Anze Kopitar has always been considered a lead-by-example kind of captain. And what an example he set on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Kopitar finished with two goals, including a highlight reel second goal, three shots and a dominant 66.7% in the faceoff circle.
"He (Kopitar) was tremendous tonight," said head coach Todd McLellan. "He's been good all along, sometimes the goals coming off his tape aren't there, but he's done things this year. And this second go around with Kevin (Fiala) there is starting to feel more comfortable for the three of them."
The Kings found themselves in hot water halfway through the game, down 3-1. But they fought back and tied the game at three before the second intermission; with goals from Trevor Moore and Carl Grundstrom. It was all Kings after they tied the game, grabbing two unanswered goals in the third to seal their victory.
Outside of Kopitar, two highlights were the play of Tobias Bjornfot and Samuel Fagemo. Both Swedes made their season debut Thursday night and both collected a point. Fagemo chipped the puck up ice to Grundstrom for his goal. And Bjornfot grabbed a secondary assist on Kopitar's second of the night.
The Kings' defense has struggled recently and Bjornfot, as a left-shot, brings more balance to the blue line. He also brings a defensively stable, safe game.
"We wanted to see where we were at with lefties and righties," said McLellan. "We haven't been able to do that all year and Tobi drew that straw. He's been real good in the American League and he was solid tonight. He plays well when he uses his legs when he's active. He's up and he's back, he's closing. If he's just kind of standing around waiting for things to come to him it doesn't go real well and today he used his legs real well."
It was a big chance for Fagemo, who was pegged for an NHL spot heading into training camp according to McLellan.
"I thought that's the best I've seen Sammy play this year," said Todd McLellan. "If anybody was here this morning we talked about his training camp; we were really hoping he'd be here full-time. He didn't have the camp we anticipated he would and I'm sure himself. So, that's the best game I've seen Sammy play exhibition and regular season this year so hats off to him for having an impact."
McLellan also addressed the challenges of jumping into a bottom-six role after spending so much time in a top-six role with the Ontario Reign.
"It's one of the most confusing things that all players have," said McLellan. "You can be Quinton Byfield and be the second overall pick and have a lot to learn. Be a dominant offensive guy in a teenagers league, and then you get here. First of all, you're not taking away anybody's job right away. Even Connor McDavid didn't do that. And then you have to have a "B" game you can bring, something else you can bring because the odds of you scoring and being real effective offensively right off the bat, night after night aren't as great as they would be if you were playing against teenagers. So, that happens there. Sammy coming up, you have to adjust your game. You train to have a backup game and you've got to be able to play with that."
After strong performances from both Fagemo and Bjornfot I'd expect them both to be in the lineup Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. And Bjornfot especially has a good chance of cementing his place in the lineup. The imminent return of Alex Iafallo makes Fagemo's future unclear, but seizing this opportunity will be huge for the young sniper.
The Kings will face much stiffer competition on Saturday with the Hurricanes coming to Los Angeles. And their performance will tell us a lot about where this team is at.