Three things to watch during the L.A. Kings five-game trip

Kings coach Darryl Sutter talks to players during practice at the Staples Center last June. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Kings coach Darryl Sutter talks to players during practice at the Staples Center last June. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Kings begin a five-game trip Tuesday against the Sabres in Buffalo, N.Y. Here are three things to watch as they tramp through the snowy climes in Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and St. Louis:

First, the King simply have to be better on the road than their 3-4-4 record to start the season. Few teams have played fewer road games than the KIngs at this point in the season, so things either have to pick up or the Kings are going to find themselves in great difficulty later in the season. This is a team, after all, that won three Game 7s on the road last season in the playoffs. Their showing away from Staples Center has been troubling to start 2014-15, however.

Second, Kings coach Darryl Sutter could reunite That 70s Line of Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli if and when Marian Gaborik returns to the lineup after sitting out the last four games because of an upper-body injury. Gaborik is said to be close and could be back in the lineup Tuesday against the Sabres. Pearson, Carter and Toffoli were the Kings’ only effective line to start the season. They are the only ones with seven goals or more, with Pearson and Toffoli leading the way with 10 apiece. They weren’t as effective apart as they were together. The Kings lack scoring punch, which is hardly a news bulletin. They need those three playing together and clicking together, because they can’t get by with a wonky offense.

Third, the Kings need Gaborik healthy and productive. He signed a seven-season, $34-million contract last June to stay with the Kings. The team needs him to be on the ice and contributing. With only four goals and eight points in 15 games so during this injury-plagued season, the Kings’ investment in him looks rather unwise.

 

 

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Three things about the L.A. Kings victory over the Carolina Hurricanes

Here are the top few paragraphs of my game story:

Tanner Pearson chipped the icicles off his hockey stick Thursday at Staples Center. The rookie left wing ended an 11-game goal-scoring drought with a deft swat of the puck that propelled the Kings to a grinding 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

So great was Pearson’s slump that he went from playing on the Kings’ most effective line, to sitting on the bench and watching for extended stretches, to nearly sitting in the press box and eating popcorn by the fistful as his teammates faced the Hurricanes.

It’s often that way with gifted young players, with their production ebbing and flowing. Kings coach Darryl Sutter hinted that a night in the rafters might not be such a bad thing, although he didn’t mention the 22-year-old Pearson by name.

Sutter didn’t pull the trigger Thursday, but Pearson did. Pearson’s goal gave the Kings a 3-2 lead only minutes into the second period and they held it the rest of the way against the Hurricanes. The Kings’ victory was their third in a row after a two-game losing streak.

Here are three things about the Kings’ latest victory:

First, Pearson’s slumps will be fewer and farer (is that a word?) between as he matures and gains experience. He was doing all the right things of late, but the puck wasn’t going into the net for him. He solved it by charging to the net and smacking a loose puck into it. Smart play by a gifted player who realizes that not all the goals are going to be masterpieces.Gritty goals count just as much as pretty ones.

Second, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty played 25:10 against Carolina, ending his streak of 30-minute games at four in a row. Injuries and the suspension to Slava Voynov have wreaked havoc with Sutter’s defense pairs and Doughty has been overplayed to the extreme at times. Sutter has acknowledged the disservice it’s done to Doughty and to the Kings. But what else can he do? Voynov won’t be back any time soon after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday it would charge Voynov in a domestic violence case. Alec Martinez is expected back within a week or so after undergoing minor surgery on a finger. But the numbers are thin for Sutter, so expect Doughty to keep playing big minutes.

Third, the Kings’ power play, once a hindrance, is now a help. The Kings went 1 for 3 with the man advantage against the Hurricanes, which came one game after they clicked on 3 of 6 chances Tuesday against the Florida Panthers and two games after they were 2 of 3 on Saturday against the Ducks. The Kings went through a 1-for-27 slump over nine games and it appeared their power play was a lost cause. But that’s no longer the case if recent games are an indication. That’s a very big deal for a team that often struggles to score while skating 5 on 5.

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Three things about the L.A. Kings lackluster loss to the Dallas Stars

Here are the top few paragraphs from my game story:

How low can you go? For the Kings, a letdown Thursday against the Dallas Stars in the cavernous confines of Staples Center was probably inevitable after Wednesday’s 65-minute test of skills and wills against the Ducks at the raucous Honda Center.

The answer, at least at the start of the Kings’ 2-0 loss to the Stars, was subterranean. The Kings played a game so dull and devoid of efficiency and execution that it could have put a pot of coffee to sleep. It appeared the Kings left their skates in Orange County.

“It simply wasn’t good enough,” Kings right wing Justin Williams said. “We chased the game tonight. We were a step behind, a second slow. All that stuff. When you’re a second slow, they’re able to break out of the zone. We had no sustained pressure.”

Here are three things about the Kings’ second straight defeat:

First, Williams was right on all counts. The Kings weren’t good enough. Blame it on the weather, with the rain putting a damper on the evening. Blame it on the Ducks, who extended the Kings the night before. Blame it on the Kings’ injuries and a suspension to defenseman Slava Voynov. Blame it on the Stars, too. The Kings haven’t played very well to start the season. It’s that simple.

Second, the Kings are a sub-.500 team at the moment. They are 8-5-4, which looks good only until you realize they are actually 8-9. That’s not a good sign as they head toward the 20-game mark, which is usually when we find out what teams are truly made of. Big trades can happen and players can suddenly find an extra gear later in the season. But, for the most part, we know what kind of team you’re going to be after roughly 20 games of the season. This means you, Kings.

Third, Kings coach Darryl Sutter benched budding young stars Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli for most of the final two periods of Wednesday’s loss to the Ducks. They played a more familiar role in Thursday’s loss to the Stars, but neither was especially effective. That’s another cause for concern for the Kings, who relied so heavily on them and Jeff Carter for offense to start the season. Where are the goals going to come from if That 70s Line doesn’t score? Well, that’s the big question.

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L.A. Kings forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli benched vs. Ducks

There were, oh, about 1.5 million things that got overlooked during the Kings’ 6-5 shootout loss to the Ducks on Wednesday. One was the scant playing time given to young forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, two-thirds of That 70s Line, the Kings’ leading offensive trio. Pearson played only eight minutes Wednesday against the Ducks, and Toffoli was on the ice for only 10:43. Jeff Carter, who centers the line, played his customary minutes, skating 21:33. More minutes than usual, in fact. Toffoli has scored a Kings-leading 17 points, including seven goals, while averaging 14:16 of ice time per game. Carter has 15 points, including six goals, and averages 18:11. Pearson has 10 points, including seven goals, and averages 12:56.

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L.A. Kings winger Tanner Pearson named NHL’s rookie of the month for October

Kings left wing Tanner Pearson scored seven goals and added two assists in 11 games in October and was named Monday as the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for October. Pearson and linemates Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli combined to score 35 points in 11 games in October, including 18 of 25 goals in regulation and/or OT.

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What to watch when the Kings face the Penguins

Kings rookie Tanner Pearson skates away after scoring in last Sunday's game. Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News

Kings rookie Tanner Pearson skates away after scoring in last Sunday’s game. Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News

 

Kings at Penguins, Thursday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports West, AM-790

This figures to be a clash in styles, with the defensive-minded Kings making their only visit of the regular season to Pittsburgh to face Sidney Crosby and the offensive-oriented Penguins. The Kings (6-1-2) have given up an average of only 1.67 goals per game, tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the NHL’s stingiest defense. The Penguins (5-2-1) have scored an average of 4.12 goals per game, tops in the 30-team league.

The Kings’ six-game winning streak ended with a 3-2 overtime loss Tuesday to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Kings have at least one point in eight of nine games this season. The Penguins are coming off an 8-3 victory Tuesday over the New Jersey Devils. Crosby, the NHL’s reigning MVP, leads the Penguins with 14 points, including seven goals. Rookie left wing Tanner Person has a team-leading seven goals for the Kings.

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L.A. Kings forward Jeff Carter named the NHL’s first star for last week

Jeff Carter scored two goals and added four assists in two games last week, helping to lead the Kings to a 2-0-0 record while they completed the franchise’s first 6-0-0 homestand. Overall, Carter has five goals and seven assists in eight games while helping to lead That 70s Line. Linemates Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli have accounted for 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals (excluding shootout goals).

Carter was the NHL’s No. 1 star, former Kings goalie Ben Scrivens (now with the Edmonton Oilers was the No. 2 star and New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen was the third star for the week ending Oct. 26.

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Three things about the L.A. Kings victory over the Blue Jackets

Here are the first few paragraphs of Sunday’s game story:

One of these days, the Kings won’t be able to rely on only three players to score in order to win. One of these games, Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli won’t be able to continue to work their magic. Sooner or later, an opposing team will shut them down.

It’s bound to happen eventually, right?

Perhaps, but certainly not during the Kings’ 5-2 victory Sunday afternoon over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Staples Center. Pearson scored two goals in the third period, Toffoli added one goal and three assists and Carter recorded a goal and two assists. Overall, That 70s Line has combined to score 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals in the run of play.

Here are three things about the Kings’ sixth consecutive victory:

First, center Anze Kopitar suffered an unspecified upper-body injury after a collision behind the net in the second period and could not return to the game. How serious it is remains to be seen. Here’s what Kings coach Darryl Sutter said: “He’s all right,” Sutter then had the same response when a reporter asked if Kopitar could make the Kings’ five-game trip, which begins Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Second, the Kings’ depth is sure to be put to the test sooner rather than later, especially if Kopitar is sidelined for any length of time. Or if he’s at something less than 100 percent for an extended period. Marian Gaborik and Trevor Lewis are each sidelined by upper-body injuries and not expected to play soon. Defenseman Slava Voynov continues to serve an indefinite suspension by the NHL after his arrest last week on domestic violence charges. Salary-cap issues mean the Kings can’t recall a player from their AHL team in Manchester N.H.

Third, Dwight King’s second-period goal gave the Kings a fourth player to score this season. Tanner Pearson has seven goals, Jeff Carter has five and Tyler Toffoli four, Kopitar has two and King, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams have won each. That 70s Line, as Pearson, Carter and Toffoli are known, has accounted for 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals in the run of play this season. It’s an amazing run by a talented line, but it’s also potentially damaging since they’re bound to cool off eventually and others simply have to step up and contribute more to the bottom line.

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Final: Kings 2, Wild 1

Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson scored for the Kings and Jonathan Quick made xx saves in a 2-1 victory Sunday afternoon over the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center. The Kings won their second in a row when getting widely outshot. The Wild outshot the Kings 41-16, after the St. Louis Blues outshot them 43-18 on Thursday. Matt Cooke scored the Wild’s only goal, cutting the Kings’ lead to 2-1 in the third period.

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