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Kings need more from top forwards vs. Hurricanes

by Curtis Zupke

HURRICANES (6-9-3) at KINGS (10-5-4)


EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- For a team that has averaged nearly four goals for the past five games, the Los Angeles Kings are slightly concerned. Coach Darryl Sutter wants more production from his top players and needs them to take pressure off their six available defensemen.

Going into Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes at Staples Center, left wing Tanner Pearson has one point and no goals in 11 games. Captain Dustin Brown has three goals in 19 games. Center Mike Richards has two goals and is a minus-5 in 19 games.

Pearson didn't know if he was in the lineup Thursday. The Kings did not have full participation and most players came off the ice at the same time. But Pearson is aware he's hit a valley.

"I just kind of got away from my game a little bit," Pearson said. "My game is a lot of forecheck and winning battles, and when I'm not winning those battles, I'm really not being productive. I've got to get back to that and do it tonight."

Asked what's been missing from Pearson's game, Sutter said, "Probably five or six years' experience. It was a hot topic because he was player of the month and had a good start. Manage his minutes better and hopefully he plays better. He's 22 years old. He's actually been a better player than some of our 32-year-olds."

Pearson had seven goals in his first eight games before Sutter broke up "That 70s Line" of Pearson, center Jeff Carter and right wing Tyler Toffoli. That's why Sutter has literally been playing everyone on the power play. Left wing Kyle Clifford logged more time on the man-advantage (1:42) than right wing Justin Williams (0:57) on Tuesday, and Brown played a season-low 14:02.

Sutter wants his forwards to be better on the wall to take pressure off their thin defensive unit.

"When we're [breaking out] in our zone, we're most effective and challenging the other team's D," Pearson said. "We've got a pretty quick team up front, we've just got to get the puck out of our end."

The Kings defense might go longer than expected without defenseman Alec Martinez after Sutter indicated his finger could take longer to heal. Martinez skated on his own Thursday. Defenseman Drew Doughty has carried the workload and played 29:46 or more in seven straight games, including 32:21 on Nov. 15, the second-highest regular season total of his career.

"What am I going to do about it? Say 'Yes,' and not play him as much and lose?" Sutter said in regards to whether the ice time was too much. "There's not much you can do about it. Is it a good number? No, it's not. It doesn't help Drew and it doesn't help us.

"How old is Drew? Twenty-four? I'd rather he was working on his whole game than trying to play the whole game. When you play that much, you're not as effective."

Carolina reportedly did not have a morning skate, but coach Bill Peters told its website that right wing Alexander Semin and defenseman John-Michael Liles will be scratched. The Hurricanes claimed forward Andrej Nestrasil on waivers from the Detroit Red Wings.

Eric Staal is one point shy of 700.

Here are the expected lineups:


Jiri TlustyEric StaalElias Lindholm

Nathan Gerbe - Riley NashPatrick Dwyer

Jeff SkinnerVictor RaskChris Terry

Zach BoychukJay McClementBrad Malone

Andrej SekeraJustin Faulk

Jay HarrisonTim Gleason

Ron HainseyBrett Bellemore

Cam Ward

Anton Khudobin

Scratched: Alexander Semin, John-Michael Liles

Injured: Jordan Staal (leg)


Marian GaborikAnze KopitarTrevor Lewis

Tanner Pearson/Dwight KingJeff CarterTyler Toffoli

Dustin BrownJarret StollJustin Williams

Kyle CliffordMike RichardsJordan Nolan

Jake MuzzinDrew Doughty

Robyn RegehrJamie McBain

Brayden McNabbMatt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

Scratched: Andy Andreoff

Injured: Alec Martinez (finger)

Suspended: Slava Voynov

Status report: Quick is expected back in goal. … Harrison is expected to return from a lower-body injury and Malone is expected to play, according to the Hurricanes website.

Who's hot: Kopitar has seven points in five games. … Staal comes off his first multigoal game since April 13 and first three-point game since Dec. 31, 2013. Ward is 6-2-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average in his past eight starts.

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