What to watch when the L.A. Kings play host to the Florida Panthers

For starters, Florida Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell makes his Los Angeles return Tuesday night to face the Kings, the team he helped win Stanley Cup championships last season and in 2012. Mitchell, who signed a two-season, $8.5-million contract with the Panthers during the offseason is one of a number of players who make the Panthers more formidable than anticipated.

Second, Florida (6-4-5) has victories over the Ducks and San Jose Sharks, a pair of Western Conference elite teams, within the last week. The Panthers thumped the Ducks 6-2 on Sunday. Kings defenseman Alec Martinez is expected to be sidelined for about a week after undergoing finger surgery Friday.

Third, the Kings (9-5-4) ended a two-game losing streak with a 3-2 overtime victory Saturday over the Ducks. Tyler Toffoli leads the Kings with eight goals, and rookie Tanner Pearson has seven. Toffoli also has a team-leading 10 assists.

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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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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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Three things about the L.A. Kings rout of the hapless Oilers

Here are my first few paragraphs from Tuesday’s game story:

“The Kings didn’t actually score on every shift of Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center. It only seemed like it. The Kings didn’t create a scoring on every dash down the ice against the hopelessly overmatched Oilers. It only appeared to be the case.

“There will be nights when the puck doesn’t settle into the back of the net as easily or as often as it did during the Kings’ 6-1 rout of the Oilers. Defending their Stanley Cup championship certainly will be more difficult than it was Tuesday, when the Kings seemed to be skating downhill.

“After all, the St. Louis Blues visit Staples Center on Thursday.

“The Blues are one of the NHL’s elite teams.

“Clearly, the Oilers are not.”

Here are three thoughts about the Kings’ blowout victory:

First, that Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli line continues to roll. Pearson had two goals and an assist. Carter scored a goal and added an assist and Toffoli had a goal and an assist. Pearson has a team-leading four goals, Carter has three and Toffoli has two for the Kings, who have scored 12 in four games to start the season.

Second, Darryl Sutter said he would rather had gotten “the cob” for goalie Jonathan Quick than win his 100th game as the Kings coach. Cob? Well, it’s a folksy term for shutout since an ear of corn looks like a zero if you turn it the right way. Have we mentioned Sutter is a farmer back home in Viking, Alberta?

Third, the Oilers are a poor team and weren’t very competitive, which marked the second consecutive pushover the Kings faced, including their 4-1 rout of the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Things get tougher with the arrival of the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. The Blues will hit back. They will score and play with the sort of grit and determination that you would expect from a team that believes it can make a deep playoff run. Don’t expect a third straight one-sided result in the Kings’ favor, in other words.

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Three things about the Kings’ first victory of the new season

The Kings took a 4-1 victory from the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday at Staples Center, their first win after a couple of clunkers to start their Stanley Cup defense. Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, aka That 70s Line, each had a goal and an assist. Anze Kopitar scored his first goal of the season and Martin Jones made 29 saves.

Here are three things about the game, which was a step in the right direction:

First, That 70s Line is carrying the Kings so far, having accounted for all but one of the team’s six goals to start the season. That’s good and bad. It’s good because you have to figure Kopitar and Marian Gaborik will begin to produce more, especially once the third member of the line is solidified. Or as close to it as it gets with Darryl Sutter as coach of the Kings. Kopitar and Gaborik started out with Dustin Brown, but Sutter switched Justin Williams onto their line for Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes and kept Williams there for Sunday’s game against Winnipeg.

Second, Kopitar pulled no punches when asked about his line’s lack of production. Said Kopitar: “It can be better. Definitely a step in the right direction. I think we were moving the puck better. We had some zone time and we were creating some chances. But there is definitely room for improvement and we’re going to work on it.”

Third, Jones continues to amaze as Jonathan Quick’s backup. Nothing seems to faze him, not that the Jets represented an especially difficult challenge. Said Toffoli of Jones: “That guy’s a machine. That guy does it all. He’s such a great goalie.”

 

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Kings questions and answers (part 4, expanded version)

Will the Kings be healthy enough to lead the playoff race?

Goalie Jonathan Quick and forward Kyle Clifford underwent wrist surgeries and Jarret Stoll had hip surgery during the offseason, signs of the toll a grueling regular season and an extended playoff run can exact on professional athletes. All three are sound and will begin the regular season on schedule. Injuries are always a concern, particularly for a team that relies on its physical play to win games. The Kings appear to have the depth to withstand various routine bumps and bruises in the season.

Luck plays a great role in a team’s success. Good teams avoid injuries, or at the very least they manage to use their depth to patch together a lineup that’s good enough to keep winning. There’s not a big drop-off. Bad teams get injured and there aren’t enough quality players to fill the void. The Kings appear to have plenty of depth, both on their roster in Los Angeles and at their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H. Any questions about the organization’s depth should have been answered by the likes of Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli during the playoffs last season.

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