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Super 16: Kings find line where Lucic clicks

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
Los Angeles Kings left wing Milan Lucic looks to be finding his stride on his new team, proof that coach Darryl Sutter's latest experiment is working.

The Kings' second line of Lucic with center Jeff Carter and right wing Tyler Toffoli (Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown technically make up the first line) has become one of the best lines in the NHL this season. Lucic is a big part of it, literally and figuratively, and is a key reason for the Kings' current six-game winning streak.

Lucic has two goals and three assists during his four-game point streak. Carter has seven of his team-high nine points in the past four games on three goals and four assists. Toffoli has scored six of his team-high seven goals in the past six games.

They have accounted for nine of the Kings' 14 goals in the past four games, and now are the Kings' top-three scorers with a combined 23 points through nine games.

It's a drastic change from the Kings' first couple games, when Lucic looked out of place and out of sorts.

Despite optimism that Lucic would mesh well with Kopitar and Gaborik and form a big, dangerous first line, it didn't work. Lucic didn't seem to have any chemistry with Kopitar and Gaborik in the first two games.

There were a few legitimate reasons why a line that looked so good on paper didn't work on the ice.

With Lucic at left wing Gaborik had to shift from his natural left wing to right wing, where he's not as comfortable.

Lucic, as Sutter noted after two games, also was accustomed to playing with a right-handed center, David Krejci with the Boston Bruins, and that trying to play with Kopitar, a left shot, proved to be a difficult transition.

There's a difference between how a puck is delivered to a left wing from a right-handed center vs. a left handed center. It's a more natural delivery from a righty as opposed to a longer delivery on a backhand from a lefty.

The puck wasn't coming to Lucic as crisply from Kopitar as it was when he played with Krejci. He had some hesitation in his game, which he admitted in a Yahoo Sports story Oct. 19 and never could get his game going.

It didn't help that Kopitar and Gaborik are more dashers and east/west skaters than up and down grinders. Lucic is a straight-ahead north/south player. If you get him going east/west you've got him right where you want him.

On the flip side, Carter is a righty so his delivery to Lucic is more natural for both players. Toffoli also is comfortable at right wing so no one had to move to accommodate Lucic. And Carter and Toffoli are north/south players like Lucic.

So for now the line is working and Lucic is finding his stride in L.A., when at first it looked like an awful fit and the Kings looked like a team in for a world of trouble.

Here are four more lines that have had the pieces working together:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals:

Washington coach Barry Trotz commented at the end of our latest Five Questions Q&A about how Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Oshie have developed into a line instead of acting like three individuals playing together. Kuznetsov, who scored again Wednesday, leads the Capitals with 12 points. Ovechkin has five goals and nine points. Oshie has three goals and four assists. Washington went 3-0-0 on its recent Western Canada road trip, with this line combining for six goals and 11 assists.

Max Pacioretty - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens:

This line has everything going for it, from Pacioretty's elite scoring skills to Plekanec's deft passing and playmaking ability to Gallagher's gritty, agitating net-front presence and puck-retrieval skills. They're averaging three points per game (16 goals and 14 assists in 10 games). Pacioretty leads the line and the Canadiens with seven goals and four assists. Plekanec has five goals and five assists. Gallagher has four goals and five assists.

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars:

Tyler Seguin
Center - DAL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 13
SOG: 39 | +/-: 2
Stars coach Lindy Ruff broke up this line in the second period against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. It's hard to argue with the result because the Stars scored four goals after the breakup en route to a 4-3 victory. Nevertheless this is an easy go-to line for Ruff when he feels it is necessary. Ruff always has been in favor of spreading out his scoring, except he prefers to keep Benn and Seguin together because of their chemistry. Sharp was catching up before getting moved to the second line with Jason Spezza and Valeri Nichushkin. This line undoubtedly will cause headaches for opponents at various points in the season.

Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks:

This is the exact opposite of the Lucic-Carter-Toffoli line in Los Angeles. It's all skill, movement, dangle and hands on the wings with a big center who makes room for the show to begin. Panarin is becoming the Russian left wing version of Kane with the hands and skill he has shown. He was second on the Blackhawks with eight points going into their game Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets. Kane is doing his normal thing on the right side with 12 points through the first nine games. 

Now, for the rankings:

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the focus will be more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail?

All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night. Don't ignore the scattered links to good stories either:

1. Montreal Canadiens (9-1-0)

Last week: No. 1

What's good: Scoring is coming from up and down the lineup. Six players had at least three goals entering their game Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers (9 p.m. ET; SN, SN360).

What's not so good: They had a stinker against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday but it came after nine straight wins to start the season.

Everyone wants to talk about Carey Price, but here is our Kevin Woodley on backup goalie Mike Condon

2. Washington Capitals (6-2-0)

Last week: No. 2

What's good: They might have two No. 1 centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov.

What's not so good: It's nitpicking, but they have bent a bit, such as giving up the fourth goal to the Edmonton Oilers when they were up 6-3 in the second period, and a goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins 24 seconds after taking the lead in a 3-1 loss Wednesday.

Alex Ovechkin is closing in on a special milestone and our Katie Brown breaks it down

3. Nashville Predators (7-1-1)

Last week: No. 6

What's good: They've allowed three goals in regulation in the past three games.

What's not so good: It hasn't hurt them, but they were last in the NHL in faceoffs (44.4 percent) entering play Thursday.

4. New York Islanders (6-2-1)

Last week: No. 5

What's good: Special teams have been the difference. They had a top-five power play and the top-ranked penalty kill going into games Thursday.

What's not so good: Shots-against figure needs to come down; it was 33.0 per game heading into Thursday.

From Jon Lane on forward Matt Martin, one of the many good guys in the NHL

5. St. Louis Blues (6-2-1)

Last week: No. 3

What's good: Entering Thursday they appeared to be holding to their structure despite a rash of injuries.

What's not so good: Among their injured key players are defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and forwards Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny.

From Lou Korac, guess who is in town because the injuries are piling up

6. Dallas Stars (7-2-0)

Last week: No. 7

What's good: The Stars had a plus-7 goal differential on special teams going into Thursday.

What's not so good: Their 5-on-5 save percentage still was an issue (.898).

7. Chicago Blackhawks (6-3-0)

Last week: No. 8

What's good: Goalie Corey Crawford entered Thursday coming off back-to-back shutouts with a combined 60 saves despite not getting any goal support in regulation.

What's not so good: They still don't have a real threatening option to play left wing alongside center Jonathan Toews and right wing Marian Hossa.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3-2)

Last week: No. 4

What's good: Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves for a 3-1 win in a rehab start with Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. It was his first game since surgery Sept. 3 to remove a blood clot from near his left collarbone and to treat a type of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome. 

What's not so good: "The Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov had four goals and seven assists through the first 10 games.

9. Minnesota Wild (6-2-1)

Last week: No. 9

What's good: Captain Mikko Koivu has a point in eight of nine games and has combined with linemates Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter to form the Wild's best line.

What's not so good: The Wild have trailed in the third period in three of their six wins. That's not a recipe for sustained success.

10. Los Angeles Kings (6-3-0)

Last week: No. 14

What's good: Goalie Jonathan Quick has been lights-out with five goals-against in his past five games.

What's not so good: The power play isn't great (5-for-30), but it's hard to find a legitimate flaw in a team that has won six in a row by an average score of 3-1.

From David Satriano, a fantasy focus look at Quick and other goalies

11. New York Rangers (6-2-2)

Last week: No. 11

What's good: The third line of Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg has been their most consistent.

What's not so good: The top two lines, featuring Derrick Brassard, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast, have not been consistent.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4-0)

Last week: No. 13

What's good: Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury generally has been outstanding (1.90 goals-against average, .937 save percentage) as the Penguins try to find their offensive identity. 

What's not so good: Center Sidney Crosby has gone without a point in eight of nine games, a trend that doesn't seem likely to continue but is alarming for right now.

13. Florida Panthers (5-3-1)

Last week: 15

What's good: They entered play Thursday sixth in goals-for per game (3.33) and tied for sixth in goals-against per game (2.00). 

What's not so good: They had a League-high 105.3 SPSv% (even-strength shooting percentage plus save percentage), which looks good but is alarming because maintaining a .959 5-on-5 save percentage is unlikely, especially when you're allowing 31.1 shots on goal per game at 5-on-5.

14. Boston Bruins (4-3-1)

Last week: NR

What's good: They've been red hot, scoring 26 goals in their past five games, which is unsustainable but has been good enough to help turn around a slow start.

What's not so good: Despite overmatching the Arizona Coyotes in a 6-0 win Tuesday, the Bruins' defense still seems overmatched at times, which might be problematic when the offense cools.

15. Winnipeg Jets (5-3-1)

Last week: 10

What's good: Rookie right wing Nikolaj Ehlers is coming on strong and had goals in three straight games entering the Jets' game Thursday against the Blackhawks.

What's not so good: They allowed 30 or more shots in seven of their first nine games, including 40 or more in three of them. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has allowed 10 goals in his past three games.

16. Vancouver Canucks (4-2-3)

Last week: NR

What's good: They opened some eyes with a 5-1 win against the Canadiens on Tuesday and they were tied for sixth in goals-against (2.00) before playing Thursday.

What's not so good: Forward Brandon Prust injured his ankle in the win against Montreal and is out of the lineup.

Out: Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks

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