Martin Jones made a habit of winning big games at the Scotiabank Saddledome during his Western Hockey League career.
Four years after guiding the Calgary Hitmen to a WHL championship and a berth in the 2010 Memorial Cup, Jones made a triumphant return to the Saddledome with the Los Angeles Kings.
“I was excited to play here for sure,” said Jones, who made 24 saves to backstop the Kings to a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday. “I had four great years here. It was a good road win. It wasn’t pretty.”
Anze Kopitar had a goal and an assist for the Kings (38-22-6), who have reeled off eight straight wins.
“Definitely we didn’t want to make it as interesting as it was, but yeah I guess it was pretty big,” said Kopitar of his third-period goal that put the Kings up 3-0 and eventually stood up as the game winner. “It wasn’t the prettiest win tonight, but at the end of the day we got the two points.”
Kopitar commended Jones for his play in between the pipes for the Kings.
“He put on a really nice show tonight,” Kopitar said. “He’s been stellar for us. Every time he’s been in the net, he’s been really good for us.”
Justin Williams and Trevor Lewis also scored for the Kings.
Mike Cammalleri and Brian McGrattan scored for the Flames (25-33-7), who lost for just the second time in their past nine games at the Saddledome. Coincidentally, it was the Kings who last beat the Flames at home on Feb. 27.
“The way we played the last seven-eight minutes of the game, if we had played the whole game like that, the outcome might have been different,” said McGrattan, who has goals in back-to-back contests after going 29 games without scoring. “We hung around the whole game. We came on at the end. We didn’t give up.”
Playing in his fourth straight game, rookie Calgary goalie Joni Ortio made 20 saves in a losing cause.
With the win, Jones improved his record in his rookie season with the Kings to 10-4.
“It’s a totally different animal being here and at this level and in this dressing room, on this side of the ice,” said Jones, who played his entire WHL career with the Hitmen.
“I just wanted to make sure I stayed focused. I was excited to be here but wanted to make sure I was focused on the task at hand here.”
Never drafted by an NHL team, Jones was invited to L.A.’s training camp in 2008 and subsequently signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Kings.
With Jonathan Quick out of L.A.’s lineup due to a groin injury earlier this season, Jones was called up by the Kings and promptly won his first eight NHL starts, three of them shutout victories. He lost his next four decisions before making 25 saves in L.A.’s 6-4 road win over the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 26.
Quick played the next five games in net for the Kings, all wins, before L.A. coach Darryl Sutter decided to give Jones the start against the Flames.
“He was really solid,” Sutter said. “To be quite honest, when we came back from the Olympics we started in Colorado and he won that game also. We were down 4-2 and he hung on and he won that game also. He did a good job in there tonight.”
The Kings scored on their first shot on goal at 4:05 of the first when Williams redirected a pass from Anze Kopitar past Ortio. Williams drove hard to the net and attempted to get his stick on the pass from Kopitar, but the puck instead bounced off his shin and into the net behind Ortio.
“They’re a bigger, more physical team than us and I thought they imposed their rhythm right from the start,” said Calgary coach Bob Hartley. “They got that early goal and that kind of put us on our heels.”
The Kings then went up by a pair at the 10-minute mark of the first when Lewis tipped Slava Voynov’s point shot into the top corner behind Ortio, who lost his stick on the play when his own defenceman Kris Russell accidentally knocked it out of his hands.
The Flames had a great chance to pull within one in the dying moments of the first, but Jones made a shoulder save to stop a shot fired his way by former Hitmen teammate T.J. Galiardi before sticking out his left pad to stop a backhand attempt by McGrattan.
Jones also had to be sharp early in the second period as he stood his ground to turn aside back-to-back shots of the stick of Calgary forward Paul Byron.
Early in the third period, Jones made a shoulder save to stop Calgary forward Mikael Backlund from scoring on a partial breakaway with the Kings on a power play.
Kopitar added an insurance marker for the Kings at 7:01 of the third when he tipped Drew Doughty’s point shot past Ortio.
A short time later, Jones lunged forward to stop a point blank shot by Cammalleri to keep the Flames off the scoresheet.
With Mike Richards serving a delay of game penalty, Cammalleri finally scored at 15:29 of the third to break Jones’s shutout bid. Cammalleri’s shot appeared to deflect off Voynov before trickling through Jones’s legs.
McGrattan made things interesting by scoring with 2:22 remaining in regulation when he spun around and fired a slapshot from the slot past Jones.
Notes: Injury woes for the Flames continued as a pair of rookies were forced to leave the game. Markus Granlund played just 12 seconds early in the first period before taking a hit from L.A. forward Jarret Stoll, forcing him to leave the game with an upper-body injury. Defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon also sustained an upper-body injury in the third period and didn’t return. a The Kings played without forward Jordan Nolan, who was assessed a one-game suspension for sucker punching Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Joensuu on Sunday. Tanner Pearson drew into the lineup in place of Nolan. a After being acquired by the Kings from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL trade deadline last Wednesday, forward Marian Gaborik is still looking for his first point with the Kings. Gaborik played on a line with Kopitar and Williams. a The Kings improved their record when leading after two periods this season to a perfect 21-0.