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."
Carter pushed them in the right direction Saturday by scoring his first two goals as a King in the team's 4-2 victory over the Ducks at Staples Center. The Kings remained in ninth place in the West but moved within a point of eighth-place Dallas. The Ducks, who might have waited too long to make another of their annual late surges, stayed seven points behind Dallas.
For the Kings, projected before this 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, had no points in his first three games while playing the right side with former Flyers teammate Richards at center and rookie Dwight King on the left. He turned that around Saturday, scoring on a rebound during a power play to give the Kings a 2-1 lead at 2:39 of the second period. He extended that lead to 3-1 at 13:53 of the second period with a shot from the inside edge of the left circle.
Dustin Brown scored the Kings' first goal, on a power-play rebound, and Kopitar scored into an empty net with 14.5 seconds left. Sheldon Brookbank, at 15:42 of the first period, and Devante Smith-Pelly, on a long blast at 14:06 of the second period, scored the Ducks' goals.
Carter, set up twice by Richards and King, said before Saturday's game he wasn't worried that he hadn't immediately gotten onto the score sheet.
"I've got to be patient," he said. "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 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.
Those chances turned into goals Saturday. But even when he doesn't score his offensive potential affects opponents' strategy.
A team that uses its checking line against the King-Richards-Carter trio could get burned by the Brown-Kopitar-Justin Williams line. The option to use Carter, a right-handed shooter, at center also gives the Kings much-needed depth up the middle.
King said he learns from Carter every shift.
"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 has begun to settle into his new surroundings and is splitting time between a hotel and Richards' 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."
And they like what he's doing to get them toward the playoffs.