EDMONTON, Canada — The words came first and then the actions followed about nine or so hours later. And just like that, the Kings returned to a place where they have been before, briefly.
First place in the Pacific Division.
This time, they hope to extend their stay. The Kings beat the Oilers, 4-1, at Rexall Place on Friday night, vaulting up the Western Conference standings into the third spot from eighth because Dallas lost at Vancouver. They did it without forward Jeff Carter, who is out for an undetermined amount of time with an injured ankle.
The Kings now have 90 points and the Stars 89. Dallas, now in seventh, had been the division leader, an ever-shifting position in a chaotic race.
After losing Monday in Vancouver, the Kings have put back-to-back wins together in Alberta, and held the Oilers to four shots in the third period, just like they did against the Flames.
They received goals from their leadership core — Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist, Mike Richards had a short-handed goal in the first period, which ended up being the game winner and defenseman Matt Greene added two assists. The other two goals came from the defense: Drew Doughty, on the power play and Alec Martinez.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick won his 34th game of the year. He faced only 14 shots but had to be particularly sharp late in second period, making flashy glove saves on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Andy Sutton.
After the morning skate, captain Dustin Brown, who had an assist on Kopitar’s goal, said that with Carter out it was time for the leaders to step up and pave the way.
And that’s exactly what happened.
“Some of our key players dominated the play and that’s what you need when a guy like Jeff goes out,” Brown said.
Said Richards, who scored his fourth short-handed goal of the year: “It was a big game for us after the schedule we had. We didn’t want to come in here and take them lightly. We put the onus on the older guys to play well and take a step forward and I thought our leaders led tonight and starting with Brownie and Greener and Kopi.”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter echoed those thoughts. He spoke about Brown and Greene, using his highest form of praise, the word “awesome.” Greene, in fact, has rebounded nicely, the coach said.
“He lost a little bit of jump in his game, the physical, the quick, the contact,” Sutter said. “Since the St. Louis game he hadn’t been as sharp and he was better in Calgary and better tonight. Guys like that have to have an identity.”
As for the injured Carter, his availability remains unclear. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said he would see a specialist in Los Angeles for more tests on the ankle Monday. The Kings finish their four-game trip on Saturday night in Minnesota.
Lombardi said that reports Carter was out for the season were premature. “Nobody knows yet,” Lombardi said. “Not us. Not the doctors.”
He also said tests have not shown a fracture in the area where Carter is feeling pain and that it is not a high ankle sprain.
Carter, who was on crutches and had his ankle in a walking boot, said the injury happened about midway through the third period in Calgary. But he got through the rest of it.
“It was one of those things. It was sore when it happened,” he said, adding that it stiffened up overnight.
“He was talking about it the other night during the game a little bit,” Richards said. “We found out yesterday when he showed up yesterday and was having trouble walking.”