LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Kings jumped on a couple of early scoring chances and spent the rest of the night playing stellar defense. When a few shots broke through that defensive front, Jonathan Quick was there.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup two years ago with that basic formula, and they can see it clicking again as they close in on another playoff run.
Jeff Carter scored his 250th career NHL goal on a power play, Quick made 17 saves to remain unbeaten since the Olympic break, and the Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 Monday night for their fifth straight victory.
Jake Muzzin scored an early goal for the Kings, who have won four games in six days since the break to solidify their playoff position in the Pacific Division, 10 points ahead of fourth-place Vancouver. The Kings might not be the most eye-catching team in the NHL, but the back-to-back Western Conference finalists’ results are becoming increasingly attractive.
“We’re playing the way I expected us to play coming out of the break,” said Justin Williams, who got an assist on Muzzin’s goal just 1:54 in by leading a rush. “We’re playing hard and not giving up leads. We do need to capitalize on more of our chances, but it’s two points we need for playoff position.”
Los Angeles took an early lead and hung on through 35 closing minutes of scoreless hockey for its first home victory over the Canadiens since March 8, 2003.
Quick put together another outstanding game for the Kings on the heels of his performance for the U.S. national team in Sochi, making a handful of big saves to beat the Canadiens for the first time in his career. With his 168th win, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner is just three behind Rogie Vachon for the Los Angeles franchise record.
“The style that we play, those are the kind of games you’re going to see more often than not,” Quick said. “At times it was a little slow, but I thought we carried the game for the most part. We didn’t give them many opportunities. It was the kind of game you want to play.”
The Kings followed up their 6-0 victory at Montreal on Dec. 10 with another solid performance against the Canadiens built around that defense. Los Angeles has allowed an NHL-low 134 goals, and Montreal couldn’t crack the Kings’ defense except for P.K. Subban’s fortunate deflection goal late in the first period.
“We played against the best defensive team in the league, and that showed,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said.
Peter Budaj stopped 20 shots for Montreal, which had won five of six. The Canadiens opened a four-game West Coast trip with their first regulation loss since Feb. 2 – and a taste of the frustration felt by Los Angeles’ more frequent opponents.
“We couldn’t get much sustained pressure, and that’s a big part of it,” Montreal captain Brian Gionta said. “We got a lucky bounce on the one goal, but for the most part, we weren’t able to get to the net as freely as we wanted. We’ve got to give them credit for that, but we’ve got to find ways to break through.”
Montreal put goalie Carey Price on injured reserve with an apparent groin injury before the game, eight days after he posted a shutout in Canada’s gold medal-winning victory over Sweden in Sochi. Budaj has started every game since the break, but Price might be able to play in Wednesday’s game at NHL-leading Anaheim.
Although Los Angeles dominated possession early, the Canadiens tied it late in the period when Quick blocked Subban’s long shot, and the puck ricocheted off Jarret Stoll and into Quick’s net.
Carter put the Kings back ahead early in the second period, putting Anze Kopitar’s pass into the top corner of Budaj’s net with a slick wrist shot for his 22nd goal of the season.
“The first 10 minutes, they certainly were coming fast, and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher said. “At the end, we had our chances and started to create stuff, but they are a good defensive team and they don’t give up a lot.”
NOTES: Montreal visited Staples Center for the first time since Dec. 3, 2011. … Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and rising star Eugenie Bouchard, a Montreal-area native, both attended the game. The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., began Monday with qualifying play. … Stoll played in his 700th NHL game.