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, who produced four goals and are responsible for 16 of the team’s 21 goals this season, was welcome because their other lines are silent. That they went 6-0-0 on a homestand for the first time in club history was nice, too, but also a necessity to keep pace in the unforgiving Pacific Division.

“Some of the goals that we’re scoring, the other team is tired and we’re coming off the rush and getting good chances and we’re bearing down,” Toffoli said. “So we just have to keep playing hard and keep staying focused and keep going.”


But the Kings’ reactions generally were subdued, and rightfully so.

Center Anze Kopitar, who has led the team in scoring each of the last seven seasons, left the game about 13 minutes into the second period after an awkward behind-the-net collision and did not return. Typically, the club provided no information besides calling it an upper-body injury.

Coach Darryl Sutter said Kopitar is “all right,” and gave the same response when asked if Kopitar will accompany the team to Philadelphia on Monday to start a five-game trip. The Kings would have difficulty replacing him because they have only about $500,000 in cap space. The salary of defenseman Slava Voynov, suspended indefinitely by the NHL last Monday after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, continues to count against the Kings’ cap total. Voynov’s status remains unchanged, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Sunday.

“We don’t want Kopi to be hurt,” said Toffoli, who matched Carter on Sunday with a goal and three assists. “Let’s hope he’s fine.”

Another moment that appeared more ominous seems to have had a happy resolution. It occurred 8 minutes 26 seconds into the third period, when Columbus forward Nick Foligno was bumped by Carter in front of the Kings’ bench and collided with linesman Shane Heyer, striking his head on the linesman’s body and falling face-first to the ice. Foligno was motionless for several minutes and was carried off on a stretcher, managing a weak wave as the crowd respectfully applauded.

Foligno underwent X-rays at Staples Center and Blue Jackets officials afterward said he had a stiff neck and would be able to travel home with the team. Sutter and several Kings checked on Foligno’s condition, classy gestures in a sport where there are no friends on the ice but a big brotherhood away from the field of play.

“It’s scary when that happens, especially when someone gets taken off on a stretcher,” Pearson said. “You obviously don’t want to see that happen and hope he’s doing OK now.”

Columbus ended the Kings’ penalty-killing streak at 18 when Tim Erixon scored past Jonathan Quick from deep on the left side at 14:39 of the first period. Carter brought the Kings even when he swatted the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky during a five-on-three advantage early in the second period, and goals by Toffoli and Dwight King 2:02 apart gave the Kings some breathing room.

Mark Letestu beat Quick to the glove side with 56 seconds left in the second period to cut the Kings’ lead to 3-2 but Pearson whipped a shot over Bobrovsky’s shoulder at 11:49 and converted a rebound at 15:26. That gave him, Carter and Toffoli a combined 16 goals and 33 points in the last seven games.

“They’re bearing down on their opportunities,” Sutter said. “The goals that they scored on tonight were probably the opportunities that they had, which means in this league you finish your opportunities. Hopefully, as a team we can follow their lead a little bit.”

And have nothing to detract from their satisfaction if they do.

Twitter: @helenenothelen