LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jordan Spence scored his first NHL goal and captain Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist in the Los Angeles Kings’ 4-2 victory over the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night.
Gabriel Vilardi scored his first goal in five months and Sean Durzi ended a 29-game goal drought for the Kings in their second win over the expansion Kraken this season.
Cal Petersen made 23 saves as Los Angeles solidified its hold on second place in the Pacific Division by earning at least a point for the ninth time in 12 games. The Kings have little collective playoff experience outside the four core veterans remaining from their Stanley Cup championship teams, but coach Todd McLellan sees these late-season games as valuable experience in games that count.
“It’s called progress,” McLellan said. “We’re moving forward, so there is satisfaction in that, but it doesn’t end. We’ve still got to grow and move the needle forward. I kept hearing the term ‘meaningful games’ later in the year. … We’re (getting) that right now, and it’s a great thing for our team. This is the playoffs for us, and we’ve shown signs of growth during it, and it’s going to have to continue for whatever we have left.”
Daniel Sprong scored in his second straight game since joining Seattle, and Philipp Grubauer stopped 23 shots for the Kraken during their debut in downtown Los Angeles. Morgan Geekie tacked on another goal with four seconds to play.
“That’s a hell of a team over there,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’re a big, heavy team. They’re hard to play against. They don’t allow any inside ice very easily, so you’ve got to work for your possession, and I thought we did that. I thought we worked our butts off for most of this hockey game. I want to go back and look at it, but I felt like we gave up too much off the rush.”
With defenseman Drew Doughty still sidelined by an upper-body injury, Spence and Durzi stepped up to provide unexpected offense from the blue line.
Spence scored late in the second period of his ninth NHL game when his long shot from the point snaked through a crowd and got past Grubauer without hitting anybody. The crowd gave a standing ovation to Spence, a 21-year-old, Australia-born, Japan-raised Canadian defenseman drafted in the fourth round three years ago.
“It feels amazing,” Spence said. “Just going into the game, I just wanted to focus on the simple things, trying to do the simple things on the ice in the O-zone and the D-zone. It was good to see that shot go in, and it was obviously an unbelievable feeling and I wouldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Vilardi opened the scoring in the first with a sharp deflection of a puck from Olli Maatta for his second goal of the season. The 2017 first-round pick had been injured or in the AHL since shortly before Halloween, but he returned to Los Angeles seven games ago to build on his strong play in the minors.
“It was certain things in my game back in October that I wasn’t doing very well, and I think specifically it was the defense, and I think I’ve improved on that,” Vilardi said. “It was nice to score, for sure. I feel like my defensive game’s improved, but at the same time, I do want to contribute offensively.”
Kopitar then finished a rush early in the second period, beating Grubauer after All-Star Adrian Kempe started the break with a long pass to Alex Iafallo. The goal was only Kopitar’s second in 15 games, but he has six points in LA’s last five games.
“They check hard, and there’s not a lot of room,” Geekie said of the Kings. “They’ve got some good veteran players and a good system.”
Sprong got Seattle on the board 2:12 later with an impressive, lengthy, one-man rush for a goal, his second in two games. He also scored at Arizona on Tuesday.
The Kraken acquired Sprong from the Capitals on Monday in a trade for Marcus Johansson, and the Dutch forward has immediately shown the goal-scoring talent that has never been consistent enough in his previous NHL stops in Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Washington.
Durzi added his first goal since Jan. 13 during a 4-on-3 advantage.
Doughty missed his ninth straight game for Los Angeles, but defenseman Tobias Bjornfot returned from a five-game absence with a lower-body injury.
A rematch in Los Angeles on Monday night.
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