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Kings Room: Kempe Sets a New Career High, Fiala & Durzi Return

Kempe grabbed his 35th and 36th goals of the year, setting a new career-high.



The Los Angeles Kings didn't make it easy on themselves Sunday, just about beating the St. Louis Blues 7-6.

The Kings have had issues playing with the lead in the past and they reared their ugly head against the Blues.

Their were able to see the game out, thanks in part to two goals by leading scorer Adrian Kempe. 

Kempe grabbed his 35th and 36th goals of the year, setting a new career-high. 

After his breakout year last season, scoring six of his 35 goals on empty nets, some fans feared a regression from Kempe this season. 

Instead, Kempe's hit 36 with just two empty net goals and improved his overall game. 

After tempering expectations at the end of last season and not committing to scoring 30 again. Kempe has proven he can do it consistently.

"Yeah, it feels good that I can deliver," said Kempe on reaching a new career high. "I'm obviously playing on the first line, and that (produce) is something you have to do. It's pretty easy, not easy, but it's pretty easy to play with the guy next to me. He usually feeds me a lot of pucks and I just have to put them in the net. It's been like that all year. Happy I could live up to the expectations."

Kempe's flourished under head coach Todd McLellan and has found his feet in his system. It took a few seasons, but Kempe's become a reliable player for McLellan. 

"It's been great," said Kempe on his what its been like playing under McLellan. "I've had a lot of head coaches since I came up, so maybe when I was younger it wasn't the easiest thing to get to know the coaches and they way they wanted to play. And as a young player consistency is a big factor and, obviously, it was tough having a lot of different systems to have to play in throughout the years. So, I mean, it took some time. But, obviously, when you play on the top line and score that's a great thing too. I think I've been in all kinds of different roles in the four-five years, so I mean, I'm happy that Todd's been here. He's been helping me a lot and the team a lot."

The Kings have found their game of late. They've earned points in 12 straight games and have lost just twice in that stretch.

Now is the time of year good teams elevate their play and separate themselves from the pack. And that's exactly what the Kings are doing.

"Yeah, and I think over the last couple weeks we feel like our game is there," said Kempe on the team elevating its play down the stretch. "Obviously, we aren't going to be perfect every period. And I think that showed up tonight. And I think we played really well over the last couple weeks and took it for granted in the second period. I mean, I think we still showed we can not play our best game and still beat teams. 


Sean Durzi

Sunday also marked Sean Durzi's first game back since taking a big hit from Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie three weeks ago.

Durzi came back in next to Sean Walker on the left side.

"It feels good," Durzi said of returning. "Getting back into the groove with guys, having a nice routine again, it felt good."

Durzi got to work quickly on the power play, setting up Viktor Arvidsson with a great pass from the point. Quarterbacking the second unit to three goals in the first period.

"We were laughing before we were back together, we were hot in the beginning of the season and throughout the year a little bit," said Durzi on his unit. "But, I mean, we have good chemistry, obviously. Skilled players making skilled plays. The execution was there. We knew it had to be tonight and I'm proud of the guys."

Getting a few power plays early for a player like Durzi after missing a few games gets him back into the swing of things. But isn't always easy when you aren't getting the reps at practice.

"I don't know if it's easier, considering I didn't get a ton of practice back on the power play," said Durzi on the early power-play opportunities. "But, maybe that is the case. Get thrown into the fire and you know, do your best. I thought getting those built a little confidence, obviously, and take it from there."

After a rough second period that the team lost 3-0, it would have been easy for the Kings to crumble. It's happened a few times this season, but they showed enough character to finish with a win.

"Yeah, you've seen it over the last little bit here," Durzi said on the team's resilience. "Holding leads and playing well as a team. Obviously, there's a ton of things we need to clean up. And these things aren't going to happen the rest of the way I don't think. It's going to be tight the rest of the year and we have to be able to close it out a little better than we did tonight. So, obviously, that's something we want to clean up. Proud of the effort, two points is two points and at this time of the year you need everything, you need every one you can get. So, happy with that, but obviously a lot of things we can clean up."


Todd McLellan

Having a reliable 30 goal scorer makes any coaches life easier and McLellan has that in Kempe. 

McLellan was one of the first people to temper expectations and pointed out Kempe's high number of empty net goals more than once. But it was all praise for Kempe on Sunday.

"I think all good teams have one or two of them," said McLellan on the luxury of having a premier goal scorer like Kempe. "He's at 35 (36), that's a really good number for him and a good number for our team. Probably about two months ago I think we were questioning whether he would get there. And I think at that time I brought up all his empty netters from last year. So, he's a 25-28 goals scorer last year without the empty netters. He doesn't have all those this year. But he just keeps shooting the puck, he's got a hell of a shot and he uses it when he needs to. I think he's learned to use guys as screens a little bit better now. He's not looking to get the puck to other players, he's giving himself permission to shoot. And everyone's happy that he does shoot."

After a red hot start that saw the team take a 5-1 lead after 20 minutes. The Kings lead an egg in the second and McLellan had some work to do between periods. But the Kings didn't get the explosive intermission team talk many would expect.

"We weren't playing our game, obviously," said McLellan on the second period. "We were getting a little bit cute, a little bit fancy. Didn't go after them (the Blues) real hard, they (the Kings) know what works and what doesn't work. I had to remind them of that a little bit, but it wasn't yelling and screaming. It was just reminders of things we needed to do better. We got a little bit better in the third, but I think we let that game get away from us. Wasn't our best work."

This isn't the first time the Kings have been engaged in a high-scoring shootout. In fact, a 7-6 type game seemed normal early in the season. But Sunday's win had a different feel to it compared to those games.

"Yeah, I think it is," said McLellan about Sunday's game being different than the high-scoring games from early on. "I think we were able to get to a young goaltender (Joel Hofer) and it came real fast. Nothing ever comes easy in this league, but the power play was clicking, everything felt good. And then we played like it felt good instead of playing our game. And that's when it changed. So, I don't think it's like the other games where we gave up five or six a night. We had an off night and I think we can dial it back in. We're going to need to.


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