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.