One of the constants of the Kings’ lineup this season has been Anze Kopitar with Dustin Brown. With little variation, they’ve been linemates, through winning streaks and losing spells.
That changed after probably the worst Kings’ loss this season, 6-2 to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan.23. The fallout was such that Kings coach John Stevens let them know they’d be splitting ways.
The results? The Kings have won two straight games by a combined score of 5-1. They’ve had a more detailed checking game with Kopitar and Brown spread out and Adrian Kempe taking over Jeff Carter’s role as second-line center.
“We just want to level out the playing field a little bit,” Kopitar said. “It’s been working so far. I don’t know how long Jeff’s going to be out. I think, until that, we might be split up. But we’re going good right now and Brownie’s obviously been a really good player for us. … If we want to keep on winning games, we’re going to need the efforts from everybody.”
Stevens has made shrewd lineups moves in his first season as coach and this appears to be another one. He put Tyler Toffoli in place of Brown on the top line and moved Brown to the second line with Kempe and Tanner Pearson.
Change was coming after the Vancouver loss, if only for a different look, and Stevens thought it would have a psychological effect if Kopitar and Brown played on separate lines.
“We need their influence on other guys, and I think it balances out a little bit in terms of veteran leadership on different lines,” Stevens said.
Kopitar was a force at both ends of the ice Tuesday. He extended his points and assists streak to six games and passed his 52-point total from last season. His 53 points are 17 more than the closest teammate, Drew Doughty.
Kopitar continually faces top-line defensive assignments and will get tested again Thursday against the Stanley Cup-contending Nashville Predators.
“It’s fun. It’s a challenge,” Kopitar said. “You have to have some fun with it. You play hard and you try to do your best. It’s a good matchup usually. You just kind of want to stick with it and play your game and outplay the other guy.”
While Kopitar is used to seeing top lines every night, this is new for linemate Alex Iafallo. At this time last year he was defending top college players. Tuesday saw him up against wingers Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, who have played a combined 839 NHL games.
“I’m just getting used to all the players, and the different styles, too,” Iafallo said. “Everybody has a different way they see the game and how they play it. It’s pretty cool being out there and experiencing all of it. But at the same time, I’ve got to do my job and make sure I’m prepared every night.”
Carter on the trip
Carter is skating on his own this trip as he works his way back from a lacerated ankle tendon suffered on Oct.18.
“He’s not yet ready to join the group but to have him with the group is good for us,” Stevens said. “I think he’s a big source of leadership for the hockey team. I think he’s a big help when he’s around, even when he’s not playing.”
When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790
Update: Jonathan Quick is expected to be activated off injured reserve Thursday. Marian Gaborik, Nick Shore and Derek Forbort remain day-to-day with injuries. Nashville, which announced Mike Fisher’s return from retirement on Wednesday, won both games against the Kings earlier this season. P.K. Subban’s 12 goals lead NHL defensemen.