It’s almost certainly not a permanent move, but because of the injuries that have hit the Kings, Darryl Sutter has chosen to stack Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli together at even strength for tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Normally this wouldn’t be cause for a story, but hey, we all remember the impact spurred by That 70’s Line on the club’s 2014 playoff run, and how the chemistry bled into the following October, when Tanner Pearson was named the league’s rookie of the month.
Since then, the trio hasn’t regularly played together, and both the eye test and advanced stats say that the chemistry sustained by the trio has taken a little bit of a hit.
“I think we carried over from the  playoffs the year before and we started off probably that 10-game stretch pretty hot, and then it kind of cooled off after that,” Pearson said. “Maybe we just weren’t looking at the little things and trying to maybe do a little too much, so maybe tonight we can do those little things right and the other things will fall in to place.”
Thus far this year, because of the team’s injuries, Jeff Carter has skated primarily with either Dwight King or Tanner Pearson to his left, and most frequently either Tyler Toffoli or Devin Setoguchi to his right. Alongside Carter, King (4.25 GF 60 / 2.13 GA60 / 52.7% CF), Pearson (3.55 GF60 / 1.78 GA60 / 59.3 CF%) and Toffoli (2.92 GF60 / 1.75 GA60 / 50.8% CF) have all demonstrated strong production rates, though only Pearson has maintained a positive level of possession relative to Carter’s 52.8% Corsi-for. That’s a change from last year, when Pearson (1.49 GF60 / 2.60 GA60 / 54.8% CF) posted uninspiring production rates alongside Carter, though very passable possession metrics. Toffoli (2.53 GF60 / 1.71 GA60 / 59.2% CF) posted better numbers across the board with the veteran center, which is why the group has emerged as one of Sutter’s “twos” within the forward group.
“The expectation is to give us good even strength minutes,” Sutter said. “I don’t care who the hell plays with Jeff. I mean, our wingers, they’ve been relatively quiet, Tanner and Tyler.”
Pearson, who posted excellent numbers alongside Anze Kopitar last year (3.10 GF60 / 1.79 GA60 / 59.3% CF), has yet to be on the ice alongside Kopitar for a goal against this season. But Kopitar is not playing tonight, and the expectation is that Pearson will continue to provide the same quality five-on-five time as he has shown to date.
“I think [Jeff, Tyler and I] have played with each other enough to actually know where each other’s going to be,” Pearson said. “I think Ty and I go back to playing against each other in Junior and playing with each other in Manch so that chemistry has kind of continued, and hopefully we have the same success we’ve had in the past.”
Earlier today, Toffoli and Pearson spoke with LA Kings Insider about playing alongside Carter as opposed to playing alongside Kopitar.
Tyler Toffoli, on the difference between skating with Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar:
Well I think obviously skating with Jeff you have to be quicker, you have to be faster and make plays on the breakout. You want to give it to him when he’s going full speed because he can pretty much just skate by everyone. With Kopi I think it’s more possession-wise. He’s so good with the puck, he holds on to it sometimes for a full shift and you’ve just got to try and get open for him.
Toffoli, on whether it matters if the center he plays with is left-handed or right-handed:
No, I think it doesn’t matter to me. I think Carts does a good job of using his backhand and getting it over to me and obviously when I’m with Kopi like I said he just hangs on to it until you have a shooting opportunity and he gives it to you right where you want it.
Toffoli, on Jeff Carter’s play without the puck:
I think he’s just in the right spot and when he’s that fast and he’s quick too, he just knows that he can kind of be in two places at once. If I have it on the wall and if I’m in a stick battle then he can be there and if I turn it over he’s going to be able to get back in time too, so it makes it a lot easier and gives me a little more confidence when I try and make those plays.
Tanner Pearson, on the difference between skating with Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar:
I don’t think a whole lot. I think that’s cause of our systems, kind of all our centers are kind of the same. It’s just you’re playing with a right-hander now instead of a left-hander type thing. So you know, for me I’m passing it on his forehand and Kopi I’m passing on his backhand and other then that it’s big guys who can skate and move the puck and just good all around players.
Pearson, on whether there’s any difference in play between Kopitar’s line or Carter’s:
I think that’s kind of Kings hockey, you want to be responsible and be counted on in those situations and not give up a whole lot, but you’ve got to make stuff happen at the same time, too. So you know, back with those two tonight and we had some chemistry in the past and hopefully we can regain that.
Advanced stats via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com