LA Kings Are Gambling On Reunification and Chemistry Against Divisional Rivals

EL SEGUNDO, CA — On their recent seven-game road trip, the Los Angeles Kings earned a 3-2-2 record even though they had to shuffle their forward lines after both Dustin Brown and Tyler Toffoli suffered injuries, forcing them out of the lineup.

Brown returned for the final two games of the trip, but Toffoli remains out of the lineup and did not join the team on their Tuesday afternoon flight to Vancouver, where they will play on Wednesday night, followed by a game at Edmonton on Thursday.

Head coach Darryl Sutter said that Toffoli would not even be examined by doctors again “…for at least a week.” As a result, he has reunited center Anze Kopitar with Brown and Marian Gaborik on a forward line.

“I think they’re refreshed, and they’re three character guys who maybe have different personalities,” he said. “They’re all real caring guys who have played together. My best memories of that line are, obviously, in big games. When you look at it, those three guys were pivotal—Gaborik, Kopitar, Brown—we went to it in the last Cup run, I believe. I think in the Anaheim series [in 2014], maybe. It was a big line for us.”

“I think with Tyler’s injury, we’re going to have to do some adjusting again,” he added. “I mean, it’s something we wanted to do right from training camp with those three guys, and then Gabby got hurt, so we weren’t able to do it. We wanted to give [rookie center Nic] Dowd the security of Dustin Brown early, but once Gabby got hurt—we’ve got to do some ad libbing again.”

Indeed, the line enjoyed success in the past and they are hoping that the chemistry they already have will develop further and result in goals.

“I think there’s somewhat of a sense of comfort because we’ve played [together] before and we’ve done pretty well together, too,” said Kopitar. “I think we played the last period of the game against Dallas [on December 23]. It was kind of in the making.”

“We’ve had success in the past,” said Brown. “Probably not as much success in the last couple of years as we’d like, but with Tyler going out, things kind of change—things change quite a bit around here. It’s just important for us to be a really good line.”

As Brown alluded to, getting production from their line will likely be critical, especially in their next four games.

“We’re in a stretch where every game is critical—not that it wasn’t before, but it’s magnified a little bit because of how tight it is again, in our division,” Kopitar noted. “Now, with four games in a row in our division, it’s a big stretch for us.”

Through action on December 27, the Kings were fifth in the Pacific Division, seven points behind division leader San Jose. They currently hold one of the wild card positions.

In other words, they are a playoff team right now, but they are in a rather precarious position.

“That’s why this stretch coming up now is so critical,” Kopitar emphasized. “Especially division games. Darryl’s been stressing about them all the time and we understand the importance of them, so it’s going to be big.”

“We want to be in a bit of a safer spot, but I still think it’s not terrible where we are right now,” Kopitar added. “We just have to keep plugging away and racking up points.”

“Even [the last road] trip, it was not a bad trip. We brought some points back, but now, this stretch is huge. Myself, and everybody else, we’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”

Speaking of production and being ready, one thing working against the line is that Kopitar is in the midst of a season-long goal scoring slump, having scored just three goals in 29 games this season.

Even worse, Kopitar has scored just once in his last 23 games and has not scored in his last six games.

“I’d like to score another goal soon,” he said, grinning. “I’ve had some chances and some not so great bounces. It’s something that’s definitely in the back of my mind, but I don’t want to get focused on it too much.”

Brown isn’t worried about his teammate and good friend.

“He’s got three goals, and I talk to him all the time about it, kiddingly and [seriously],” he said. “I tell him that I’ve only got one more than him—that type of thing. But if you look at his play, he does so much more in other areas and it’s not like he’s not getting opportunities.”

“On that last road trip, he [had a shot that hit both goal posts],” he added. “Then you see the flip side with [Jeff Carter]. He’s got 19 goals. If you ask Carts, half the time, he shoots right at the goalie and it goes in the net. That’s how Carts has been his whole career. Kopi’s been the other way. There’s spurts where he just buries the puck, but he’s had stretches like this before.”

“We all go through it, as players. You start to worry when you’re not getting the looks. He’s snake-bit, a little, right now. But he’s getting opportunities. They’re just not going in for him right now.”

As for Brown, the hope is that reuniting with Kopitar and Gaborik will help him get on the score sheet a bit more, too.

“For me, it’s an opportunity,” he noted. “Kopi is one of the best players in the world. The way I look at it, it’s an opportunity to get to play with a player like that.”

LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, shown here during a recent practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.

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