One of the underrated strengths of former Kings coach Darryl Sutter was his ability to find effective line combinations.
He formed the Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli trio, and it was a longtime staple for the Kings up until Carter was injured last month.
Sutter’s successor, John Stevens, isn’t necessarily looking for the next Carter line but the Kings’ four-game losing streak represents a need for change. Stevens has been consistent with his top-nine forward combinations but it appeared Friday that Toffoli and Trevor Lewis swapped spots, with Lewis on the second line with Pearson and Adrian Kempe. Nic Dowd also could return to the lineup Saturday because he skated with Jussi Jokinen and Jonny Brodzinski.
“There’s always going to be courses of a season where there’s matchups you’re facing, or level of play, or guys just get a little bit stale sometimes, I think,” Stevens said. “A little spark, a little change, even one change, can make a difference.”
The small tweaks could be reflective of Stevens’ unhappiness with the Kings’ play along the wall. Toffoli is traditionally strong in that area, and Lewis is similarly known for making the little plays that have gotten away from the Kings, a disconcerting turn considering they hung their hat on that for much of the Sutter era.
“I think before the last couple of games we created a lot from our forechecking and we haven’t done that as much the last couple of games,” Kempe said. “I think it’s been tight games that we should probably earn at least one point … it comes down to the details.”
Opponents have exposed the Kings on those details, and that can no longer be covered by the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick. Those small aspects include faceoffs, which have been the kryptonite for Kempe. He was beaten cleanly by ace Patrice Bergeron on the first goal allowed Thursday to the Boston Bruins and has a 34.9% winning percentage on draws.
“Experience really dictates the timing of that,” Kings assistant coach Don Nachbaur said. “He’s going to learn as time goes on. I’m a big believer in the process. It’s going to take him time to learn from the old pros … he’s got to learn a lot on his own.”
Kempe understood the experimentation with the forwards, especially with six goals scored during the four-game streak.
“I think sometimes it’s good to mix up the lines a little bit,” Kempe said. “Try it with some new guys. I played with Lewie at the beginning of the year. We had some good chemistry. Hopefully we can go back and hopefully we can start getting some more offense.”
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790
Update: Florida’s Roberto Luongo recorded the 74th shutout of his career Thursday to move two shutouts behind Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list. Orange County product Chase Balisy was recalled by Florida this week. He made his NHL debut last month.