The Los Angeles Kings have perfected the art of playing -- and winning -- low-scoring playoff games. But scoring one goal a game, as they did in consecutive road losses to the San Jose Sharks in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals -- isn't enough, even for one of the NHL's tightest-checking teams.
That's why Kings coach Darryl Sutter opted to make some changes to his lines at Wednesday's practice.
First-line center Anze Kopitar, who usually plays with Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, saw Brown moved to a trio with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis. In Brown's place, fourth-line grinder Kyle Clifford was moved up to the top line. Dustin Penner was on the left of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, while Brad Richardson, Colin Fraser and rookie Tyler Toffoli comprised the fourth line.
Sutter wouldn't say those would be the exact pairings he'll use for Game 5 on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TDS, RDS) -- but he did make his intent to shake things up clear to everyone.
"I’m not sure that’s where he’s playing," Sutter said of moving Clifford to the top line, "but quite honestly, I think we need four lines with some balance, because really other than Richie and Jeff, we really haven’t been able to play anybody – not so much play together, but give us a little bit of energy and continuity.”
Sutter said part of his big line's lack of production is natural because they're seeing tougher matchups, but that's not the only problem.
"It’s natural their chances are going to go down because they’re either going to play against top players, or they’re going to draw top defensemen," he said. "That’s natural. But at the same time, that is a part of playoffs, is understanding that and sort of fighting through that.”
Kopitar, who tied Brown for the team playoff scoring lead last season with eight goals and 20 points in 20 games, has one goal and five points in 10 games against St. Louis and San Jose. The goal is the only one Kopitar has scored in 26 games. His power-play assist in the 2-1 loss on Tuesday was his first point against the Sharks.
Brown and Williams each have two goals and three points in 10 playoff games.
"As a line they've struggled for two series, if you look at it," Sutter said.
Kopitar knows that whoever he plays between, his line has to step up.
"This time of year your best players have to be your best players and you have to have production from your top lines. That's how it is," Kopitar said. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter how it happens or when it happens, as long as you win games."
The Kings have won 12 in a row at Staples Center and hope to feed off the energy of the crowd. But they know their best players have to be their best players -- just as the Sharks' big guns have been so far.
"It's pure broken record, is all it is," Williams said. "The scorers got to score. If they don't score, they've got to create more offense.
"We've been outplayed so far, top line to top line, I feel, in this series. And we're a proud bunch and it's 2-2. We're still in a good spot here."
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