(AP) — Anze Kopitar ended a career-high goal drought in his last game. He could be facing the right opponent to get 2012 off to a strong start as his Los Angeles Kings open play in the new year.
Kopitar has fared well in recent meetings with the Colorado Avalanche, whom the Kings face Monday night at Staples Center.
Los Angeles (19-14-6) won 4-1 at home over Vancouver on Saturday in the final NHL game of 2011. Kopitar ended a 17-game run without a goal when he scored in the second period.
“When you go through struggles like this, it always feels good when you get it off your back,” Kopitar said. “And there’s no better place and time to do it, I guess, than when you’re playing Vancouver. It was a huge win for us to end this year on a good note.”
Kopitar has five goals and nine assists in his last 10 games against Colorado (21-18-1), with Los Angeles going 8-1-1 in that stretch. The Kings have won their last four at home against the Avalanche.
Los Angeles is 4-0-2 since Darryl Sutter took over as coach Dec. 22. Opponents are 0 for 20 on the power play in that span, and have come up empty in their last 25 chances versus the Kings.
“We’ve been playing pretty good, and tonight we got contributions from different guys,” Sutter said. “We’re trying to get everybody to play up-tempo. It can’t be hit-and-miss. They all have different levels of skill-set. So if we can get them to play with a little bit more of a push, then we can all play at a higher level.”
Kopitar has five points under Sutter, and his teammates weren’t worried about the center’s lack of goals.
“If you ask the guys in here if his play has dipped at all, I don’t think so,” defenseman Matt Greene said. “He just hasn’t been finding the back of the net. And for him to do that tonight, that’s great. But he’s been our best player throughout the whole year.”
Colorado is one of the league’s hottest teams, closing out 2011 by winning seven of eight. The Avalanche opened a four-game trip with a 4-2 victory at Anaheim on Saturday.
Milan Hejduk ended his 13-game goal drought, scoring twice off assists by Ryan O’Reilly.
“Right now we have a pretty good feeling in the locker room,” Hejduk said. “We’re playing well, winning hockey games, we’re a confident group right now.”
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 18 saves in his return to Anaheim, improving to 9-5-0 with a 1.95 goals-against average this season.
“Nothing beats that,” Giguere said. “It’s so nice to come back and see so many people you knew for so long.”
Giguere figures to get a different reception Monday from Kings fans due to their rivalry with the Ducks.
The Avalanche won for the first time against Jonathan Quick with a 3-2 home victory Oct. 30. Quick had been 7-0-0 with a 2.27 GAA versus Colorado with two shutouts.
Updated January 1, 2012