Rookie King rising star in Los Angeles offense
When Phoenix’s Michal Rozsival was whistled for
cross-checking to set up a Los Angeles power play with 90 seconds remaining and
the Coyotes leading 1-0 on Feb. 16, LA coach Darryl Sutter opted to send out
hulking 6-foot-3, 234-pound Dwight King.
The Los Angeles rookie had recorded two points in his eight
previous NHL games. Unfortunately, the power play was unsuccessful as the
Coyotes claimed the first of two victories against their Pacific Division
rivals in five days.
With goal scoring proving to be so difficult, and
established veterans watching from the bench, what was the rationale behind
sending someone so green onto the ice in a tense, playoff-infused situation?
“Why wouldn’t I? He’s a good offensive player,” Sutter said, issuing
a response that may have raised an eyebrow or two at the time, but in hindsight
displays a bounty of confidence in the suddenly productive young winger who has
two goals, six points and a plus-four rating in 10 games.
“This time around I’m confident in my game,” King said last month
about the differences between his six-game stint last season and his current
assignment. “I know what I can bring, and how to be effective out there,
so I pretty much just kind of focus on that, and it has been working out for
our line and our team.”
Having flanked Mike Richards with Jordan Nolan immediately upon his call-up,
King has been skating opposite Jeff Carter and was successful in digging loose
pucks free and protecting them while his linemates were able to find open space
in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Anaheim. It resulted in the first two-assist game of
King’s career and makes the 22-year old Saskatchewan native an interesting
player to watch on the four-game roadtrip that opens Tuesday in Nashville (5:00
p.m. PT / FOX Sports West).
“He protects the puck well. He’s a big body, a good skater,” Richards
said. “I think he’d be tough to play against because he protects the puck
so well and he’s such a hard worker. He’s slowly getting chemistry with Jeff (Carter)
there and slowly putting it together. Hopefully it can continue.”
More interested in defining the line’s overall dynamic instead of focusing on
one player, Sutter acknowledged that much of King’s success stems from a good
situation he’s inherited.
“He’s a solid guy and makes good plays,” said Sutter, also noting the
trio’s effectiveness after Saturday’s victory. “He has good instincts, and he’s
playing with two really good players.
“That (Anaheim line with Ryan) Getzlaf line and Richards line were
dominant lines [Saturday] night. Whenever they were on the ice, they dominated.
Both those lines. That means that you can spread it around.”
For Saturday’s eventual game winner, King beat veteran Anaheim defenseman
Lubomir Visnovsky to a puck flipped into the offensive zone. King boxed out the
former LA King, freeing the puck loose for Richards, who eventually set up
Carter’s snapper from between the circles.
The play represented exactly what the Kings will be looking to do when they
face Nashville, Columbus, Detroit and Chicago on the road this week. Chip the
puck deep, win battles in the offensive zone, and go to the areas on the ice
where goals are scored.
“Goaltending, special teams are two big things, and for this team, just
keeping it very simple,” Dustin Brown said of the recipe to win road
games. “We have high-end skilled players who can make skilled plays, but
from top to bottom I think it’s important the little things make a big
difference on the road.
“Sometimes you catch a team at home trying to play that high, flash-and-dash
game, and if you’re just a solid D-team and do all the little things right, you
end up getting more chances than they do.”
That’s not the likely resistance they’ll receive from the Predators, a team
they’ll face for the second time in eight days after falling 2-1 to the
conference’s fifth-place team last Monday at Bridgestone Arena.
“We didn’t get one break,” Sutter said about last week’s loss to
Nashville. “The next night we went to Minnesota, didn’t play as well,
and we got a break in the first minute. You know what? Don’t try and think too
much about it. Do things right and continue the work ethic that we have, and
we’ll let ‘er rip.”
Acknowledging Nashville’s additions of Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad since
Los Angeles’ last visit, Sutter understands the challenge his team will face in
a building that hasn’t been kind to visiting teams. The Predators are 21-7-5 at
home this season.
“They’ve been awesome at home when you look at it,” Sutter said. “They
didn’t get any weaker in the last week.”