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On the NHL: Jeff Carter could give Kings the lift they need

He scores his first goal as a King against Ducks, but he had been playing well and providing leadership.

March 04, 2012|By Helene Elliott

Jeff Carter has been a member of the Kings for a short time, but it didn't take him long to conclude that their position in the NHL standings doesn't reflect their talent.

"I think the team that we have here probably should be in a playoff spot. It's a heck of a team," said the 27-year-old forward, who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 23 for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round draft pick.

"Start from the goalie on out and then you work your way up. I think if we can get on a little roll here we should be all right."

The Kings were ninth in the West and three points out of a playoff berth before they faced the Ducks on Saturday at Staples Center. The Ducks, who might have waited too long to make another of their annual late surges, were seven points out of the final spot.

"I still think that we have a chance to get there," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team bottomed out at 20 points behind. "It's been an uphill climb since January and we probably can't afford to lose more than two more games but ... we've still got a chance."

For the Kings, projected before the season to contend for the Pacific Division and Western Conference lead, scrambling for a playoff spot is a letdown. They've gotten little production from their left wings, and centers Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards have gone through extended slumps. Too many forwards have been played out of position in failed efforts to patch holes.

If not for the stellar play of goaltender Jonathan Quick, where the Kings would be? Probably near the bottom of the West with Columbus, the team Carter was happy to leave after being traded there from Philadelphia last summer.

But how the Kings got to this point matters less now than where they go from here, and they're counting on Carter to help them make up ground.

Carter, who can play center or wing, scored his first goal as King on Saturday on a rebound of a Mike Richards shot. Playing with former Flyers teammate Richards at center and rookie Dwight King on the left, he had taken eight shots in his first three games and said Saturday he's not pressing or worried that he hadn't immediately gotten on the score sheet.

"I've got to be patient," he said after the Kings' morning skate in El Segundo. "Obviously I'd love to have gotten one on my first shift of my first game, but I think with getting some chances it's only a matter of time before they start going in."

Coach Darryl Sutter, who has used Carter on the penalty killing and power play units, had no quibbles with Carter's early efforts.

"He's been really good. He's had more quality scoring chances since he came here than anybody on our team," Sutter said.

Even if those chances didn't turn into goals, Carter's scoring potential affects opponents' strategy.

A team that uses its checking line against the King-Richards-Carter trio could get burned by the Dustin Brown-Kopitar-Justin Williams line. And the option to use Carter, a right-handed shooter, on faceoffs and at center instead of on the wing gives the Kings much-needed depth up the middle.

"I've faced Jeff Carter whether with Philadelphia or Columbus, and he's really dangerous," Boudreau said.

King, who had a goal against Minnesota on Tuesday, said he learns from Carter every shift they're together.

"He's a world-class player. He's got good composure on the puck and a good release on his shot," King said. "And he's really fast for a big guy. He's got outside speed and he utilizes it very well."

Carter said he has begun to settle into his new surroundings and is splitting time between a hotel and Richards' South Bay home. He's also adjusting to Sutter's defense-first philosophy.

"He demands the best out of his players every time they step on the ice," Carter said. "The one thing I like about him is he'll talk to you. He'll come and tell you if there's something you need to do differently. If there's something you're doing good, he's going to tell you that too. It's been good. I like it."

The Kings would like it better if he can get them to the playoffs.

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