As the Los Angeles Kings come off a disappointing seven-game home-stand during which they won only a single game, one issue has become apparent more so than others. Sure, Jonathan Quick isn’t playing like himself. Yes, the Kings are not playing with the consistent stinginess for which they have become known.
While these are issues that should not be ignored, one would expect them to correct themselves naturally over time. What the Kings cannot practice correcting right now, though, is the absence of key youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.
What Toffoli Brings
For awhile, Tyler Toffoli was leading the Kings in scoring. While the team was generally struggling to put the puck in the net during the early stages of the season, Toffoli was someone who provided a fairly consistent offensive spark and helped the Kings get some key wins in the bank when they were not always playing their collective best.
Shortly after the Kings’ 4-3 home loss against the New York Rangers on January 8, Toffoli contracted mononucleosis, which has since put him on injured reserve (retroactive to January 8). There is no timetable for his return, so he could still be out of the lineup for another couple of weeks. Then, even when he returns, he would not be at 100% health for an extended period of time, as mono stays in one’s system for 3-4 months. Toffoli first needs to get over the initial “danger zone”, where his spleen is swollen.
Toffoli came down with a rash after the last game. Underwent tests, came back as mono.
— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) January 11, 2015
Anyway, without getting into any more gory details, the point is that the Kings will be missing a key scorer and dynamic offensive talent from their lineup. Sure, Toffoli’s scoring had begun to drop off slightly from his impressive early-season pace (he currently has 27 points in 41 games played), but his presence brings more balance to the Kings’ lineup and provides them with a unique type of player, especially compared to much of the rest of their roster.
Toffoli, at just 22 years of age, also brings youth, creativity, and energy to LA, along with a very high amount of future potential. While the Kings are relying on his continued development down the road, they miss the offensive spark he would otherwise be providing right now.
What Pearson Brings
Similar to Toffoli — his usual line-mate — Pearson also got off to a very hot start scoring-wise this season. Pearson doesn’t offer quite the same dynamic offensive game that Toffoli does, but he is a very strong skater and has solid finishing ability.
On a more intangible level, Pearson seems mature beyond his years out on the ice, as he always seems to be relaxed and in control. Like Toffoli, he is also just 22 years old, but he is a reliable, responsible, and dependable player in all zones for the Kings. His youth and all-around game are thus huge voids for the Kings to fill now that he is sidelined for possibly the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for a fractured left fibula he suffered against Winnipeg on January 10.
Pearson and Toffoli also form two-thirds of the Kings’ popular — and effective — “That ’70s Line,” along with center Jeff Carter. Their absence has forced head coach Darryl Sutter to juggle lines, forcing many players to establish new levels of chemistry with one another on the fly. Moreover, Los Angeles is now a slower team without the youth and speed of these two players.
[tweetthis]No Toffoli and no Pearson = problems for the #Kings[/tweetthis]
Sutter did not sugarcoat LA’s precarious situation when he was asked about how to fill the void of no Toffoli and no Pearson.
“You don’t.” –Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, when asked about how to fill the void left by the absence of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
“They’re very important players on our team, not just numbers-wise, but they’re a big part of our puck possession game, our penalty killing game, all that,” Sutter continued after the Kings’ morning skate on January 12. “You don’t replace those players. What you do is you put other guys in, guys who are either bitching about ice time who think they should be playing, or guys who you have to move out of position a little bit, or veterans who just have to give you a little bit more.”
To that end, often-scratched forwards Andy Andreoff and Jordan Nolan will (and already have) see(n) more playing time, and perhaps an extended chance to prove themselves as assets — whether to help the Kings directly or to be leveraged in trades.
Sutter, however, believes that Andreoff and Nolan have a long way to go in that respect.
“I’d say Andreoff and Nolan would both be in the very same boat,” the head coach said on January 12. “Guys who have played a handful of shifts once in a while and need to play a hell of a lot better than they have.”
With the uncertainty surrounding Andreoff and Nolan, Los Angeles might now be compelled to look at available forwards as the March trade deadline approaches. Until then, depth forwards such as Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards (whose 5 goals on the season will not cut it at this point), Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, and Nick Shore (who made his NHL debut on January 17 against Anaheim) will have to step into more prominent roles as the Kings try to get back to winning consistently.