Your superstar comes back from injury, and what do you do with him? This was actually a bigger problem for the LA Kings on Wednesday night than it might at first have seemed to be. The team had been percolating along, winning three games in a row and gaining 7 of a possible 10 points available since Kopitar went down with an arm/shoulder injury. This is not to say that there is any causal relationship between the record and his absence.
But still, you can’t break up the Carter-and-the-kids line, because they’re producing like a house on fire. Carter has nine goals, far and away leading the team. Doughty is second with five.
And the line of Brown, Dowd, and Setoguchi had also been playing well, with 26 points amongst them, along with Brown and Dowd being tied for the team lead in hits with 51 apiece. Brown, as I have said in prior columns this year, is playing a much more creative, much looser game this season. He’s firing the puck from unexpected angles, and he’s third on the squad in shots for non-defensemen.
That’s not to say that Sutter didn’t try to shuffle them up. Early in the Wednesday game, he had Trevor Lewis with Brown and Setoguchi, but that didn’t last more than a shift.
Lewis then went back to where he was for the rest of the early going—surprise—with Kopitar and Dwight King. Line one, that is. I’ll say it again: Kopitar with King and Lewis. Three nights ago, in Anaheim, King was on the third line with Shore and Jordan Nolan. The day before that, it was King, Nolan, and Lewis. But now Kopitar has stepped in where Nolan was. Yes, I just said those two names in the same sentence.
At least something made sense against New York, and that was the LA fourth line—Nolan, Clifford, and Shore, reunited where they belong
Teddy Purcell is out now that Kopitar is back, but he hadn’t done anything in 12 games (two assists). But he had been playing on the fourth line, so one thing you can say is that he exited, Nolan moved down, and—voila—a new first line was born.
Would it work? The chemistry that I saw working best on Wednesday night was that between Kopitar and Doughty. They know how to look for one another with the puck.
Kopitar tried to get something going with his line, but it was mostly to no great effect. Take for instance period two. He was coming in on the right side with the puck, and just in that no man’s land where it’s too far out to shoot, but not so far that a pass is essential. He spotted Lewis to the other side of the slot and passed it. Lewis, note, was not much closer to the net than Kopitar was, and no more open. Didn’t matter. He flubbed the puck and didn’t get a chance on the play.
Is this the future of the Slovenian superstar—to play with guys below his pay grade, by a bunch?
What choice do the Kings have, though? They can’t put him with either of the pairs of guys on the first two lines. Or can they?
How about Brown, Kopitar, and Setoguchi? Brown, Kopitar, and Dowd? One more: Kopitar with King and Brown. This would leave Lewis, Setoguchi, and Dowd playing together.
Let’s think that through: we break up a good second line (if that’s what Brown’s line is, second) to try to maximize the captain’s star power, and we end up with a third line that’s a fumble-fingers, a guy with two dozen games, total, and a guy barely clawing his way back into the NHL (Seto), but who has thus far meshed with his linemates pretty well.
Now you know why coaches get paid what they do—they’ve got to figure out how to combine guys in winning ways when there’s almost no way to do it without creating a domino effect somewhere else.
And if you think this is hard now, imagine what Sutter’s got in front of him when Marian Gaborik comes back, which could happen as early as Saturday night against Chicago.
But that would be an opposite problem, if Gaborik is really ready—an embarrassment of riches that would mean that this team actually has two strong, dare we say dominant?, lines at forward, backed up by a solid and productive third unit (Brown’s) and with a fourth line that has a couple of interchangeable bruisers (Clifford and Nolan) who can spell each other in enforcer duties. And a tumble-down effect that probably puts one of Dowd, Shore, or Lewis on the sidelines.
The Kings did try the Brown-Kopitar-Lewis group in period three, and that didn’t do anything to change a 1-1 deadlock. But then, as the game was winding to a possible OT (the Isles had gone 14 rounds of shootout with the Ducks the night before), the Kings scored. And again. And again. And then the Isles put one in.
The LA goals came in 44 seconds, and the four goals combined by the two teams were potted in 61. The record by LA for three was set in 1989, at 41 seconds. Gretzky was involved in that affair. This one was Dwight King (the first two) and Jake Muzzin.
Now, the last of the Kings was into the empty net, but still, four goals in the space of a minute and a second isn’t something often seen, and the fact is, both Dwight King goals were scored with Lewis assisting (plus a defenseman), and the first had Shore on as the third forward, the second Kopitar. So maybe there is some hope in that line after all.
The result naturally lead to significant disappointment on the part of the Isles’ coach, but he focused on the bright side after the game: “I can’t fault the effort that our guys gave tonight. We played a solid game, especially on the road in back-to-back games.”
Andrew Ladd said, “Anytime you’re in a tie game late, you want to get the game to overtime, especially on the road. We did a good job of clawing ourselves back in the game, but . . . they had a big power play goal that kind of changed the game.” He’s talking about the first of King’s goals.
When later asked to explain the late flurry, he said, “The first, the power play one there, started off, and next shift I think, pressing, they got an odd man rush there and were able to put one in, again, so obviously two back-to-back goals. I guess that’s your flurry.”
The Kings honored longtime writer Joe Resnick on Thursday night. He died this week. See the photo above–the sweater was hanging in the press room.
The Kings play on Saturday evening against Chicago, who will have played Friday at 1pm at the Ducks.
I’m menacing twitter @growinguphockey. You can read my books if you like. Look me up on your favorite online bookstore using “Brian Kennedy hockey” as the tagline.