LOS ANGELES (AP)– Jack Johnson showed remarkable confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Kings a day earlier when he promised his buddies he would celebrate his next goal by Tebowing. After all, the defenseman hadn’t scored since Dec. 1, and the Kings don’t even have a fraction of the Denver quarterback’s offensive mojo lately.
Johnson got his celebration and a whole lot more during the Kings’ biggest offensive performance in nearly two months.
Kyle Clifford scored the Kings’ first regulation goal in more than 170 minutes, Johnson snapped a personal 17-game goal drought, and Los Angeles emphatically emerged from its scoring slump in a 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night.
Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams also scored for the Kings, who had scored just two goals in their previous three games while dropping to last overall in the NHL with just 88 total goals. Los Angeles is out of the basement after pounding the Capitals, even chasing goalie Tomas Vokoun after two periods.
“I don’t know if anything is easy for us these days,” said Johnson, who took his buddies up on the dare they made while watching Sunday’s Steelers-Broncos playoff game. “But we finally scored some goals, which makes everything easier. It’s a great feeling to give our goalies some breathing room finally.”
Jonathan Bernier made 20 saves after giving up a goal on the first shot he faced for the Kings, who have earned a point in nine of 10 games since coach Darryl Sutter took over on Dec. 19.
Despite spending to the limit of the salary cap in an attempt to leap into Stanley Cup contention, the Kings have struggled to score all season. Los Angeles managed just one goal in regulation during its past three games – none in the past two, including a listless shutout loss to NHL-worst Columbus last Saturday.
“It’s not like they’re not capable,” Sutter said. “All of them … should be in their best years. We’re just working on confidence and scoring. If I didn’t believe they were capable, I wouldn’t emphasize it so much.”
The Kings have stayed in the Western Conference race by grinding out low-scoring wins in front of star goalie Jonathan Quick, who ranks among the league leaders in most statistical categories, including an NHL-best six shutouts. Quick got a rare night off against the Capitals, and Bernier was solid after Marcus Johansson put the Capitals ahead just 1:34 into the first period with a stoppable mid-range shot that somehow eluded him.
Johansson scored two goals for the Capitals, who lost on both stops on a two-game California road trip after a four-game winning streak. Johansson had his first multigoal game of the season, but Alex Ovechkin went scoreless for the second straight game after a seven-game scoring streak, dropping Washington to 0-12-1 this season when the former MVP doesn’t score.
“I don’t think it’s all about me. It’s all about us,” Ovechkin said. “We had a good start. We had emotion and we scored the first goal, but after that, we stopped playing and we made too many mistakes that cost us the game. My line had a couple of chances, but other than that, we didn’t do anything in the offensive zone. We didn’t have much communication in the neutral zone, and we didn’t have many odd-man rushes. We just gave the puck away and were playing more defense tonight.
Vokoun stopped 23 shots before Michal Neuvirth finished up for the Capitals, who have lost their last five meetings with Los Angeles since November 2008. Washington played its second straight game without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom after he was elbowed in the head last week by Calgary’s Rene Bourque, who got a five-game suspension.
“I don’t think we made things tough enough on (Bernier),” forward Matt Hendricks said. “I don’t feel like we got a whole lot of traffic in front of him, and I don’t think we executed too well. I think we made his job a little bit easier tonight.”
Los Angeles finally ended its 170:07 stretch of scoreless regulation hockey late in the first period in unlikely fashion when the grinding Clifford scored on a close-range backhand off a rebound of Trent Hunter‘s shot. The goal was the first in 37 games since Oct. 20 for Clifford, a second-year pro.
Kings captain Dustin Brown botched a clean breakaway later in the first period, but made up for it with a sharp lead pass to Kopitar for the Slovenian forward’s 12th goal. Kopitar’s 150th career goal was just his second in 22 games since Nov. 22.
Johnson then scored on a 3-on-1 break early in the second period before Stoll and Williams added late goals.
NOTES: Los Angeles improved to 11-0-0 this season when scoring at least three goals. … Washington opens a four-game homestand Wednesday against Pittsburgh. … Clifford and Trent Hunter both had their first multipoint games of the season, while Johnson’s multipoint game was his second of the year. … REO Speedwagon vocalist Kevin Cronin sang the national anthem with his wife, Lisa.