The working title of this latest Kings drama might be “As the Wingers Turn.”
Before the puck was dropped Sunday, the talk was about Carl Hagelin and Ilya Kovalchuk.
None of it was good.
Hagelin, just five games into his Kings career after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins, is week-to-week with a medial collateral ligament strain suffered late Saturday. Kovalchuk, only 23 games into his Kings tenure, has been relegated to the fourth line and was benched in the third period Sunday to complete a career-high ninth straight game without a point.
But one winger helped turn that dial in a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center. Dustin Brown conjured up his years-long chemistry with Anze Kopitar on the Kings’ first two goals and finished the hat trick with an empty-net goal as the Kings ended a five-game home losing streak. Rookie Matt Luff extended his scoring streak to four games with an empty-net goal.
“A lot of it is playing together and reading off each other,” Brown said of Kopitar. “I think I could have had a couple more and he could have probably had one or two more goals tonight. It’s one of those things where our spacing was really good tonight. We found a lot of empty space behind the defenders.”
Kopitar netted the game-winning goal early in the third period, on a breakaway, assisted by Derek Forbort’s pass off the boards. He beat goalie Cam Talbot with a forehand 4:27 into the third period. Kopitar was pleased with one of the team’s best all-around games, physically and offensively.
“We played with desperation, composure today,” Kopitar said. “We weren’t just passing the problems away from yourself. Because of that, you’re coming up the ice with possession. We had more zone time, probably, than any other game this year.”
The Kings will attempt to win two games in a row for the first time under interim coach Willie Desjardins on Tuesday, and they’ll have to do it with another body out. Hagelin found chemistry with Adrian Kempe and Luff in what was one of the team’s more noticeable lines lately. But he was put on injured reserve because of what Desjardins said happened at the beginning of the third period Saturday.
“It was just an innocent play,” Desjardins said. “He went in to hit a guy and the knee came out.”
There was good news on the horizon as Jonathan Quick is nearing a return from a torn meniscus.
When Kovalchuk will emerge from his diminished role — he’s also demoted to the second power-play unit — was another pregame question. Kovalchuk recently declined an interview request, but Desjardins said the $6.25-million winger’s attitude hasn’t changed.
“The one thing I do like, he’s excited to play,” Desjardins said. “He wants to play. When I call his name, it’s not like he mopes and goes out there. Whenever he’s called, he’s up, right, ready to go. I’m hoping that will carry over and he’ll start scoring.”
Brown one-timed Kopitar’s pass on the power play at 4:13 of the second period to tie it 2-2. It was also Kopitar who drove the left side and fed Brown for a re-direction goal in the first period. That capped what might have been the Kings’ best opening 10 minutes of the season.
But they couldn’t keep Connor McDavid quiet for long. Edmonton’s superstar made the Oilers’ first goal happen when he held the puck on the left side on the power play and banked a shot off Alex Chiasson’s knee.
Chiasson struck again in the second period when he was alone in front to tap in a loose puck.