LOS ANGELES –– For one Saturday night, Los Angeles was the city of Devils as the Kings fell 5-2 to the visitors from New Jersey in an interconference clash at Crypto.com Arena.
The Kings have still won 10 of their past 14 games, leaving them in a points tie with Seattle, which has captured eight consecutive victories, for second place in the Pacific Division. The Devils have come out on top in four straight and have gone 17-2-1 on the road, which represents the best start through 20 away games in league history per NHL.com’s Dan Greenspan.
Winger Kevin Fiala and center Anze Kopitar scored goals for the Kings. Defenseman Drew Doughty assisted on both markers. Jonathan Quick lost his sixth straight decision, making 23 of 27 saves for his ninth loss in his 11 most recent starts.
Wingers Tomas Tatar and Erik Haula tallied for New Jersey, as did defensemen Nikita Okhotiuk and Ryan Graves. Winger Jesper Bratt potted an empty-net goal. Centers Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich each contributed a pair of assists. Graves added an assist and a team-high three blocks. Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 34 shots in his victory.
“In the third period, they showed why they’re the team they are right now. They were able to get the lead and clamp it down,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We had a tough time coming through the neutral zone, but I think that’s what it feels like when we have the lead.”
“I didn’t think we got enough from everybody in the lineup tonight,” McLellan added, even identifying the normally steady second line as one that turned in an off night. He and Kempe both lamented the number of chances the Kings failed to bury throughout the evening.
The Kings pulled Quick with over three minutes remaining in the match as they sought their fourth straight win to no avail. They managed no shots on goal before Bratt deposited an empty-netter with 64 seconds to play, cementing the historic road start.
“It was a week or two ago when (Coach Lindy Ruff) put our home record and our away record on the board, and that’s honestly the first time we even realized that it was that,” Haula said.
The Kings had chances early in the final 20 minutes, including a shorthanded bid from Jaret Anderson-Dolan and a penalty shot from Fiala, both of which were denied by Blackwood.
“They had a couple chances, it was still a two-goal game, things change probably if they put one of those in,” Haula said.”But the goalie played great and then we were able to lock it down.”
New Jersey gained some separation a minute past the game’s midpoint when their heavy forecheck led to a puck recovery and then a goal. Sharangovich sent a puck high to Graves, whose point shot through center Nico Hischier’s screen became the defender’s fourth goal of the year after it bounced off defenseman Sean Walker’s skate.
Earlier in the middle frame, it took the Kings 4:11 to tie the game and 51 seconds to fall behind for the second time.
Okhotiuk recaptured the Devils’ lead as he curled from the right point across the top of the left faceoff circle and flicked a shot that banked off Quick’s blocker and into the net. It was Okhotiuk’s first goal of the season and the second of his career.
While McLellan went out of his way to absolve Quick on three of the four goals, even he recognized that the third one was regrettable.
“Careers begin a certain way and then evolve as you go,” McLellan said. “When (Pheonix Copley) is playing the way he is, he’s going to get the majority of the starts … and Quickie has to be able to adjust to that. He can, he will and he’ll be just fine.”
The Kings had knotted the score with some purposeful passing on the power play. All five players touched the puck during a sequence that concluded with Kopitar tipping in Doughty’s shot for the captain’s 12th goal. Kopitar has a point in six straight appearances.
A mere 2:37 into the second period New Jersey assumed control for the first time. Center Dawson Mercer’s stretch pass ignited a two-on-one rush with Haula and winger Jesper Boqvist. Haula declined to pass, instead loading up a far-side snap shot that became his third goal of 2022-23.
“The D was taking the pass away right away, so I was kind of zeroing in on Quick right away,” Haula said.
The Kings generated strong opportunities for Quinton Byfield and Kopitar during a power play late in the first period but settled for a 1-1 tie at the first intermission.
New Jersey had pulled even with a touch over seven minutes left in the stanza by way of a man-advantage marker. Hughes fired from the slot and Tatar popped the rebound past Quick for his 10th goal of the season.
After killing a penalty and nearly scoring five-on-five on a hard drive to the net by defenseman Matt Roy, the Kings ultimately got the scoring going during a power play 6:32 into the game. Fiala did a vanishing act below the goal line, only to reappear at the back post with his stick raised. Winger Adrian Kempe set up at the outer edge of the right circle and whipped a pass across to Fiala for an easy redirection that became his 16th goal of the campaign.
“Tonight we did a good job (on the power play), we could have had another one, too, so that’s something we can build on,” Kempe said.