LOS ANGELES -- When it rains, it pours.
Dustin Penner has been stuck in a scoring drought since the day he arrived in L.A at the NHL trade deadline in February 2011. He received more publicity for his freak back injury earlier this season than anything he accomplished on the ice.
But the floodgates finally opened Saturday night at Staples Center, as Penner delivered the primary assist on the first goal and later scored the second, sparking a three-goal third-period barrage that lifted the Kings over the Nashville Predators, 4-2, for their fourth straight win.
The victory kept the Kings on the heels of Colorado and San Jose, both of whom also won Saturday, and leapfrogged them ahead of Calgary and into ninth place in the Western Conference standings. The Kings have the same number of points as the eighth-place Sharks, and are one point back of the seventh-place Avs and the Pacific Division-leading Dallas Stars.
“It’s a huge game,” Penner said. “It had a lot of meaning for us, with the way the standings are now, five teams separated by a point or two.”
Penner had not scored a goal in the last 13 games and had just seven goals in 73 regular-season appearances with the Kings, hardly the player who scored 32 for the Oilers in 2009-10 and had 21 with Edmonton before his trade last season.
After missing a game in early January after claiming he hurt his back while eating pancakes, his career might have hit a low point when he was designated as a healthy scratch for five games in February. He returned to the lineup only to continue struggling to find the net.
Playing left wing on the third line with Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll, Penner said he recently began to feel some chemistry with the pair and that was evident on both goals. Midway through the opening period, he and Lewis worked to free the puck in the corner and Penner passed it back to Anze Kopitar, who scored his third goal in three games on a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle for a 1-0 lead.
The Predators came back to tie the score with a second-period power-play goal and the 1-1 score held up heading into the third. About eight minutes into the final period, Stoll won a faceoff in his defensive zone and Lewis was able to get around a Nashville defender before racing down the right side with the puck.
He spotted Penner crashing the net to his left and flung the puck toward the middle, where Penner redirected it into the net near the far post.
“Stolly has been great on draws all year, that’s one of his many talents,” Penner said. “Maybe it doesn’t look pretty to the naked eye, but that’s how you want to draw it up. It’s a battle up high at the blue line, where Stolly gets it out and then Lewie gets around his guy, wins a race for the puck and you just drive the back door.”
And from Lewis's vantage point:
“The D just kind of chipped it out,” he said. “I saw [the puck] kind of bouncing on them, so I just went and I got my stick on it, and Pens went hard to the net with his stick down and banged it home.”
The goal was a huge momentum swing, as rookie Dwight King scored off a neutral zone turnover five minutes later and second-year forward Kyle Clifford gave the Kings a 4-1 lead with a nice individual effort with 3:41 left in regulation.
“Against a team like Nashville, where it was 1-1 going into the third, it was a time where you separate the men from the boys,” Penner said. “We grew a lot overall in this game, especially in the third period, to come out like that and explode with three goals.”