Moments before the Kings took the ice for warmups Wednesday night, Staples Center organist Dieter Ruehle sent the theme song from the 1970s’ sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” thumping through the arena.
It was a fitting tune. The Kings had last played at home Feb. 1 and were returning from a four-game East Coast trip.
Their roster was changed. Familiar faces Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell, traded last week to the Toronto Maple Leafs, were gone. Young goalie Cal Petersen made his second start this season. On the second line, minor league call-up Martin Frk slotted into a lineup likely to change some more before the NHL’s Feb. 24 trade deadline.
But there was another noticeable absence too: The Kings’ weeks-long scoring struggles finally subsided, as 12 players got on the scoresheet in a 5-3 victory over the Calgary Flames that ended the team’s losing streak at five games.
“We haven’t been winning games and getting the bounces we want,” said Austin Wagner, who ended his goal drought at 22 games with a second-period breakaway that put the Kings in front for good. “Tonight, it was nice to see us grind one out and play a solid game. As a team, we stuck with it and played really well. We’ve got to carry that into the [Stadium Series] outdoor game on Saturday.”
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Wagner’s tally capped a rollicking seven-minute second-period stretch. At the 6-minute 23-second mark, Kings enforcer Kurtis MacDermid dropped the gloves with former Kings tough guy Milan Lucic for a center-ice scrap that shook the game awake.
Four minutes later, the Flames opened the scoring after Petersen, who made 35 saves, misplayed the puck behind the net, leading to Mikael Backlund’s 18th goal.
But within the next 90 seconds, the Kings surged in front behind Tyler Toffoli’s 15th goal and Wagner’s first since Dec. 14, which was sprung by Trevor Lewis’ defensive-zone poke check.
“For that one to go in, it was nice to see,” Wagner said, laughing. “Lewie was coming at me [during the celebrating] going, ‘Oh my god! Oh my god!’ I was just yelling, ‘I got one, finally.’ He was laughing. It was a funny moment between us two.”
Elias Lindholm’s two third-period goals weren’t enough for the Flames. Instead, a snipe from MacDermid and one-timer from Jeff Carter gave the Kings their first performance of more than three goals since Jan. 9, an 11-game rut in which they were 1-9-1.
In the closing seconds, defenseman Sean Walker scored an empty-netter.
“It’s been a long time since we were the ones celebrating after the puck rolled in an empty net,” said McLellan, whose team improved to 3-1-0 against the Flames.
“We’ve been on the road so much lately, and the reward hasn’t been there for some real good efforts. … Coming home here, to stick with it, it’s always a competitive game against that team. A lot of emotion. It was a good thing for us tonight.”