Tanner Pearson's season has been a wild adventure.
He went from winning the NHL's rookie of the month honor in October to being stapled to the Kings' bench by Coach Darryl Sutter in November when his scoring touch vanished. Sutter could have scratched him from the lineup against Carolina on Thursday at Staples Center but instead put the young winger alongside veteran center Mike Richards and rugged winger Kyle Clifford, a place where Pearson could flourish.
Pearson responded with his first goal in 12 games, since Oct. 26, batting in a fluttering puck early in the second period for the decisive goal in the Kings' 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes. That extended the team's winning streak to three.
“I think whenever you kind of go in a drought and I haven't been playing my best hockey as of lately, but definitely this game I think helped a lot,” Pearson said, crediting Richards — known as “Rick” and Clifford for helping him resuscitate his game.
“When you're playing with Rick and Cliffie, they're both going to be in their face and they're forechecking kind of guys. Rick can make some really good plays and Cliffie and I can just go to the net and hopefully something happens, and today it did.”
It did, because he made it happen.
“Everyone's going to go through slumps,” said teammate Trevor Lewis, who scored the Kings' second goal. “I think he did a good job tonight of just working hard and going to the net. You never know what's going to happen. He did a good job and he always works hard.”
If Pearson has proved resilient, so have the Kings (11-5-4).
They've had to juggle their defense almost daily because of injuries and the league-imposed suspension of Slava Voynov, a situation that's not likely to change soon.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office on Thursday announced it had charged Voynov with one felony count of corporal injury to spouse with great bodily injury in connection with an incident between Voynov and his wife, Marta Varlamova, on Sept. 19.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that pending additional review and evaluation, Voynov remains suspended with pay — which means that his $4.167-million salary-cap hit still counts against the Kings' cap total.
The Kings are also missing defenseman Alec Martinez, who might be out longer than the one-week term initially projected for his recovery from surgery on his left pinkie finger. He skated on his own after the team's morning skate and Sutter said it will “take some time” for the wound to heal.
The Kings scored first Thursday, with their suddenly potent power play connecting at 7:53 of the first period.
Dustin Brown did a good job lugging the puck before setting up Jarret Stoll in the slot for Stoll's second goal in three games. That improved the Kings' efficiency with the man advantage to six for 10 over three games. But Carolina pulled even at 17:16, when Jeff Skinner wristed a shot past Jonathan Quick off a two-on-one break.
Lewis, showing grit around the net, put the Kings ahead off a scramble in front, 37 seconds into the second period. The goal was reviewed to see whether it had been kicked in, but league officials in Toronto confirmed the puck had gone from Lewis' skate to his stick and was a legitimate goal.
The Hurricanes pulled even at 2:21 on Eric Staal's backhander off a rebound during a power play, but Pearson put the Kings back ahead at 2:59 by using his good hand-eye coordination to bat home a shot by Richards that had deflected off the shoulder of Carolina goalie Cam Ward.
“Any time you give up a goal you want to get it back as quick as possible,” Pearson said. “Whether it's five minutes or whatever, you just want to regain that lead. I just whacked it in, I guess.”
It counted, and that's all that mattered. Quick stopped 11 shots in the third to preserve the lead and improve the Kings' home record to 10-2-1.
And so continues the wild ride for Pearson and for the Kings, who both hope the roller coaster is on its way back up again.