The Los Angeles Kings got their top line going and their first win of the season.
Anze Kopitar scored two goals to spark Los Angeles’ No. 1 line and the defending Stanley Cup champions beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 Saturday night.
“Kopi was good, goal scorers scored,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “It was the difference in the game, right?
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Scoreless through the season’s first three games, the Kings’ line of Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams had an extra jump against the Coyotes, combining for four points. Kopitar scored both of his goals in the second period, with Brown and Williams getting an assist on each.
Jake Muzzin scored his first NHL goal and had an assist and Jeff Carter also scored for Los Angeles. The Kings had eight players with at least a point and matched their season total for goals to avoid their first four-game winless start since 1997-98.
“Every time you’re on the road, you need a team game,” Kopitar said. “I know everybody’s saying that, but that’s just how it is. You need to roll four lines.”
The Coyotes need some defense.
Phoenix won the Pacific Division title last season behind a tight-checking style and opportunistic goals. The Coyotes are scoring more this season, but have had too many defensive breakdowns and been too loose with the puck in their own end to start the season with four losses in five games.
Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan scored for the Coyotes, who have allowed 20 goals in five games.
“When there is a mistake you’ve got to clean up for each other,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “Right now, there’s not much cleaning up going on.”
The Kings and Coyotes already didn’t like each other much and the hatred intensified during a testy Western Conference finals last season.
Los Angeles won the series in five games on the way to its first Stanley Cup, but not before the teams traded blows, including a hit by Brown in the clinching game that knocked Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival out and left the Coyotes fuming.
The rematch pitted two teams trying to recapture last season’s magic.
The Kings’ Cup defense got off to a shaky start, beginning with a 5-2 thrashing by Chicago after raising the championship banner at the Staples Center.
Goalie Jonathan Quick hasn’t been the same player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy and was a Vezina finalist a year ago, giving up 10 goals in three games, and the top line had a hard time getting started.
Los Angeles also opened the season 0 for 19 on the power play and blew a chance for its first win of the season against the Oilers, giving up a goal with 4.7 seconds left before losing 2-1 in overtime.
The Coyotes have only been marginally better.
Phoenix has struggled to find the defense-first style that led the first NHL division title in franchise history, giving up 16 goals in four games. Goalie Mike Smith struggled the first two games before suffering a lower-body injury against Columbus and the Coyotes followed up their only win — against the Blue Jackets — by blowing two-goal lead in the third period of a 5-3 loss at San Jose on Thursday.
The atmosphere wasn’t quite the same for the conference finals rematch, but it certainly was entertaining.
The Coyotes killed off a two-man advantage that lasted two minutes in the first period, about half of that with Boyd Gordon playing without his stick. They got a 5-on-3 of their own in the second period and capitalized when Boedker punched in a rebound past Quick after a shot by Oliver Ekman-Larsson hit the post.
Kopitar gave LA’s top line its first points of the season in the second period, taking a pass from Brown and beating Jason LaBarbera with a wrister from the slot. He followed Phoenix’s first score with his second goal of the period, one-timing a drop pass from Williams, who had a semi-breakaway and lured LaBarbera to the side of the crease.
“It’s good to get it out of the way because you do think about it,” Kopitar said of his first goals.
Carter made it 3-1 later in the period, punching in a rebound on a shot by Simon Gagne, back after being a healthy scratch the previous two games.
The Coyotes got just what they needed to open the third period when Doan scored 22 seconds in by gathering a pass from behind the goal by Lauri Korpikoski and flipping it past Quick.
But Phoenix continued to give up good scoring chances and Muzzin put the Kings up 4-2 with a hard shot from near the blue line that appeared to catch LaBarbera off-guard.
“To be honest, I didn’t really see it go in,” Muzzin said of his first goal. “When the guys came over, I was just kind of laughing because it was one of those hope wristers that made it through.”
The Coyotes thought they had cut the lead to one with 39 seconds left on a rebound by Radim Vrbata, but the officials waved it off, saying the whistle had blown because they believed the puck was still under Quick.
Phoenix also had a goal by David Moss disallowed because of goalie interference earlier in the game.
“That’s the breaks we’re getting right now,” Tippett said. “We’ve got to overcome it.”
Notes: Coyotes C Martin Hanzal returned after missing two games with a lower-body injury. D Rostislav Klesla missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury and C Matthew Lombardi was out with an upper-body injury suffered against the Sharks on Thursday. … Kings D Willie Mitchell, coming off knee surgery, skated with the team Saturday morning, but didn’t play against Phoenix.