Though the Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli line started seeing regular time together roughly 70 games into the regular season, it wasn’t until midway through the first round series against San Jose that the line was reunited. The trio took its first shift together two minutes into Game 4 against the Sharks, an eventual 6-3 Kings win that sparked a three-nothing series comeback. Since then, Pearson and Toffoli have seen the heavy majority of their even strength minutes with Carter, and tangentially, the Kings are 10-4 and have outscored their opponents 48-28 in the 14 games since the line’s reunion.
Speaking of Carter, he’s on some kind of tear. With five goals and 10 points since Game 7 against Anaheim, he’s nursing a four-game point streak to end all four-game point streaks.
“It goes back to the confidence thing,” Mike Richards said of his longtime teammate. “When you have confidence, it just seems like the net gets bigger, and when you don’t have confidence it seems like it shrinks a little bit. He steps up in big times. He’s a big goal scorer, and that whole line has created a lot for momentum of our hockey team throughout games. It seems whenever the other team’s starting to create momentum or has momentum, they step up in a big way. With those three, they don’t need much room. They just seem to find the areas and they’re all natural scorers, and especially Jeff is just a natural goal scorer. He doesn’t need much room or many chances to capitalize.”
Carter joined the Kings as a versatile wing and has been used primarily to the right of either Richards or Anze Kopitar. But he is also useful as a center and often took faceoffs on the right side of the ice when skating with Richards, and during the 39 games he spent as a Columbus Blue Jacket in 2011-12 was used almost primarily as a center.
Though he certainly has the defensive wherewithal and skating ability to play in the center of the ice, many still viewed right wing as the position he’d eventually gravitate towards in the postseason.
With 19 points combined over the last four games, “That 70’s Line” has certainly thrived with Carter centering two energetic rookies. At Sunday’s practice, Sutter discussed the decision to utilize Carter as a center and eventually surround him with Pearson and Toffoli.
Darryl Sutter, on the decision of using Jeff Carter at center:
I think it was clearly when Dean and I during the Olympic break went over a lot of video and talking about our team – and not so much for this year, but going forward – and how it was going to set up,” Darryl Sutter said. “As a coach, you’re always saying, ‘Now, now now,’ but when you do it more in a longer [and] just look at it differently, how the young guys were going to play here – Tanner, Tyler – how they were going to play here, because at that point, those two kids were still guys that couldn’t be here because of the cap. They could come up and down, but that was it. We wanted to get them here somehow, but not just have them here, but play ‘em. I don’t think you should bring those kids here [without playing them]. It’s good to give them a look, but at the same time what is best for our team long term? Jeff – we like him at center. Even when we got him, we had seen him as a center, but we weren’t in that position yet on the wings to do that. So he’s comfortable anywhere. He just wants to play a lot. That’s sort of what it is, and then…when you say ‘one through four,’ well, I wouldn’t want to say who one-through-four is when you play us. So that makes it more attractive from a coaching standpoint.