From Columbus, Ohio — These days, a two-goal performance is a goal-fest for the Kings. But center Anze Kopitar had the grace to acknowledge that their third-period rally Thursday in a 2-1 victory over the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets did not mean the Kings' problems had ended, though they did end a five-game losing streak.
"I guess the floodgates are not really quite open yet," he said. "It's a crack, and now we've got to build on that and get it going."
At least interim Coach John Stevens won't be winless when he hands the reins to Darryl Sutter, which is expected to occur Tuesday after Sutter finishes dealing with a few family matters. General Manager Dean Lombardi said he is "working through the process and making progress" in securing the team's next coach, though all indications are that it will be Sutter.
Lombardi created an awkward situation by not having a successor in place after he fired Terry Murray on Monday and put Stevens in charge for this four-game trip, and Lombardi's choice of the hard-driving Sutter is a gamble. Gruff but known for getting a lot out of his players, Sutter could deliver some much-needed toughness and extract the talent Lombardi thinks is there. If not, the move could cost the Kings their season and Lombardi his job.
While living in this strange state of limbo the Kings, shut out at Boston in Stevens' first game, went 130 minutes 35 seconds without a goal over three games. They still have not scored more than twice in any of their last 10 games despite taking more than 40 shots in three of their last four contests.
But to Stevens, two goals Thursday against the NHL's worst team were the equivalent of 20.
"We've got to start somewhere. We had none before," said Stevens, who sat out rookie defenseman Slava Voynov and winger Trent Hunter in favor of Alec Martinez and Trevor Lewis.
"The dangerous thing in all this is that we open up and get away from our fundamental roots as a good defensive team. And I didn't think we did that tonight. I thought we created a lot on the forecheck. I thought the forwards were really skating tonight.
"Even though it's a 2-1 win I still think it's going to give some of these guys confidence they need to start putting some of those opportunities away."
Columbus scored first, when Jeff Carter deflected a fluttering puck off a couple of bodies in front and over goaltender Jonathan Quick at 16:43 of the second period. The Kings ended their scoring drought at 4:33 of the third period on a long shot by Davis Drewiske through a screen set by Dustin Brown. Columbus goaltender Curtis Sanford said Brown prevented him from being in position to make the save, saying Brown "locks skates with me and pushes my arm out of the way when the shot comes," but referees Stephane Auger and Dan O'Halloran were not swayed.
"At this point it's a goal and I could care less," Brown said.
Brown gave the Kings the lead at 8:12, deflecting a long shot after defenseman Drew Doughty found a shooting lane. After Carter hit the post from close range with about 90 seconds left, Brown's goal stood up as the fourth game-winner among the six scores he has produced this season.
"We've struggled to score goals and it's a result of people not being around the net. We get two dirty, greasy goals tonight and win a game," Brown said. "We need more guys around the net consistently and when you start to get that other goals start to go in. Nice goals start to go in for teams.
"We had the work. We had a good mentality to get in on the forecheck. And I think the important thing for this team is this can't be a peak. This has got to be an everyday thing for us."
Doughty, whose assist was his first point in five games and second in 15 games, praised the team's perseverance Thursday.
"That's what we're looking for. We want to be the hardest-working team in the league," he said.
They won't be the highest-scoring team, but they still think those floodgates will open wider than a crack. Soon, it will be Sutter's job to make sure that happens.