From Columbus, Ohio — Who needs Ilya Kovalchuk when you have Matt Greene firing up the Kings' offense?
Outplayed and outshot by the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first 10 minutes Thursday, the Kings got new life when the rugged but low-scoring Greene took a pass from Alexander Frolov and let loose a slap shot that deflected past Steve Mason at 11:05. From there the Kings took off and took over, with Anze Kopitar scoring the 100th and 101st goals of his career to highlight a 4-1 victory before an unhappy crowd of 13,709 at Nationwide Arena.
"The whole game changed," Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock said of Greene's goal. "The energy changed and we didn't grab it back."
In setting a path for the Kings to hit 3-0 on this trip, extend their winning streak to four and give them wins in six of their last seven games, Greene matched his career high of two goals in a season. The suggestion the Kings had been saved by Greene's scoring feat left goaltender Jonathan Quick speechless for a moment. But as in the game, which kept the Kings a solid sixth in the Western Conference, Quick recovered neatly.
"That's how you know your team is playing well: You're getting goals from all parts of your team," said Quick, who made 29 saves and lost his shutout with 9:22 left in the third period on a short wrist shot by Antoine Vermette.
"Everyone is chipping in. It was a huge goal for Greener."
The goal came on the Kings' third shot of the game. The Blue Jackets had taken 11 and had enjoyed two power plays.
Good thing Quick had conserved his energy by skipping the optional game-day skate.
"We've been in that situation before this year where we were the guys pouring it onto them and the other team gets up," Greene said. "A goal like that, you probably really don't deserve to be up 1-0 but all of a sudden you are, it's a big boost for us."
Kopitar, playing his 289th NHL game, reached 100 goals at 15:46 of an otherwise dull second period. Wayne Simmonds began the play with a long pass ahead to Ryan Smyth on the right side, and Smyth relayed the puck to Kopitar. The Slovenian center went wide on the defense before beating Mason with a 24-foot wrist shot.
"It's pretty special," said Kopitar, who got the puck from the team's trainers. "You see the guys reaching 300, 400, 500, those big guys. It's pretty nice. I got it started a little milestone and I'm ready to score a couple more now, too."
And so he got started on his second 100.
"He's an elite player and for him to grab hold of 100 goals is awesome -- and counting," Smyth said. "He works hard not only offensively but defensively and he's a well-rounded hockey player."
Coach Terry Murray said Kopitar's goal reinforced the Kings' confidence after their less-than-sterling start.
"Kopitar coming in and scoring, it helps you to settle down even a little bit more, to start to play the game the way you know how," Murray said.
Smyth made it 3-0 at 4:05 of the third. He lunged for the puck in the high slot and it bounced to the corner, where Dustin Brown picked it up. Brown threw it in front, where it appeared to glance off Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda and off Smyth before eluding the beleaguered Mason.
Kopitar scored goal No. 101 during a power play, at 9:26. Jarret Stoll passed to Kopitar for a short shot that Mason saved and Kopitar was positioned to prod the rebound home.
"We seem to play really good on the road. The first 10 minutes we were just flat-footed and Quickie stood tall for us. He made some crucial saves," Kopitar said.
"Our penalty kill came through, too. At the same time, good teams just find a way to win. With Greenie scoring that goal it was a big relief on the bench. After that, we kind of got our game back and were getting good decisions."
The only minor sour notes were Vermette's shutout-spoiling goal and the upper-body injury suffered by defenseman Jack Johnson late in the second period when he was the unintended victim of a hit by Simmonds on Columbus' Jared Boll.
Johnson didn't play the third period but said afterward he was fine. Murray said the injury wasn't something he was overly concerned about.
Their biggest concern, Greene said, is winning. "Two points. That's the end of the story," he said.
Not quite. This team and this story are developing, and every win makes General Manager Dean Lombardi's pursuit of Kovalchuk, the prolific scorer from Atlanta, more intriguing.