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Hockey

What we learned from the Kings’ 4-2 win over the Coyotes

A hat trick is rare in hockey. At this time of the season, during the heat of a playoff race? It might as well be a unicorn statistic.

Yet there was Jeff Carter taking it upon himself to carry the Kings through a 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes at Staples Center on Thursday. His first hat trick in four years occurred when the Kings needed two points the most … until the next game, which happens to be a huge four-point divisional matchup at the Ducks on Friday.

Here’s what we learned:

This “trade acquisition” is paying off. The running line when Carter sat out four months with a leg injury is that his return would be the equivalent of a trade deadline addition.

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All Carter has done since his Feb.24 return is score 13 goals in a 17-game stretch. Five of those have been against Arizona. Timing was supposed to be the main hurdle for Carter upon his return. He proved Thursday that his hands never went away, with two deflections and a wicked wrist shot that beat Darcy Kuemper for the game-winning goal.

“I’ve had enough work by myself on the ice for a couple of months,” Carter said. “I got a lot of shooting and hand work.”

A lot of his goals have been on deflections, including four against the Coyotes this season.

Said Kings coach John Stevens, ““He scores goals that other guys can’t.”

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The defense will have to take up the slack. That was a given when it became clear that Jake Muzzin will be out for the immediate future. Dion Phaneuf played 22 minutes, 30 seconds, his most since joining the Kings. Kevin Gravel went back into the lineup and played more than 10 minutes.

Of course, it was just another night for Drew Doughty, who logged more than 29 minutes.

The Kings’ defensive system, in theory, is designed to carry on without a player like Muzzin. They went 0-3 without him in January, although that span, against the Nashville Predators, Ducks and San Jose Sharks, was probably more a reflection of their team play.

But it won’t get any easier with the Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild on tap.

Jack Campbell continues to roll. It’s still mesmerizing to Campbell to be counted on, at this time of the season with this much on the line, but he’s ridden it well.

Some of that has to do with the Kings’ structure in blocking shots or letting Campbell see shots. The numbers don’t lie: Campbell is 2-0-2 after his 20-save win against an Arizona team that had just beaten division leaders Tampa Bay and Las Vegas. He still critiqued himself sharply, though.

“I think I’ve done well, but I mean, I have a lot more to get better at,” Campbell said. “It’s pretty obvious when I watch the tape with [goalie coach] Billy [Ranford]. It’s exciting because I’m not even close to where I can get to as far as my details of my game.”

Campbell’s win was earned against Darcy Kuemper, who was traded by the Kings as Campbell was given a shot at the backup role.

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“He looked good and I learned a lot from him while he was here, but I wanted to get two points for the team,” Campbell said of Kuemper. “It was just really good to go out there and get it done.”

curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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