Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter will have to find a role for forward Tanner Pearson when he's ready to return to the lineup, ideally for the stretch run starting next month, but there's no sure thing he'll be reunited on "That 70s Line."
Dwight King has taken on Pearson's role and run with it, creating a new version of "That 70s Line."
King, No. 74 on the roster, has joined center Jeff Carter (77) and right wing Tyler Toffoli (73) to form one of the best lines in the NHL over the past two weeks, playing a huge role in Los Angeles' current seven-game winning streak.
Left Wing - LAK
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 21
SOG: 90 | +/-: -2
The King-Carter-Toffoli line combined for 26 points on 13 goals and 13 assists in a six-game stretch before getting shut out Saturday in the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium against the San Jose Sharks
. King had a five-game point-scoring streak come to an end in L.A.'s 2-1 win in the Stadium Series game.
"We need [King] to contribute if he's going to play with those guys," Kings coach Darryl Sutter told NHL.com.
Pearson was for a while before he sustained a leg injury on Jan. 10. His production dried up to the point where he had only two goals in 17 games and Sutter broke up the line before Pearson's injury put him out of the lineup indefinitely. The Kings went 6-7-4 in that stretch after starting the season 13-6-6 in their first 25 games.
Sutter mixed and matched the lines until Toffoli returned to the lineup from his injury on Jan. 28. King joined Carter and Toffoli on a line that night against the Chicago Blackhawks; they were in on two goals in L.A.'s 4-3 win, including the game-tying goal by Toffoli off a pass from King at 13:49 of the third period.
The line was shut out for the next three games, all losses, but it started to heat up in a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 7. It got progressively hotter in the next five games, with King in the middle of. He had eight points on three goals and five assists in a five-game point-scoring streak.
"You can't be a five- or six-goal scorer and play teen minutes and expect your team to win," Sutter said. "You can say you're developing players, but you get to go home April 10."
The Kings certainly aren't secure in their Stanley Cup Playoff position just yet, but King's unheralded play on the second line is a big reason why they have jumped from being five points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 7 to being third in the Pacific Division entering their game Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
King has been doing a lot of the grunt work on the line and getting rewarded. The best part about his play of late is that he hasn't changed his style to try to fit in with Carter and Toffoli. He's still a north-south skater and aggressive, physical forechecker. That works with the skill of Carter and Toffoli. That's also why Pearson was an effective left wing with them for a while.
"What you're looking for out of [King] is always the intensity and the consistency on a game-to-game basis," Sutter said. "He's gradually gotten better in the three years. He came up partway through the first year, the lockout year he came along, last year he scored the 15 goals so we expect more out of him."