Asked yesterday whether he seems old around linemates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter answered “I’m sure I do.”
A light bit of laughter followed. The Kings’ suddenly spry second line – but no number designation, please; it’s the “Carter Line,” if you’re speaking with Darryl Sutter – is nothing to scoff at. The three forwards have combined to score 10 goals as a part of a 27-point postseason effort while providing the necessary secondary scoring beyond Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik to sustain the team’s 3.14 goals-per-game postseason pace. Only the San Jose Sharks – remember them? – have averaged a higher goal output this postseason.
“It goes quick when you’re in this league,” Carter said. A 23-year-old when Philadelphia made a run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2008, and 25 when the Flyers faced the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Carter was only slightly older than the 22-year-old Toffoli and the 21-year-old Pearson when he first developed his playoff legs.
“It seems like yesterday I was that young guy kind of going out there and just wheeling around and playing hockey, having fun,” he continued.” You can definitely see that in them when they get the puck and they create chances, they put the puck in the net. Tyler scores [Sunday afternoon], you see them laughing at each other. They have a blast out there. It’s a lot of fun.”
The youthful infusion would be only that if not for a surge in production – and Toffoli has been the one to consistently provide it against Chicago. His numbers against the Blackhawks are better than those against any other NHL team. In nine career regular season and playoff games, Toffoli has four goals and eight points to go along with a plus-five rating.
Plus-minus doesn’t always paint an accurate picture, but any gaps in his primary statistics have been filled in by advanced metrics. In those nine games, Los Angeles has attempted 91 out of 165 shots with Toffoli on the ice, which equates to a robust 55.2% Corsi percentage. Over that span, the Kings have been outshot 349-330 against the Blackhawks, another outstanding possession team, which makes Toffoli’s well-above-water possession rate all the more impressive.
“I mean, he’s a confident player,” Carter said. “He had success last year in the playoffs. He’s played well against them this year. I think everybody has those kind of teams that they feel comfortable going out and playing against, [and] usually have their best games against. Probably for Tyler, that’s fitting here in this series. He’s a guy that has great skill. He’s got speed. He’s got obviously a great shot. You know, he puts it all together, he’s a great player out there, so hopefully he can keep it going.”
Chicago has been the second stingiest defensive team through the first three second round games played. Considering the offensive firepower embedded throughout the Blackhawks’ lineup, the defensive improvements from a regular season in which they ranked 12th in the league with an average of 2.58 goals-against per game provide an additional challenge that must be broken through if the Kings are to make their second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three years.
And that’s no easy challenge, given the talent up and down Chicago’s roster.
“You look at their roster, they’ve got a lot of skill up there,” Carter said. “Their top six are pretty strong. You give them odd-man rushes, turnovers in the offensive zone, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to end up in the back of the net.”
“That’s something we definitely need to limit. We know that. We’ll get better at it.”