LA Kings: Three takeaways as Anze Kopitar collects 1,000 career points

LA Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LA Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The LA Kings swept the two-game series against the Coyotes on Wednesday, with Anze Kopitar collecting his 1,000th career point in the process.

In the second game of their two-game series with the Arizona Coyotes, we honed in on three items to watch for on the LA Kings side of things. Of course, the glaring one was Anze Kopitar being one point away from becoming the fourth player in Kings history with 1,000 career points.

The opening minutes of the first period looked vastly different from Monday, with Arizona controlling the puck and creating scoring chances, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson opening the scoring just 1:19 into the game.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the LA Kings to respond. Here were my three takeaways from the Kings 4-2 win in Arizona on Wednesday night.

1. Gabe Vilardi showing confidence in the home stretch

Gabe Vilardi picked up his eighth and ninth goals of the season.

His first came at the 4:29 mark of the opening period when Alex Iafallo retrieved a puck in the Kings attacking zone, skated it back to the left dot, and fed Vilardi in the slot for a one-timer past Adin Hill. The 21-year-old also had the eventual game-winner in the third period to break a 2-2 tie.

Give credit to Lias Andersson for his effort on this play.

The 22-year-old Swedish forward collected the puck near the end boards in the Kings defensive zone, skating through all three zones, before dishing it back to Sean Walker for a blast from the point. The puck was blocked, retrieved by Andersson, who fed Vilardi in the slot, again, for another one-timer. This time, the puck found the back of the net.

Vilardi has points in three of his last five games, and his confidence continues to soar after a 23-game goalless drought that impacted his body language on media Zoom calls. Good for him, and his head coach pointed out one area in his game attributing to the recent hot streak.

“One thing that I notice and we’ve asked him to do it more is shooting the puck, and he’s using that as part of his toolkit,” Todd McLellan noted following the Kings 4-2 win. “I thought earlier in the year that he really just wanted to be a distributor.

“He has a great shot – he has a tremendous shot and one of the best on the team, and you just like to see him use it more.”

Vilardi began the year, shooting the puck at an absurd 42.9 percent clip in January before tailing down around the 6.5% shot percentage range. In May, Vilardi has increased his shooting percentage to 33.3%, and this is the player the Kings drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

That number doesn’t seem sustainable, but Vilardi was at his best with the Ontario Reign of the AHL last season, shooting the puck at a 13.4% clip. Let’s see it continue over the final five games.

2. Byfield collects his first point

On a night in which Anze Kopitar collected his 1,000th career point, Quinton Byfield collected his first in the National Hockey League.

“We all thought that happened last game,” McLellan joked. “We’ve got a stale puck laying around somewhere with Q’s name on it, but to get it tonight, he made a nice backcheck and effort play.”

With approximately seven minutes remaining in the first period, Byfield jarred the puck loose to Andreas Athanasiou, who carried the puck up-ice before finding a trailing Jaret Anderson-Dolan for the one-time blast from the high slot to give the Kings their second goal of the game.

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3. Kopitar joins an exclusive club

It looked like Kopitar would have to wait another night to have a chance at achieving career point number 1,000. With the Coyotes net empty, Kopitar fired the puck up-ice, just missing the goal, and was called for icing, setting the stage for what was about to happen.

Kopitar won the faceoff, sending it back to Sean Walker, who fired it all the way down the ice for the empty-netter, giving the LA Kings captain 1,000 career points.

“It’s very exciting,” the LA Kings captain said in the postgame Zoom call. “I’m sure it’s gonna set in a lot more in the next few days or weeks.”

The Kings pushed the Coyotes back another point from the St. Lous Blues with two games left, thus eliminating them from postseason contention.

“It’s frustrating. We have to take a hard look and ask how do you get better, what do we need? There’s a lot of evaluation for everybody,” Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said via AZCentral. “You just look at how things can be better, and you move on from that. That’s for another day, but yeah, it’s frustrating losing, absolutely.”

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The Kings, of course, get a heavy dose of the Colorado Avalanche over their final five games, with a back-to-back series in Los Angeles beginning on Friday night.