It really doesn’t come easily in Buffalo.
The Kings took a four-goal lead into the third period and allowed the Buffalo Sabres to make it interesting with two goals before a 4-2 win at KeyBank Center that ended a 15-year losing streak in Buffalo.
Losing to the Sabres would have been inexcusable, and the Kings played under that premise for the first 40 minutes and chased goalie Robin Lehner from the net thanks to outstanding games from their first and fourth lines. If the Kings are to make headway in the playoff chase, this was a must-win stop on the schedule that now takes them to Chicago.
Here’s what we learned:
Some tweaks were made. The Kings’ depth has really been challenged lately without Trevor Lewis, in addition to the long-term absence of Jeff Carter.
They do have another option in Nate Thompson, and Kings coach John Stevens experimented Saturday when he put Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford with Thompson, while Torrey Mitchell was with Tanner Pearson and Adrian Kempe.
“It just allows us a little more balance, especially on the road,” Stevens said.
Stevens added that “it’s certainly not a demotion,” an apparent reference to Toffoli on the third line, and indicated he’s intending to spread out the attack more.
“Thommer creates a lot,” Stevens said. “Cliffy gets in on the forecheck. Ty’s going to get puck in areas that are good for us, and I thought the change in lines helped us.”
Michael Amadio has made strides. He’s gotten a fairly regular role since his January call-up and taken advantage with three goals. Amadio positions himself well without the puck and showed the skill Saturday that made him a scorer in the minors (Amadio had a 17-game point streak in the American Hockey League at the time of his Jan.18 recall).
Stevens likes Amadio at center and his play there resulted in his first two-goal game, as well as an excellent game from linemates Andy Andreoff and Jonny Brodzinski.
“I think having that line going tonight allows us to play four lines and really allowed us to play with pace,” Stevens said.
Anze Kopitar is putting on a show. East Coast fans hopefully got an appreciation for an elite center who probably doesn’t get as much attention playing in the Pacific time zone.
Kopitar is one of the best in the league at protecting the puck, and his presence at both ends occupies much of the opponents’ energy. His 24th and 25th goals put him closer to his first 30-goal season since 2009-10, and he is one point short of 800 for his career.
If the Kings were contenders, Kopitar would probably get Hart Trophy consideration. Asked how much the team feeds off of Kopitar’s play, Amadio said, “Definitely a lot more energy for us guys.”