For so long, the truly maddening part of watching Austin Wagner was the disconnect between his legs and his hands.
The red-headed rookie is blessed with NHL speed but has had trouble finishing the opportunities that creates. He scored one goal in his first 22 games before Tuesday.
Then it finally came together, and the same could be said for the Kings. Wagner capped his first two-goal game with a breakaway score, and the Kings broke through with a 4-1 win against the Stanley Cup-contending Winnipeg Jets at Staples Center.
Wagner pointed to Matt Luff, his close friend and roommate in the minors who set up the breakaway goal.
“He’s got an assist on every one of my goals this year,” Wagner said. “That says something. But he’s playing well … the team played awesome tonight. You look at that game, and we found a way to win, which is the biggest thing.”
After an 0-2-2 trip that wrapped up 17 games played in 30 days, the Kings turned in an all-too infrequent complete game. Drew Doughty led the defensive end with four of the Kings’ 18 blocked shots.
“Tonight, I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that we should have won that hockey game,” Doughty said. “We played a full 60 minutes, and that’s really good Kings hockey. We need to do it again, and again.”
Wagner beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck on a breakaway that started from the red line, thanks to a pass from Luff. Wagner sent the puck past Hellebuyck’s blocker side for a 3-1 lead the Kings took into the third period.
“Luffer gave me a great pass,” Wagner said. “I just put my head down and skate[d] hard, tried to separate myself and create some space, and I was fortunate enough to put the puck in the net there.”
Wagner did the dirty work for his first goal when he chased the puck and harried the Jets into a turnover that Daniel Brickley grabbed and floated on net. Wagner tipped it with the shaft of his stick for a high hop that trickled over the goal line 13 minutes into the game.
“He was unbelievable tonight and he has been for a while,” Luff said. “He’s a good kid and we’re good friends. To see him get two is huge, and I was hoping he might get a hat trick. But it’s a good team win, and good for Wags.”
Doughty led the Kings’ response to Mathieu Perreault’s redirect goal one minute, 52 seconds into the second period.
There was also the second Kings goal negated by an offside challenge in as many games when Jake Muzzin’s score was taken away.
Doughty saved a goal with a block on Mason Appleton’s shot. He jumped into the play at the other end to take Anze Kopitar’s pass off his skate and shoot a puck that Alex Iafallo tipped for a 2-1 lead about halfway through the game.
Doughty also took a puck off his chest to save another goal later in the second period.
Gabriel Vilardi was ruled out of the World Junior Championships, according to TSN. The Kings prospect was attempting to make Canada’s team after another injury setback.
Fellow Kings prospects Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Markus Phillips are expected to play for Canada. Official rosters are submitted Tuesday.