COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Los Angeles Kings have been hit-and-miss all season. Maybe they are finally closer to ironing out their problems as they try to defend their Stanley Cup title.
With Jeff Carter leading the offense, and the defense smothering almost every opposing chance, it is possible they have turned a corner.
Carter, booed lustily every time he touched the puck, joined Dwight King with a goal and an assist apiece, and Jonathan Quick made four of his 23 saves late to preserve the Kings' 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.
''They played well tonight,'' Columbus coach Todd Richards said. ''They skated, there was pressure everywhere on the puck, they won battles, and their execution was better. They made it hard all over the ice.
''We had very little opportunities to make plays because they took away our time and space.''
The Kings, who grabbed their second Stanley Cup championship in three years last summer, have been a shadow of themselves. They had lost three in a row and seven of eight before winning the last two of the five-game road trip that ended at Nationwide Arena.
Still, they are 23-18-12 and remain in the middle of the race for a playoff spot with 29 games left.
Carter could be the difference.
''He's a big-game player,'' said his linemate, King. ''He's a big part of our team, a great player for us, and he had a great game.''
Carter, a former Blue Jackets player who hasn't been forgiven by fans for asking to be traded, has scored seven goals in 12 games against Columbus.
He hadn't had a point in his previous four games, but he raised his career point total to 498.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn't single him out, but preferred to praise the entire trio.
''That line was really good,'' he said. ''Jeff, Tyler (Toffoli) and Kinger were all our best forwards by a long shot.''
Toffoli and Dustin Brown also scored for the Kings, and Brayden McNabb - seeing action in relief of the injured Alec Martinez (concussion symptoms) - added two assists.
But it was the Kings' tough and stingy defense, led by Drew Doughty, that decided this one.
''We didn't have any room in the neutral zone and couldn't execute,'' Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen said. ''They made it tough to have speed and make plays.''
Quick, who has had an erratic season, was at his very best after David Savard scored for Columbus with 1:53 left with an extra attacker to cut the lead to a goal.
Quick made timely saves on Johansen's wrist shot and against Artem Anisimov from in close. He also muffled a shot by Savard.
Hanging on to a 3-2 lead heading into the third period, the Kings quickly doubled their edge. Brown, at the top of the left circle, fed another former Blue Jackets player - Marian Gaborik - for a shot, with the deep rebound glancing directly to Brown, who was crashing the net. His rising shot beat Curtis McElhinney for his ninth of the season at 1:49.
From there on, the Blue Jackets played hard but got very little to show for it against the Kings' back line.
Scott Hartnell, playing in his 1,000th NHL game, notched his 263rd goal. Savard had an assist to go with his goal, and Jack Skille also scored for the Blue Jackets. McElhinney had 40 saves.
''It's been a very emotional day for me, with my family being here and all,'' said Hartnell, who played the bulk of his career with Nashville and Philadelphia before coming to the Blue Jackets in a trade with the Flyers before this season. ''It would have been a lot sweeter if we had gotten the victory.''
NOTES: Los Angeles improved to 7-12-6 on the road. ... The injury-hindered Blue Jackets placed D Ryan Murray on the injured list earlier Monday. He will be out 4 to 6 weeks with a high ankle sprain. ... The Kings have nine players who have played at least 50 of their 53 games. Columbus has four players to do it in 52 games. ... The officials allowed the Blue Jackets' Jared Boll and Kings' Kyle Clifford to throw punches for a couple of minutes late in the first, with Boll landing a crunching right near the end that bloodied Clifford's face.
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