Tyler Toffoli

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How good are the red-hot Kings, really?

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The Los Angeles Kings play beyond a lot of people’s sleepy times, so many might have missed this, but they’re once again boiling-hot right now, what with their seven-game winning streak. While the St. Louis Blues are up there with them, the Kings came into Friday leading the Western Conference with 41 points in just 30 games played.

With all of that in mind, let’s ponder who and what might be driving the Kings, how this year’s team remains different from the Darryl Sutter days, and the hot streaks that might cool off.

GOATpitar

Giving long-time great players “lifetime achievement” awards via individual trophies is one part charming and two parts obnoxious, but if you must force such a sentiment, Anze Kopitar‘s making quite the argument for a hat-tip Hart Trophy.

For one thing, he’s in range of the Art Ross Trophy after years of being a guy who would top out around 70 points, leaving him strong but not strong enough to threaten for the lead. With 36 points in 30 games, Kopitar could eclipse his career-best 81 points from 2009-10, the only time he hit the 80-range. As of this writing, he’s ranked sixth overall in the NHL.

That’s impressive on its own, but consider that he’s been chained to Dustin Brown (who’s MYSTERIOUSLY enjoying a profound career revival) and Alex Iafallo, an undrafted forward who came into 2017-18 with nary a game of NHL experience under his belt. Hot take: the gap between Kopitar and Brown is larger than that between Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Wherever you rank Kopitar among the elite, he’s reclaimed his place as one of the best forwards – nay, players – in the NHL. As it turns out, some of those “I feel healthy!” stories have some merit, after all.

The Kings’ triumvirate reigns

So far, Los Angeles has been propelled by its biggest names: Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, three stars so revitalized, it’s kind of surprising that someone hasn’t flopped out some asinine “The Kings hated Darryl Sutter theory.”

(Oh no, I didn’t jinx it, did I? Sorry.)

Doughty currently has 24 points on the season, ranking third among Kings scorers. He could set career-highs, and even if he slows down, seems likely to at least generate the third 50+ point season of his career. Oh yeah, Doughty’s also gleefully acknowledging the buckets of money he’ll likely collect after his contract expires following the 2018-19 campaign. Seasons like these might not hurt his value, you might assume.

Finally, there’s Jonathan Quick …

Ridiculous goaltending

… Which brings us to at least one big, red flag.

With a career .916 save percentage, Quick might be playing over his head a bit with his current season, generating a splendid .929 mark.

Then again, maybe you could argue that the Kings are playing to his strengths more often system-wise, and/or getting him to tweak his techniques to best take advantage of his outstanding athleticism. Those are all plausible points, although it’s reasonable to wonder if he might, say, slip closer to a still-very-good .920 flat.

The overall goaltending is almost certain to slip, though, as Darcy Kuemper (career .912 save percentage) isn’t likely to maintain a shockingly efficient .941 save percentage.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Kings will go from sitting on the netminding throne to allowing goals like jesters, but one would expect at least some regression. It will be intriguing to find out how much they might slip.

No longer the puck hogs

For years, the Kings were far and away the most dominant team from a puck possession standpoint, while also often suffering from poor shooting and/or save percentages. Now, according to Natural Stat Trick and other sites, they’re a middle-of-the-pack possession team with blindingly outstanding shooting and saving numbers.

The truth is out there is likely somewhere in between with this team. The organizational push toward quality after years of quantity is modern-minded, so this is ultimately a good step, even if some of the results might be a touch misleading.

Road warriors

One trait the Kings share with many of the other NHL’s top teams is just how well their game has traveled so far. Right now, they’re a bit better on the road (10-3-1) than at home (9-5-2). Maybe that will dip a bit, but it’s nice to bank those tougher wins while you can. In many cases, winning those extra road games could mean, say, getting that playoff Game 7 at home a bit more often.

Interesting supporting cast

So, there are some intriguing things to consider about the Kings:

  • Iafallo ranks as one of a few solid new/new-ish players. Adrian Kempe‘s been great so far, while established-but-under-the-radar wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli are contributing nicely. Just feast your eyes on this beauty of a goal.

And, heck, this one for good measure:

  • I feel the need to mention that Jake Muzzin‘s been quite effective, too, and continues to build a nice resume as one of the other guys on the Kings defense.
  • Some veteran scorers could influence this team’s ceiling.

On one hand, you have Jeff Carter, a forward who’s carried the Kings offense during significant stretches during recent seasons, sometimes being the main catalyst when Kopitar struggled. Can he get healthy? Is he finally hitting the regression wall with his 33rd birthday looming on New Year’s Day? (Aside: today is Doughty’s birthday, fittingly enough.)

On the other hand, Marian Gaborik has six points in eight games. This isn’t to say that Gabby will find the fountain of youth and regain his status as “that high-scoring guy when he’s able to play,” but if he can even flirt with the form he showed in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings suddenly have depth to go with what’s been a top-heavy group so far.

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Overall, there are some clear signs that the Kings are probably playing over their heads.

A team that once was forced to grind through bad luck and low-percentage plays now seems to hit the lottery with percentages more than we’ve seen with L.A. in some time.

Still, it’s not all gloomy, especially if the Kings can beef up their supporting cast. Considering the age of their core players, they might just want to test their championship window and ponder a worthwhile “rental” or two.

A franchise that once seemed to be swirling down the sink now gets to swing for the fence one more time.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Backhander compliments

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Arena/expansion fun

Another positive step for an NHL team in Seattle.

Hurricanes on the way to being sold, but not moved (and more).

Notable Nights

There were a handful of strong player of the night candidates, so let’s rattle them off. Before you get angry that your guy was left out, please note that this is a lightning round, not a comprehensive list.

  • Jakub Voracek is really starting to heat up, collecting three assists in the Flyers’ 4-1 win against the Canucks, Philly’s third consecutive win. This is the second time in three games that Voracek’s managed a three-assist night, with one assist sandwiched in between for seven points in three contests.

Instead of allowing mediocre shooting luck to be his downfall (seven goals on 108 SOG for just 6.5 percent success rate), Voracek is piling up points; he now has a whopping 37 points in 29 games. You could argue that he’s the greatest catalyst for a fantastic trio with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.

  • Two guys with two-goal nights make the list because of context. David Backes managed two tallies despite the reasonable argument that he shouldn’t be playing so soon after having part of his colon removed. Sean Monahan, meanwhile, is starting to earn the nickname Mr. Overtime.

  • Joe Thornton‘s three-point night helped the Sharks manage an impressive comeback against the Hurricanes, culminating in a 5-4 OT win. They had been down 4-2 late in the contest.

Stealing that ’70s Show

Jeff Carter‘s sadly on the shelf, but two other key cast members of “That ’70s Line” combined for a beauty. Tyler Toffoli did most of the work in befuddling the Senators – including Erik Karlsson – while Tanner Pearson scored the goal:

Backhanders: not dead yet

Boy, it seemed like there were some especially nice backhand goals tonight. Gabriel Landeskog and Steven Stamkos dueled with backhand goals in the time you’d reheat leftovers in the microwave (with Stamkos’ tally being my favorite of the two, style-wise):

Christian Dvorak broke a personal slump with one of the best goals of the night. The turnover he forced really sold it.

More Factoids

Vladislav Namestnikov and Steven Stamkos both were back to business in scoring one goal and two assists apiece, and the Lightning are just on another level. So consider those two as additional player of the night.

And one more Jumbo Joe note, because beating Jaromir Jagr in a stat is almost always a feat worth gloating about:

The Kings now lead the West with 41 standings points after rattling off their seventh win in a row on Thursday night. Impressive stuff.

Scary Moment

Along with Sidney Crosby‘s injury scare, there was this moment for the Coyotes. Yikes:

Rieder returned soon after, but like with Crosby, it’s wise to monitor the situation.

Scores

Bruins 6, Coyotes 1
Penguins 4, Islanders 3 (OT)
Flames 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Lightning 5, Avalanche 2
Panthers 6, Jets 4
Blues 3, Stars 0
Flyers 4, Canucks 1
Kings 4, Senators 3 (OT)
Sharks 5, Hurricanes 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Brady Tkachuk on life at BU, 2018 NHL Draft, growing up with hockey (PHT Q&A)

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It was a pretty festive Thanksgiving for Brady Tkachuk, one of the top prospects in the 2018 NHL draft class. The Boston University forward was surrounded by hockey as his family joined their cousins, the Fitzgerald’s and Hayes’s, for a great turkey day.

Growing up with relatives that have played and currently play in the NHL has been a big benefit for the 18-year-old Tkachuk, who’s an early favorite to be selected in the top five picks next June. You can bet that while there was football on television and turkey on the table Thursday, plenty of hockey talk was going on.

“If I can absorb that from everybody, I would be really happy,” Tkachuk told PHT this week. “It’s kind of awesome because it’s an extra tool I get to use. I get to talk to people that have been through it. It’s definitely awesome to have.”

Tkachuk and his Terrier squad are off to a slow start (6-7-1) to the NCAA season and after winning two of their last three, they head to Madison Square Garden Saturday night for a “Red Hot Hockey” matchup against Cornell.

We spoke to Tkachuk about his time so far at BU, preparing for this season and beyond, and one day playing against his brother in the NHL.

Enjoy.

Q. How’s life at BU been treating you so far?

TKACHUK: “It’s been awesome. I got here in early July for some summer classes just to get used to the city feel and started working out here. But it’s been nothing but an awesome experience getting to meet a new group of guys in September. We’ve got a tight group. It’s been a lot of fun.”

How would you rate your start to the season so far?

“It’s been good. I wish we would have been playing a little bit better right now, but it’s been good. Team’s starting to really pick up past couple of weekends so it’s going to be an exciting couple of weeks ahead of us.”

You mentioned it’s been a tough start for team. Can you diagnose what’s behind the slow start?

“Not really, it’s just kind of about the bounces, but recently in the last couple of weekends we’ve been really playing as a team and as a unit. We’ve been keeping things simple.”

Your dad went to BU. Matt went the junior route. Why did you choose BU and feel the NCAA would be best for your development?

“They’re both great options but I chose BU because it was the best place for me to develop. It’s playing against men [and] the NHL’s full of men so I try to work on my skills here. We’ve got a great coaching staff, a great facility, so it was the best choice for me.”

There’s a lot of draft hype around you and where you might get selected in June. When those rankings come out do you pay any attention to them?

“Yeah, I see them on Twitter, but I try not to look too deep at them. I try to focus on everyday, try to get better. It’s still a ways away, so if I could just focus on becoming better everyday I’ll be happy about that.”

What are the biggest things you worked on in the off-season heading into this year?

“Definitely working on improving my skills and strength. I think that’s really important for everybody, especially myself, because you can never be satisfied with just being yourself. I always want to be better and try to get better every day. So if I can improve one part of my game it’ll just be the little things like tighter stick-handling. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.”

Your dad was one the game’s great power forwards. What kind of things has he told you about developing that strength?

“Just being around the net. Not a lot of guys like to go to the dirty areas. If I can make plays in there I can be successful. I kind of pride myself being around the net, tipping pucks, making plays in tight and try and give and go for my teammates.”

And what kind of advice has your dad and brother given you as you prepare to take this next step in your hockey career?

“Every time I talk to my dad he gives me two rules: compete everyday and be a good teammate. I try to take that and try to work my hardest to get better and work to help my teammates get better and be there to support the guys. My brother has taught me to be a professional every day — eat like one, work like one and treat your body like one and just be focused for everything I do.”

What do you think about Matt’s on-going feud with Drew Doughty?

“I think it’s kind of funny. It’s funny to see because it’s usually me and him going at it, so now seeing him go at it with another guy, it’s funny. They’re both obviously really good hockey players, so I just watch and see it on Twitter and everybody comes up to me the next day and is like, ‘did you see your brother?’”

Finally, the Benn brothers got into it on Tuesday night during their game. Are you looking forward to that day when it’s you and Matt going at it on the ice?

“Yeah, that would be a dream. I think my mom, too, especially would be really happy to see both of us on the same ice together. That’s definitely a big goal of mine and that would be awesome to accomplish our dreams.”

MORE PHT Q&A’s:
Rick Tocchet on Coyotes’ struggles, Clayton Keller, staying patient
Tyler Toffoli on Kings’ coaching change, celebrity encounters
Brian Gionta on NHL future, representing USA Hockey again
Paul Bissonnette on personality in hockey, transitioning to radio

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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.

Tyler Toffoli on Kings’ coaching change, celebrity encounters (PHT Q&A)

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There’s never any love lost when the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks meet. As we saw on Tuesday night, it doesn’t matter when those teams get together, the emotions will be incredibly high.

In what was probably the game of the young season, the Kings edged the Ducks 4-3 in overtime. It’s an easy game for the players to get up for, and it’s certainly one of the NHL’s most underrated rivalries.

“I read up on a couple things the day after the game and one of the fans was saying that if it was two Canadian teams it would be one of the most talked about rivalries going on,” Kings forward Tyler Toffoli told PHT on Friday. “It’s kind of funny, but I think for us as two teams, it’s definitely a game that we look forward to. It’s a big game, a conference game, division game, and we’re happy we got the win.”

The Kings and Ducks rivalry is also part of LA’s partnership with Delta Air Lines. Toffoli is one of the ambassadors involved with the Kings Class fan program, a season-long promotion that offers fans the opportunity to win experiences such as traveling to see the team take on the Washington Capitals in D.C. later this month.

Toffoli also appears in an ad with Kings mascot Bailey, though it’s brief and he didn’t get any lines.

“Well, Bailey stole the show and he did a good job of getting us through it. I did my part and I thought I did a really good job there,” Toffoli joked.

We spoke with Toffoli about the Kings’ off-season coaching change, appreciating winning, some of his celebrity encounters and more.

Enjoy.

Q. Going from Darryl Sutter to John Stevens, this is your first coaching change at the NHL level, was it a pretty seamless switch considering John’s been there for a number of years?

TOFFOLI: “Yeah, that definitely helped, but also in the summer Johnny did a good job of staying in touch with all the guys from last year and previous years — just seeing how summer was going, how training was going,  just talking about what he had planned for this season coming in. I think guys have done a really good job of not only training in the summer but buying in to what Johnny wanted to bring in early on in the season here.”

What’s different about John’s approached compared to Darryl’s?

“John’s just doing a good job of getting all the players involved. He’s doing a good job of bringing the right emotion in the games and just staying with us. I think everybody’s buying into the system and I think we’ve done a really good job of when we’ve been getting down in games, just staying together as a group — not just the players, but the coaches. We’re just really positive throughout games.”

Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are having bounce-back seasons. What are you seeing in their games this season that’s contributing to a return to form?

“I think their chemistry together has been really good. I think Brownie’s done a great job of taking the leadership role of doing a really good job on the power play. He’s just been playing good hockey so far this season. Those two have done a good job and the rest of us have just been following along and just sticking together.”

Your first two years in the league you go to the conference final and then win a Stanley Cup. The last three years haven’t been so memorable. How much did the last three seasons show you just how difficult it is to win in the NHL?

“Definitely, I’ve learned a lot. I’ll never take for granted what those first two years brought for myself because some guys never get a chance to win — not only win, but make it that far in the playoffs. It’s one of those things where I miss and I want to do a really good job of helping our team make it that far again because it’s the best time, it’s the funnest time for all the guys, and winning is the best feeling.”

Regarding your line mates, we know about Tanner Pearson, but what about Adrian Kempe? How has he been able to jump in there and mesh so well?

“He’s done a really good job of stepping in for Jeff [Carter]. When he got hurt it was the next guy to step in and step up and do a job. And I think Adrian’s done a really good job of using his speed, just playing some really good hockey for us and it’s obviously one the big reasons why we’ve been successful so far this season.”

I want to go back to that crazy overtime goal versus the Bruins. You’re lining up there. There’s 0.9 seconds to go. You’ve got to be thinking there’s no way to beat the clock there, right? No matter how perfect the draw is?

“It was one of those things… We line up for that at the end of games, people do it all the time. Going in we just wanted to try and get a shot off as quick as possible, either Drew [Doughty] or myself. Kopi snapped it back so quickly and I got it off as fast as I could and it went in. It was one of those things. It was crazy and the emotions were definitely flowing at the time.”

I watch it and I’m surprised at Tuukka Rask’s position. You have a left-hand shot taking the draw on his off-side and then Tanner on the left wing. Can’t believe Rask wasn’t thinking of you as a possibility.

“I think it was just one of those things where he maybe didn’t think of anything because there wasn’t that much time left. But it happened so fast. I’m not going to complain about it. We’re not going to complain about getting that extra point in overtime. We’re just going to take it and run with it.”

Finally, having lived in LA for a few years what’s the coolest celebrity story you’ve got?

“My fiancee works for the Dodgers so when I go to some of those games I get to meet some pretty cool people. I’ve met Magic Johnson before. Tommy Lasorda is cool to talk to. He’s super intense and when I get to talk to him he’s very intimidating. There’s definitely a lot of people you see around. They just walk around like they’re normal people when they’re by the beach with us.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Another Tavares hat trick; Coyotes lose … again

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Player of the night: John Tavares (again)

Just another hat trick for Islanders star John Tavares.

After scoring three goals on Tuesday against Arizona, Tavares was back at it on Saturday, recording the natural hat trick in just over seven minutes early in the third period to help the Islanders to a 6-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Tavares is on quite a roll right now, with 10 points in his last four games, while the Islanders have won four of their last five. Now, the big test comes when they face the Vegas Golden Knights at home on Monday.

Honorable mentions go to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored twice in the third period, including the winner against the Edmonton Oilers, and teammate Alex Ovechkin, who had three assists. The Capitals erased an early two-goal deficit with five unanswered goals to defeat the Oilers.

Highlight of the night:

Tyler Toffoli gave the L.A. Kings an overtime victory with his second goal of the night, as he buried a shot from a set play on an offensive zone faceoff with less than a second remaining in overtime.

Incredible.

Factoid of the night:

The Arizona Coyotes are still searching for their first win of the season after a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

Scores:

Washington 5, Edmonton 2

San Jose 3, Buffalo 2

L.A. 2, Boston 1 (OT)

Philadelphia 4, Toronto 2

Montreal 5, NY Rangers 4

Anaheim 4, Tampa Bay 1

Detroit 3, Florida 2 (SO)

New Jersey 4, Arizona 3

St. Louis 4, Columbus 1

NY Islanders 6, Nashville 2

Minnesota 2, Pittsburgh 1

Colorado 6, Chicago 3

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.