The Los Angeles Kings appear to be finding their footing without Ryan Smyth. Considering the left wing is likely to be sidelined a few weeks longer, that's welcome news indeed.
The Kings seek their fourth straight victory Saturday afternoon when they host the St. Louis Blues.
Smyth, who has nine goals and 23 points in 22 games in his first season with the Kings (17-10-2), had not played since Nov. 16 due to an upper-body injury. He was originally expected to miss about four weeks, but Los Angeles coach Terry Murray told the team's official Web site earlier this week that it could be closer to six. That would push Smyth's return close to the end of the calendar year.
Los Angeles totaled eight goals while losing three of its first four games without Smyth, but has rebounded to win three straight since, putting the puck in the net 11 times during the winning streak. The Kings matched their season high in goals Thursday night in a 6-3 home victory over Ottawa.
Justin Williams had two goals and an assist, Wayne Simmonds extended his point streak to a career-best five with a goal on a penalty shot, and club scoring leader Anze Kopitar ended his four-game drought with an assist. Defensemen Drew Doughty and Randy Jones also scored, and unheralded winger Brad Richardson found the back of the net for just the second time in 59 games with the Kings over the last two seasons.
"Obviously someone has to step up when we have key guys out, but even those who didn't score played well," Richardson said. "Guys went to the net hard and left a wide-open goal for me. Guys are going to go through droughts without scoring, so that's why we have the third and fourth lines to pick up the slack."
To match a season high with its fourth straight win, Los Angeles will need to perform better than it has in two other recent afternoon starts at Staples Center. They fell 3-1 to Nashville on Nov. 7, and 5-2 to Calgary two weeks later.
"It's a different mentality, to get ready for those," Murray told the team's Web site. "I like those games, but it is a different mentality to get prepared. Everything changes. Your routine is thrown off a little bit. You're eating at a different time. You're eating different kinds of meals.
"But...that's what you deal with, and prepare yourself for. You just have to spend more time with yourself, talking to yourself, preparing yourself for the start time."
The Blues (11-10-5) are in last place in the Central Division but have been playing quality hockey in recent weeks, going 5-2-1 in their last eight. They've split the first two contests on their three-game road trip, following a 5-2 loss Monday in Columbus with a 3-2 shootout victory Thursday at NHL-leading San Jose.
Carlo Colaiacovo's short-handed goal against the Sharks with seven seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, and T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald scored in the shootout to lift St. Louis.
The Blues kept the game close by killing off all five Sharks power-play opportunities and thanks to 32 saves from Ty Conklin.
"Our penalty killing did a great job of stepping up," coach Andy Murray said. "Our penalty killing has been solid all year. Our Achilles' heel has been our failure to generate on power plays and offense."
The Blues have dropped four of five meetings with Los Angeles since the start of last season, totaling eight goals and going 2 for 22 on the power play in those matchups. They lost to the Kings 2-1 in St. Louis on Oct. 10, when Smyth scored on the power play for Los Angeles and Jon Quick made 29 saves.