Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Kings: Anze Kopitar continues best stretch of career
By Dan Arritt
LOS ANGELES -- Good things are happening for the Kings these days.
Maybe the best has been the play of Anze Kopitar.
He scored for the fourth straight game Tuesday night, the deciding goal in the most important game of the season, a 5-2 victory against the visiting Sharks, lifting the Kings back into the top eight in the Western Conference standings.
Kopitar has scored in four straight games just one other time in his six-year career, back n March 2009 when the Kings were already looking ahead to next season. He acknowledged that he’s playing the best hockey of his NHL career, one that already includes two All-Star appearances.
“It’s fair to say the scoring has come around and even the playmaking ability is there,” he said. “I’m a lot more relaxed than I was before and that certainly helps.”
His playmaking was most evident on the second goal by the Kings. He teamed with Justin Williamsto win the puck behind the San Jose net, then spotted defenseman Alec Martineztapping his stick as he moved to the inner edge of the left faceoff circle. Kopitar put the puck just where Martinez asked and he scored for a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
The 24-year-old Slovenian made it 3-1 four minutes into the third period when he scored on a power play, hitting the top corner of the net, just as he'd done on his previous three goals. Kopitar said that's a sure sign he’s at the top of his game.
“The confidence is there and everything just feels better,” said Kopitar, who had goal-less streaks of 17 and nine games earlier this season. “The shot feels stronger and more accurate.”
Kopitar, who added an assist on Jeff Carter's empty-net goal with 16 seconds remaining for his second three-point game of the season, said the game feels as if it’s being played in slow motion.
“When you are going good, everything seems a little slower and you have more time,” he said. “Right now, it has been like that for me and, obviously, I want to keep it going and keep scoring and keep winning.”
The Kings have won five straight for the first time since early last season, but remain in a precarious position heading into the final nine games of the season. Dallas and Colorado also won Tuesday night, beating Phoenix and Calgary who also earned a point by getting through regulation with the score tied.
As it stands, the Kings have the same number of points as ninth-place Phoenix, but own the tiebreaker because they’ve played one fewer game. Seventh-place Colorado has one more point than the Kings, but has played two more games. Dallas, the division leader, is also one point up on L.A. San Jose and Calgary are two points back in 10th and 11th.
“There’s obviously always room for improvement, but tonight was a huge game,” Kopitar said. “We knew what was at stake and I think we came up big. It was a full team effort and that’s what we’ve got to do down the road.”
The Kings will try to make it six wins in a row when the Western Conference leading St. Louis Blues pay a visit to Staples Center on Thursday night.