Jeff Carter is the engine driving the Kings this season

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When you look at the 2016-17 Los Angeles Kings, one of the biggest individual performances has to belong to goaltender Peter Budaj, opening the season No. 3 on the depth chart, being thrown into the starting job due to injury and then putting together the best season of his career while filling in for Jonathan Quick. But for as great as that performance has been, the MVP for the Kings right now has to be forward Jeff Carter, because without him they probably wouldn’t have enough offense to stay in the playoff hunt no matter how well Budaj — or any other goaltender —  has performed for them in net.

After his overtime goal on Saturday to help lift the Kings to a 1-0 win in Philadelphia, Carter enters play on Sunday with 27 goals on the season is currently second in the league, three behind Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead, and two ahead of Alex Ovechkin, his opponent (and the other half of NBC’s Star Sunday feature) on Sunday.

As usual, the Kings are finding ways to win this season with defense.

They are limiting teams to less than 26 shots on goal per game, are once again in the top-five in goals against, and continue to play a brand of hockey that can render any opposing offense, no matter how good it is, completely useless. But that commitment to defense tends to limit things at the other end of the ice for them as well, and they enter play on Sunday with only 132 goals (23rd in the NHL). It is not exactly a potent group offensively.

The one exception to that this season has been Carter, and he has done his part to almost single handedly carry their offense this season.

Just consider…

  • Only one other player on the Kings has scored more than eight goals this season, while nobody else has more than 15 (Tanner Pearson has 15)
  • His 27 goals represent more than 20 percent of the Kings’ goal total this season, by far the largest percentage of any player in the NHL. The only players that have scored more than 16 percent of their teams goals this season are Sidney Crosby (16.4 percent of the Penguins’ goals) and Brad Marchand (16.1 percent of the Bruins’ goals)
  • His 47 points are 15 more than the second leading scorer on the team, and give him a hand in more than 30 percent of the team’s goals. They have earned points in the standings in four games this season where he was the only Kings player to score a goal.
  • His 165 shots on goal are 45 more than any other player on the team

In other words, pretty much everything about the Kings offense this season runs through Carter.

He has always been one of the NHL’s top goal scorers, and since entering the league in 2005-06 is seventh with 334 goals during that stretch (Ovechkin, by the way, is first with 550) and has three top-10 finishes, including two in the top-four.

But while he has played — and scored — at a high level before, his performance this season might be his best and most significant one to date just because of how much it means to this particular Kings team.

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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