Not that it’s any consolation, but the Kings returned to the scene of the crime — where they missed the playoffs last season — and took it out on the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.
The Kings received a first-period goal from Marian Gaborik and never looked back, cruising past the Flames, 4-1, to ring in the New Year on an upbeat note. The victory completed a 3-0 trip through Western Canada, made them 4-0 since the Christmas break and helped them maintain an 11-point lead atop the Pacific Division.
Considering how last year ended — losses to the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary in the final week of the season left them on the outside of the playoff picture — their run through Kings Coach Darryl Sutter’s backyard left them well-positioned, with midseason approaching.
Sutter, naturally, wasn’t overly effusive. He noted that they “got stronger” as the trip went along, and in this game. That Thursday’s game was at the Saddledome had no special meaning for him.
“We never looked at it like that. This had nothing to do with where we were last year,” he said. “We already did more in overtimes this year than we did all of last year.”
Sutter tweaked the third defensive pair — taking Jamie McBain out and putting Christian Ehrhoff back in the lineup. Rookie Derek Forbort has been part of that rotation too.
“Just trying to get more out of the third pair. We haven’t been getting many minutes,” Sutter said. “Christian can play both sides. ... [Of the] three of them, one or two of them have to declare that they’re going to be in every game, not every other game.”
Still, the fact is the Kings have been reeling off the wins, even in the absence of center Jeff Carter, who was leading the team in points when he suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in the Tuesday game against the Arizona Coyotes.
Carter’s minutes have been distributed throughout the lineup and for the second game in a row, the Kings received a valuable insurance goal from the fourth line, Andy Andreoff contributing his third of the season, on an assist from Michael Mersch.
The third line of Dwight King, Trevor Lewis and Dustin Brown shouldered the scoring burden on Tuesday at Edmonton, combining for eight points. Against the Flames, the Kings got scoring from their other three lines. Left wing Tanner Pearson scored an empty-net goal and assisted on Gaborik’s goal.
Milan Lucic received credit for the second Kings goal, which had been awarded to Anze Kopitar, and had an eventful night. In addition to fighting the Flames’ Brandon Bollig, Lucic also batted away a shot from T. J. Brodie which was heading into the open net, on a second-period sequence with the Kings ahead, 3-0.
“That’s kind of a game-changer there,” Kings goalie Jonathan Quick said. “They get one, it’s 3-1 going into the third instead of 3-0. That was a big difference in the game there, in making that play.”
Lucic, smiling, called it a lucky play: “I was joking [it was] my first save of my career. It was just a good stick in a good area. [Quick] was appreciative of it.
“Obviously he bails us out all the time, so it was nice to bail him out there. If it’s 3-1 going into the third period, it could be a completely different game. A lucky play that ends up being a big play in the game.”
The Kings won 10 times in December, a team record. The victory against the Flames was their 13th of the season on the road, tying the Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks for the most in the NHL. Last year, the Kings managed just 15 victories away from Staples Center.