Kings’ Adrian Kempe hopes a reunion with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli can spark his offense
Adrian Kempe almost always carries the same demeanor when he shows up at the rink. He’s on an even level and tries not to get affected by good and bad times. Even his goal celebrations tend to be on the subdued side.
But Kempe pepped up some this week when he learned that he would be going back to center, reunited with linemates Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
“I kind of like center a little bit more,” Kempe said. “I’m always happy when they trust me in the middle.”
Kings coach John Stevens made the move to spark some offense and tap into the chemistry that Kempe had with Pearson and Toffoli earlier in the season, when Jeff Carter was injured and Kempe assumed Carter’s role.
Kempe scored 14 goals in his first 44 games. But when Carter returned Feb.24, Kempe was bumped to the third-line wing and found it difficult to maintain production. He was taken off the power play and his ice time dipped.
Kempe will take a 17-game scoring drought into Thursday and has only two goals in his last 25 games.
“I don’t think he’s had the chances at the same rate that he had earlier in the season,” Stevens said. “We’d certainly like to see him get back to that. But it’s his play without the puck that’s going to create opportunities. A little better in his own zone, quicker to get pucks back, manage the puck on the rush and good things will come to him.”
Stevens has seen that come to fruition in the last two games as Kempe’s line has combined for three goals and five assists, not including Kempe’s slick stickhandle goal Tuesday to keep the shootout going.
“When we struggle to score, he’s a guy that you look at that you need back in the groove, and I’d say the same about other support guys, whether it’s Tyler or Tanner,” said Kings assistant coach Don Nachbaur, who oversees the forwards.
“He had a real hot first half, and now it’s getting tough. As a young guy, he’s going to have to approach every game with a playoff mentality. It’s tight checking, so he’s going to have to find ways to get through that checking part of the game. He’s a young scorer, and he’s learning that. And that takes time.”
Kempe’s line has looked energized the last two games. All three are young and have the legs to create opportunities, with Kempe driving center ice with speed.
“We just want to try to make plays and play hard and physical, and be good on the forecheck like we did in the beginning of the year when we played with each other,” Kempe said. “That’s something we want to get back to, for sure.”
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790.
Update: Detroit’s Frans Nielsen is expected to return from a hit to the head that got David Backes of the Boston Bruins a three-game suspension, according to the Detroit Free Press. The Red Wings are on a season-long seven-game losing streak and sit 28th in the NHL in scoring at 2.55 goals per game. Henrik Zetterberg recently passed Ted Lindsay for fifth on the franchise all-time list with 336 goals.
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