Getty

Kings have been different team with Jeff Carter in lineup

1 Comment

Barring some sort of unfathomable collapse over the next five days the Los Angeles Kings are going to be back in the playoffs after falling short of the postseason a year ago.

If you’re searching for reasons why you should probably start with Anze Kopitar, whose dominant two-way play has thrown him into the Hart Trophy discussion. It is obvious that Kopitar is the team’s best player and one of the top all-around players in the entire league.

But for as great as he’s been, one of the turning points for the Kings season was the return of forward Jeff Carter back in late February.

Carter missed a significant chunk of the season due to an ankle injury that he suffered back in early October and it turned out to be a pretty devastating blow to a Kings team that hasn’t really been one of the NHL’s powerhouse offensive teams in recent years. Most teams will be hurt when you take a 25-30 goal forward out of the lineup for 60 games. That is especially true when it’s a team that is usually in the bottom half of the league in goals with him in the lineup. Take that player away and things can fall apart pretty quickly.

You don’t have to look far to see how much of an impact Carter’s presence can have on the Kings.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Let’s start with the obvious: With Carter in the lineup this season the Kings have averaged 3.16 goals per game and own a 17-5-4 record. That would be a 120-point pace over 82 games, which would make them one of the NHL’s best teams.

Without him in the lineup their offensive output drops down to 2.78 goals per game and the record falls to 27-23-4. That would be an 88-point pace over 82 games, a number that would put them pretty significantly out of the playoff race.

To be fair, we’re dealing with pretty small sample sizes here and in a sport like hockey, where even the best players only play a third of the game (at most), it’s sometimes difficult for one player to make that much of a difference for one team. It’s probably not as simple as “Well, Jeff Carter is in the lineup, the Kings are the best team in hockey.” There are a lot of variables that go into why a team wins and loses that do not just revolve around one forward. That being said, Carter is definitely an important figure for the Kings and a player they absolutely have to have in the lineup in order to succeed because he brings an important element that most of the roster lacks. Simply put: He scores goals.

Once you get beyond the top handful of players on the Kings roster there just are not a lot of players that are capable of consistently finishing and putting the puck in the net.

Overall for the season they are 17th in the league in goals. An upgrade from where they have been in recent years, but still not great.  Of the 18 teams that are either in the playoffs or still mathematically alive in the playoff race they are one of just five teams that does not have at least six players with at least 15 goals. The only two teams still in playoff contention that are below the Kings on the goal scoring leaderboard are the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.

A lot of that is due to the fact that Carter missed three quarters of the season.

He already has 13 goals in the 25 games he has played this season, good enough for a 42-goal pace over a full season. All of his goals this season have come in the 19 games since he returned from injury, a stretch that has seen the Kings go 11-5-3.

He gives the Kings a second scoring line to help take some of the pressure off of the top line so it does not all have to fall on Kopitar’s line to do the damage.

When a team has a player score at least two goals in a game this season they have a points percentage of .819. Carter has done that three times since returning to the lineup in late February. The Kings earned five of a possible six points in those games (a .833 points percentage), while Carter alone accounted for seven of the team’s 11 total goals in those games. He’s also had two different three-game goal-scoring streaks over the past month. He’s probably single-handedly been responsible for the team picking up at least five or seven points over the past month.

Don’t think that makes a difference in the standings? Consider the No. 9 team in the Western Conference is four points behind them.

The Kings aren’t the dominant possession team they were in recent years when they were competing for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis, but they are still the toughest team in the league to score against and with Carter back in the lineup they now have two legit scoring lines that can pose a threat to opponents.

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Two NHL debuts in the same net in the same game

Associated Press

Players of the Night:

Scott Foster, Chicago Blackhawks: You will likely never see this name in this spot again, so you’re reading history. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced in an emergency relief appearance against the Winnipeg Jets. The 36-year-old accountant was summoned after Collin Delia was injured with 14:01 remaining in the third period. Anton Forsberg, who was supposed to get the nod, was injured in warmup. Enter the accountant by day, who stopped shots off the sticks of Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine and was named the games first star.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets: Dubois registered his first NHL hat trick and made some Blue Jackets history along the way. Dubois set a new Columbus rookie record for goals with 18, surpassing the previous mark of 17 set by Rick Nash during the 2002-03 season. If Dubois can finish out the season strong, he can pass the points mark of 47 set by Zach Werenski last season. Dubois has 44 points now.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Joining Dubois in the hat trick department was Carter, who potted three goals, one in each period, to help see of the Arizona Coyotes in a 4-2 win. The victory helped move the Kings two points head of the Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division. On Friday, both teams will meet in what Carter called the “game of the year” following Thursday’s win.

Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild: Dumba scored and added three assists in the first four-point night by the Wild defenseman in franchise history. His production also propelling the Wild to a vital win as they try to lock down the third spot in the Central Division.

Highlight of the Night:

This, by far:

Other Highlights of the Night:

Poke check:

Rask throwing bombs:

Aw, man. This would have been incredible. It was already incredible.

Solid effort and feed from Granlund:

This is just getting silly now:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Blue Jackets 5, Flames 1

Blackhawks 6, Jets 2

Wild 5, Stars 2

Predators 5, Sharks 3

Senators 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

Penguins 4, Devils 3 (OT)

Red Wings 6, Sabres 3

Bruins 4, Lightning 2

Canucks 2, Oilers 1

Kings 4, Coyotes 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kings sign Brooks Laich after Jeff Carter injury

28 Comments

The Los Angeles Kings continued their hot start to the season Wednesday night but lost a big piece of their offense in the process.

During their 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, forward Jeff Carter suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. A team source told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider that it’s “going to be a little while,” and TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tweeted Thursday morning that Carter was cut by Jeff Petry’s skate and he’s hearing it will be “multiple weeks” before a return is possible.

Carter has three assists in six games this season and has been key cog in the productive “That ’70’s Line” with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1 and are the only remaining NHL team yet to lose in regulation.

With Carter now gone for the foreseeable future, where does this leave LA’s center depth? After Anze Kopitar, it’s quite a drop off. The short-term solution will be Brooks Laich, who wasn’t signed after attending training camp on a tryout deal but has continued to practice with the club. He’ll come cheap and as long as they don’t need to fill that void for far too long, Laich is a veteran who’s familiar with the organization. He’s a decent first try to take over that spot before general manager Rob Blake needs to look down on the farm or to someone on the outside.

Blake, who’s expected to address Carter’s situation sometime on Thursday, has time to figure out his next move(s) with the Kings off until Saturday when they begin a six-game road trip.

UPDATE: The Kings have confirmed Carter suffered a cut from Petry’s skate.

Laich has officially been signed to a one-year, two-way deal, per McKenzie, who adds that a deal was struck before Carter’s injury Wednesday night.

————

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.

Blues’ biggest question: Are they good enough down the middle?

17 Comments

Jonathan Toews. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have an elite center. As you can see, some of them even have two.

Do the St. Louis Blues?

The answer to that will depend on your definition of elite. If it’s a generous one, then maybe Paul Stastny gets the nod. Otherwise, it’s hard to answer yes.

Next season, the Blues’ top two lines could look something like this:

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny — David Backes
Jaden Schwartz — Jori Lehtera — Vladimir Tarasenko

If one of Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie or Robby Fabbri can step into a top-six role, coach Ken Hitchcock has said that Backes could be moved to the third line.

Regardless of how the lines shake out, it’s no surprise that the Blues were left wanting more from Stastny, their big free-agency signing from last summer.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “We need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Stastny had 46 points in 74 games last season. He then managed just one goal, with no assists, in the Blues’ six-game playoff loss to the Wild.

Not enough from a player who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the tough Western Conference.

“I think in every sport if you’re strong up the middle you’re usually a strong team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per Yahoo Sports. “The center icemen seem to be the catalyst, usually offensively. They’re the guys who have the puck the most and make maybe the most decisions on the ice based on the number of touches they have in a game.”

Which is why there’s so much excitement in Washington about young Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But we digress.

The Blues are obviously a strong team. Their regular-season record is proof of that. But they haven’t been able to win that elusive Cup, so it’s only natural to pore over their roster in search of why.

Their lack of a truly elite center — and this goes for good teams like the Wild, Predators, Canadiens, Rangers, and Jets — may be as good an answer as any.

Related: Doug Armstrong is under pressure

Poll: How long will the Kings remain Stanley Cup contenders?

15 Comments

All of a sudden the Los Angeles Kings’ roster doesn’t look so young anymore.

Jeff Carter is 30.

Ditto for Dustin Brown.

Jonathan Quick will be 30 in January.

Marian Gaborik is 33.

While pending unrestricted free agents Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic are still only 27, and Drew Doughty is even younger at 25, studies have shown that the typical NHL player peaks before the age of 30.

Combine the fact that so much of the Kings’ core is signed long term with a prospect group that doesn’t rank very highly and it’s more than fair to ask how long this group has as a Stanley Cup contender.

So, go vote: