After auditioning several forwards for the role — really the privilege — of playing alongside Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter seems to have settled on Tanner Pearson as the line’s left wing.
That trio has shown enough offensive sparks lately to take some of the burden off the top-scoring line of Milan Lucic, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, bringing a much-needed balance to the Kings’ production.
For Pearson, who last season thrived with Carter and Toffoli and bounced around a bit earlier this season, playing with proven international stars Kopitar (Slovenia) and Gaborik (Slovakia) has been an easy transition. The three have played together since Nov. 12.
“Any time you’re able to play with those guys, you just kind of want to do your part and be strong in the areas that they expect you to be strong in,” Pearson said after the Kings skated in El Segundo in preparation for Tuesday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at Staples Center.
“Be good in your own zone, be good on the walls, being able to get Kopi the puck in the middle of the ice, that’s one of the things we want to do. Him having the puck in the middle of the ice is beneficial for us.”
Pearson said there’s not much difference for him when he’s playing with Kopitar, who shoots left-handed, versus playing alongside Carter, who shoots right-handed.
“With our systems I think everyone is going to be in the same place,” said Pearson, who has three goals and 12 points in 23 games. “Centers are going to be low and available, and they both do a good job of that and letting me know when they’re available to get the puck.”
Pearson’s solid play has slightly eased Sutter’s concern that Kopitar wasn’t getting enough support from his wingers. Kopitar’s two-assist performance in the Kings’ 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday gave him seven goals and 13 points in 23 games, well off his past scoring pace. Gaborik, who scored the tying and winning goals in that game, has five goals and seven points in 23 games.
“Tanner’s got good hockey sense so you know he’s going to help Kopi a lot in those situations. He probably wasn’t getting the help before,” Sutter said. “But I think at the same time Tanner can also give you some size and some forecheck and some net presence.”
Sutter added that he’s still concerned about the lack of scoring from the wings. Right wing Dustin Brown has scored only two goals in 23 games, Trevor Lewis has two goals but no points in the last 11 games, and Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan have no goals.
“We still need production out of ‘em,” Sutter said. “Gabby at the end of the trip, the last two games of the trip, I thought played really well, and then he came home and played well, so we want him to sort of manifest that into some consistency.”
The Canucks will come into Tuesday as a battered group. Chris Higgins, injured on a big hit by Ducks rookie Nick Ritchie on Monday, didn’t skate Tuesday and was ruled out of the game. Jake Virtanen (ribs) also was ruled out. The Canucks were considering dressing 11 forwards and seven defenseman and using defenseman Yannick Weber as a forward.