Deja vu all over again?
A quirk in the lockout-shortened NHL schedule matched the Kings, who defeated the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-0, on Monday at Staples Center, against the Coyotes again on Tuesday at the same arena. Of course, the Kings wouldn’t mind the same outcome — and the same success they enjoyed on the power play in winning the opener of the two-game miniseries.
The Kings converted two of six power-play chances on Monday to improve their recent run to seven for 17 over six games, a healthy 41.2 percent success rate. Overall, they entered Tuesday’s game with the league’s ninth-ranked power play, at a 20.4% rate (21 for 103). That’s a strong comeback after going 0 for 19 in their first three games this season.
“I think other than the first two or three games of the year our power play has been really good,” Coach Darryl Sutter said. “We went through a stretch of games where we weren’t getting many opportunities. The only time we can work on it is during games, and we weren’t getting enough opportunities.
“After early in the year we went to two groups, and I think that’s helped our guys. Just because, first off, a lot of those guys play a lot. We put them in two groups, so we had a fresh group and you could always watch at timeouts or whistles which five guys were fresh.”
Sutter used various combinations in the early weeks of the season, including deploying forward Mike Richards on the point a lot. But he didn’t want to play hard-shooting defensemen Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty on the points because both are right-handed shots “and they’re just not comfortable with each other.”
The emergence of defenseman Jake Muzzin, who has recorded five of his 12 points on the power play, has given Sutter more options. He hasn’t used Alec Martinez on the power play since Martinez returned from an upper-body injury.
“I don’t think there’s any one thing. I think also, early, we played [Anze Kopitar] on the power play but he wasn’t really sharp,” Sutter said, referring to the skillful center’s knee injury and slow start. “You can just see it in his game now. We want to get [Jeff] Carter the puck as much as we can. We want Kopitar to have the puck as much as we can, and those are keys. That’s no different than any top power play having success; you want your top guys touching the puck.”
Rookie winger Tyler Toffoli touched the puck enough on Monday to score his first NHL goal and earn an assist. But some of his playing time came at the expense of Dustin Penner, who played only 12 shifts that covered nine minutes 12 seconds, both season-lows. Penner has only one goal this season, on Feb. 25, and none in his last 11 games. But he has six assists in that span.
“He doesn’t kill penalties and I don’t have him on the second power-play unit, and depending on how the games are, how much five on five there is, he might not play that much,” Sutter said. “Even last year if you go look at the playoffs, Dustin didn’t play that much.
“I’ve told him I wanted to get Toffoli in and get a look at him in this stretch of games, and told him, ‘You’ve got to play right wing for now and you’ve got to be ready to move around a little bit on other lines,’ and he’s been good with it. The advantage we have with him is he can play both sides. A lot of it is how Toffoli is playing. If we can’t play him against big guys we’ll have to move him down and move Pens back up.”
Toffoli isn’t big — he’s listed at 6-feet-1 and 187 pounds — but he has shown great hockey sense at both ends of the rink.
“This is good experience for him. You can tell he’s a real smart kid,” Sutter said. “That’s the fun part. When they know they’re good enough and they know they can be better.”