They used to be inseparable, flanked on opposite sides of Jeff Carter. But nearly halfway through this season, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have trended in the opposite directions.
Toffoli has 17 goals and is on pace for a career-high 36. Pearson has six goals, which is far off track from his career-high of 24 goals last season. The longtime linemates have been split up and Toffoli has thrived with whoever he’s grouped with, lately Marian Gaborik and Adrian Kempe. Toffoli has already surpassed his 16-goal injury-shortened season last year.
“It’s been fun,” Toffoli said. “Last year it was frustrating, being injured there and not being able to play the way I wanted to play, so I came into this season wanting to get back to normal, and I think I’ve been doing a pretty job of it and I’ve just got to keep building off it.”
Toffoli’s health was the main concern for Kings coach John Stevens when he met with Toffoli over the summer. Stevens expected this production from Toffoli as long he stayed on the ice regularly. Known for his possession play on the wing, Toffoli’s sixth sense of finding the puck might remind Kings fans of Luc Robitaille.
“[The] kid’s won a Stanley Cup playing on the big stage in pressure-packed situations and has performed,” Stevens said. “Tanner has, too. My whole focus with Ty was getting healthy. I didn’t expect anything different than what we’re getting from him.”
Stevens said there wasn’t much curiosity about how Toffoli and Pearson would perform when Carter went down with a lacerated ankle tendon in October. Stevens plugged in Kempe and Nick Shore at center and, while Toffoli has scored fairly steadily, Pearson hasn’t.
For the past two games, Pearson has been on the top line with Anze Kopitar. Stevens said it wasn’t an attempt to get Pearson going offensively so much as a need for more balance throughout the lines. The effect has provided more opportunity for Pearson, a streaky scorer throughout his career who is looking for a breakthrough.
“Confidence is such a big thing in this game,” Pearson said. “Sometimes you feel like your [bad] shot goes in somehow when you’re feeling it, and when you’re not-so feeling it, you’re hitting your shots and they’re not going in. You’ve got to keep on shooting. I’ve got to get going again.”
The different outputs of Toffoli and Pearson happened after both signed offseason contract extensions. Toffoli was extended three years at $4.6 million annually and Pearson for four years at $3.75 million. It confirmed the organization’s faith in the duo who have been friends since the minors.
“We both love being in L.A.,” Toffoli said. “To get extensions and what we got is very exciting. It’s a huge time in our lives. We’ve just got to keep going and just focus on winning games here.”
Gabriel Vilardi was traded from the Windsor Spitfires to the Kingston Frontenacs in a junior hockey deal Monday. Vilardi, who remains the Kings’ property as their top draft pick in 2017, is expected to make his season debut Friday.
Windsor general manager Warren Rychel told the Windsor Star that Vilardi is likely an NHL player next season and that made the trade possible.
When: 6:30 p.m. PST, Tuesday
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