Line change gives Kings a spark against Hurricanes
The Kings might go back to their usual forward lines when they take their eight-game winning streak to the East Coast.
But they’ll always have Carolina.
For one night, at least, Kings coach John Stevens put Anze Kopitar with wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli and it paid off handsomely, if barely. The line produced all three goals in a 3-2 overtime win Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Kopitar has been with Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown almost exclusively this season. But Stevens made the switch to get a better defensive matchup against Jordan Staal’s line, and he noticed that Toffoli and Pearson had legs.
“I thought they were two of our better players tonight,” Stevens said. “Kopi’s a good player no matter who you put him with, but when those guys are going, it really helped us.”
The Kings needed help late because their play faltered in the third period for the second consecutive game. They lost a 2-0 lead in the final seven minutes when they succumbed to Carolina’s possession game and needed Pearson’s goal with 20 seconds left in overtime.
The effectiveness of Kopitar’s line in the first half of the game put them in position to eke out the win. Kopitar could go back with Brown and Iafallo when the Kings start a four-game swing Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils. But Saturday’s chemistry is something the Kings can revisit.
“We realize that John put us together to try to create something and to give us a spark, and we responded pretty well,” Kopitar said. “I don’t think it’s going to last too long, that line, but we created some stuff [Saturday] that we’ll certainly take.”
Kopitar will take a five-game point streak into New Jersey, with four goals and six assists in that run. Jonathan Quick has a 1.46 goals-against average and .943 save percentage during a personal six-game winning streak.
The question going forward is whether the Kings have the stamina to match the franchise-record nine-game winning streak from January and February of 2010. Stevens spotted fatigue Saturday. His team has played at least every other day since Nov. 28, or seven games in 12 days.
“I think we looked a little bit tired,” Stevens said. “I just felt that the schedule caught up with us a little bit coming off the road, and then playing every other day. The guys have been terrific. I don’t think you can fault their effort on any night.”
The Kings took Sunday off before they resume their feast on the East. Fourteen of their 20 wins are against Eastern Conference teams. They will have played 21 of their first 35 games against the East at the conclusion of the trip.
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