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Kings hold off Sharks, keep surging up standings

LOS ANGELES — The Kings continued their ascent in the Western Conference standings by weaving through a game where they could not pull away until the late stages, coming out ahead 4-3 against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena.

Forward Quinton Byfield set up the Kings’ first goal by winger Adrian Kempe and scored their second. Winger Gabe Vilardi notched a goal just before defenseman Drew Doughty potted the game-winner. Center Anze Kopitar extended his point streak to five games with an assist on Byfield’s goal, and Pheonix Copley turned away 27 shots for his 12th win. Since he made his Kings debut on Dec. 6 no NHL goalie has more victories.

Forwards Nick Bonino, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl scored for San Jose, with Meier adding an assist. James Reimer took heavy fire early and made 33 total saves. San Jose finished the season series with the Kings winless and has prevailed in just two of its past eight games.

The Kings have now won 10 of their last 13 games. That elevated them into a points tie with both Pacific Division-leading Vegas and Central Division-leading Dallas. Both those clubs have a better points percentage and more regulation wins, however, and each has three games in hand on the Kings.

Though they captured two points, separation eluded the Kings throughout the night as San Jose twice tied the score and pulled to within one with a late goal that consternated Coach Todd McLellan.

“We clearly need to have a practice or two,” McLellan said. “But when you’re not playing your best, it’s nice to find a way to win. A couple years ago, we wouldn’t have won that game when we’re not playing our best, we’re probably down by two and looking for some moral victories.”

With just over two minutes showing on the clock, Meier zigzagged through at least three Kings defenders, dropped behind the net and sent a pass to winger Alexander Barabanov, whose shot hit Hertl en route to the back of the net. The Sharks drew no closer with Reimer pulled.

Just 53 seconds after the Kings’ third goal, Doughty added an insurance goal on a play when he started the breakout and finished the rush when he scored while trailing the play off a slick pass by center Phillip Danault. Doughty’s shot from between the circles was his third goal of 2022-23.

A frenetic shift from the third line and second pairing concluded with a go-ahead goal with 7:20 left when Vilardi turned his back to Reimer and deftly redirected a shot past him for his 17th tally of the campaign.

“We kept letting them get back in the game. We had the foot down a few times and we just let off a little bit, and they kept clawing their way back in,” Byfield said. “But there were a couple good shifts we put forward there, some real nice plays on those goals, to get us the lead.”

After killing off 10 straight penalties, the Kings ceded a power-play goal when the NHL’s most prolific defenseman, Erik Karlsson, and Logan Couture set up a snipe by Meier with 9:49 left in the match. It was Meier’s 14th career goal against the Kings, tied for the most he has scored against any franchise.

The Kings finished the second period the way they finished the first, with a one-goal lead that felt like it should have been greater but that could easily have been even lesser.

After recovering the puck on the forecheck, defenseman Mikey Anderson recognized the good fortune of having two towering forwards, Byfield and Kopitar, screening Reimer. Anderson adjusted his shooting angle and let fly with a wrist shot that Byfield tipped home for his first goal of the season to reclaim the lead 6:58 into the second period.

“I’ve been playing hard, trying to get a little bit more physical, I think that’s been in my game lately. Having a defensive presence as well … and just doing all the little things right,” Byfield said.

Danault conserved that edge by denying defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic on the backdoor on the following shift. Later in the period, a Karlsson snapper once again created havoc and required an alert skate save from defenseman Sean Walker to prevent a rebound goal by Meier, who had another near miss in the third period.

“If we’re making those desperation saves, we’ve probably made mistakes prior to them,” McLellan said. “But, sometimes you’ve got to clean up somebody else’s mess.”

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Though the Kings had the wind at their backs after the first period, they found themselves deadlocked once more 80 seconds after the first intermission. Copley got his glove on Karlsson’s snap shot, but he didn’t control the puck cleanly. Copley’s tepid poke check of the rebound went straight to Bonino, who backhanded it past him for an equalizer.

From their first goal onward, the Kings were domineering in the first period. After being out-shot 6-2 initially, the Kings hit the net 20 times and allowed just two shots through to Copley in the remainder of the frame.

Reimer made 21 first-period saves, but his lone lapse allowed the Kings to strike first when Kempe tapped in a pass off a powerful wraparound move by Byfield. Kempe’s 18th goal 5:59 into the match allowed him to maintain his team lead over Vilardi.

“As a goaltender, you’re just back there trying to give your team a chance to win, whether you face 40 or 10 shots, you want to make saves and make them when it counts,” Reimer said. “But you want to keep it at one or two, not four.”

NOTE

Winger Viktor Arvidsson missed the game with a non-COVID illness.

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