Kings' Darryl Sutter picks his spots, bunching his talent on the No. 1 line

Darryl Sutter chose part of the third period Saturday against the Ducks to fall back on a tactic he occasionally uses, just to keep things interesting.

The Kings coach moved his No. 2 center Jeff Carter, onto the right wing of his top line, alongside center Anze Kopitar and left wing Milan Lucic, creating a formidable attack that has skill, size and grit.

The one problem is the strategy effectively puts all the Kings' scoring eggs in one basket. That means the supporting cast needs to step up on offense, otherwise the matchup game becomes too easy and predictable.

The experiment worked reasonably well in the Kings' two subsequent outings — 5-1 and 4-3 overtime wins over the Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals. As a result, you probably can expect to see it continue against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, which will complete the Kings' five-game homestand.

"We've done it lots with Jeff and Kopi over time," said Sutter after practice Friday, noting it is easier to do at home. "In a lot of ways, Jeff has probably played more good wing in his career than he has center.

"When we got Jeff, we didn't get Jeff to play center. We got him to play with Mike Richards. And he did. When you look at the last Cup we won, Jeff, in the big games, was playing right wing."

In the victory over the league-leading Capitals on Wednesday, the Kings squandered a three-goal, first-period lead but salvaged two points anyway when Carter scored in overtime, on a play set up by Lucic.

"We're all comfortable playing with each other," Carter said. "I've played with Looch quite a bit this year and obviously played a ton with Kopi this year. Three big guys that can move up and down the ice pretty good. For myself, playing with those two is pretty easy when we get in the offensive zone.

"They protect the puck and hang on to the puck and I can just worry about trying to get open. You have to find different ways to score. It's no secret that we've had problems scoring goals and whatnot, and going through some tough stretches, myself personally. I enjoy playing with them. It makes my game a lot easier."

Lucic likes the arrangement a lot. At times this season, since arriving in an off-season trade with the Boston Bruins, the big winger has had either Kopitar and Carter as his center. Now, he has the luxury of playing with both.

"That's something Darryl put together in the Anaheim game and stuck with it in the Canucks game and it worked out real well," Lucic said. "Three big bodies that want to play that down-low game and also have that speed in the neutral zone. We have the ability to control the play when we're on our game. It's been a lot of fun. I've played the last seven periods with those two guys — they're world-class players for a reason.

"Hopefully we can keep it going."

The Kings are in a battle for first place in the Pacific Division with the Ducks, and the winner would meet a wild-card team in the opening round of the playoffs. Anaheim's recent 11-game win streak was fueled partly by a decision to do just the opposite of what the Kings have done — splitting up their two scorers, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, in an attempt to achieve more balance on offense.

Sometimes, it's about a coach's instinct and knowing when to shuffle personnel. It certainly sparked Carter. In a 21-game span between Jan. 17 and March 7, he managed to score twice. In the past two games, he's scored three times.

KINGS NEXT UP

VS. NEW JERSEY

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.

Update: Devils starting goaltender Cory Schneider is out with an injury, but backup Keith Kinkaid is coming off a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks, his second shutout of the season. His first came on Feb. 14, 1-0 over the Kings. The Devils are also without winger Michael Cammalleri, who has missed the last 26 games because of a hand injury.

Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter @reallisa

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 12, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Sutter's juggling works for the Kings - Clustering the team's talent on the first line pays off on offense, especially for Carter." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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