Darryl Sutter often aligns forwards together in pairs with a rotating winger – think Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik or Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli – that mostly remain constant through the season despite some occasional shuffling.
When Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams were placed together with grinder Jordan Nolan during Monday’s practice, there was some murmuring over what appeared to be Justin Williams’ move to the “fourth line,” when in reality it was a physical role player simply being placed alongside two veterans that have played together on-and-off for the last six and a half seasons as Darryl Sutter used new means to kick start an offense that has produced 16 goals over the last eight games.
The pairing is familiar; Sutter opted to place Dustin Brown alongside Gaborik and Kopitar midway through last season’s playoff run, shifting Williams alongside Stoll throughout the second half of the veteran’s Conn Smythe Trophy campaign.
“Kind of ever since I got here, we’ve had a revolving winger quite a bit,” Williams said. “But Stollie lets me try a few more things out there because he’s a very responsible player. For the most part, it’s playing the same. Usually when you play with Kopi and Carts, you try and get the puck as quick as possible because they fly through the neutral zone as quick as they do. With us, it’s more of a give-and-go type.”
Is there anything that “stands out” when the two veterans are grouped together on a line?
“I think they’ve got to get going, that’s what stands out,” Sutter responded pithily.
Williams and Stolls’ recent numbers back up Sutter’s concise observation. Though Williams is nearing the cusp of a 20-goal season, he has three goals, five points and a minus-10 rating over his last 21 games. His usage hasn’t dipped considerably; he’s averaging 15:46 of ice time this season and the mode of his ice times over that stretch is 15 minutes plus change.
The numbers suggest that his production stall is due to the team’s overall power play struggles as of late.
“It’s probably a byproduct of it, but I wouldn’t say it’s the main reason,” Williams said.
Over the last 21 games the Kings have connected on eight of 57 power play opportunities (14.0%), and Williams’ only point on the man advantage over that span was his game-winning goal on February 24 when he deflected Jake Muzzin’s point shot past Jonas Gustavsson in Los Angeles’ 1-0 win over Detroit. In his other 43 games, he has three goals and 10 points on the power play.
Perhaps the switch in five-on-five partners will kick start some additional production.
“Some chances are there, but not as many as we’d like,” Williams said. “We’re trying to rectify that, improve it.”
With two goals and a minus-four rating over the 21-game span, Stoll is also looking for a similar sparkplug. His time on ice per game is roughly the same as Williams, as are his tendencies to begin slightly more of his starts in the offensive zone than the defensive zone this season. He even feels that there’s a palpable chemistry when he plays with Williams and confirmed Williams’ notion that the two forwards play a give-and-go game in the offensive zone.
“…In the offensive zone, give-and-gos are hard to cover sometimes,” Stoll said. “Probably a good example of that would be the Sedins in Vancouver. They’re very good at the give-and-go game and they obviously feed off of each other well. It’s tough to cover. It’s a quick play. Usually off the give-and-go, you get a scoring chance or at least get the puck to the net. So Willie is really good at that. He’s really good at communicating out there and letting me know where he is on the ice. He’s a great player.”
“I think we just both work hard and try to not be too fancy. Stick is a puck possession guy and he hangs onto it. He’s very skilled. I don’t consider myself a very skilled guy, but I try to get him the puck as much as possible. I think we can play a lot better and contribute more. It’s kind of what our goal is here – finishing the regular season and hopefully making it and getting in, [and] we’ve got to contribute more. It’s something we’re thinking about a lot and helping out our team offensively, not just on the defensive side of the puck. But you’ve got to chip in, just to take some heat off of some of our bigger guys and chip in whenever we can.”
Justin Williams, on the Colorado Avalanche:
I think they’re better than their record indicates, for sure, obviously winning the Central last year. They’re going to keep fighting, they have a hard, fast team. We expect to play better than what we did last time we were here.
Jarret Stoll, on creating offensive chances:
Well, I think you can always get better and always create more. I think maybe there are too many in-and-outs on the forecheck and you’ve got to stop pucks up and get pucks to the net. You don’t want to play on the yellow your whole shift or most of the game. Playing on the yellow, you’re on the boards obviously and you’re not taking pucks to the net or not getting to the inside and you’re not going to score from the boards in this league anymore. I don’t know if you ever could, but it’s tough to score. You’ve got to get it in the tough areas, get to the net and when you do have a chance, put pucks there. Sometimes, it doesn’t look pretty or goals aren’t pretty sometimes, but they are goals. Yeah, we’ve just got to create more.