Jeff Carter is one of the main reasons the Kings have held San Jose scoreless… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The hockey world knew the Kings were getting a proven goal scorer when they traded for Jeff Carter in 2012, and a healthier Carter ranked among the league's goal-scoring leaders throughout this lockout-shortened season.
What has been crucial in the Kings playoff series against the San Jose Sharks, however, has been Carter's penalty-killing acumen. His responsibilities have increased since the loss of center Jarret Stoll because of a concussion, and Carter and Mike Richards often are doing the heavy lifting, at times the first two forwards out for the penalty kill.
The Sharks' power play has functioned reasonably smoothly on home ice at HP Pavilion — site of Sunday's Game 6 — with clever passing plays once they've been able to get established in the offensive zone. But Carter and cohorts have been able to read and impede San Jose far more successfully in the games at Staples Center, often preventing those crisp zone entries.
San Jose has not scored in 10 power-play attempts in three games at Los Angeles, and has only one power-play goal in five road games in the playoffs.
The Kings lead the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal, three games to two, and the series could be determined by the Kings' ability to shut down, or at least slow, the Sharks' potent power play at HP Pavilion. The Sharks are the NHL leaders in the postseason with a 37.5% conversion rate on their home ice — nine for 24 in four games.
Stoll, one of the Kings' top penalty killers, has been skating but is not close to coming back. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter acknowledged Saturday that Stoll had suffered a concussion and the team was following a mandated protocol in terms of his recovery.
What also helped boost the Kings' penalty-killing efforts was the return of injured defenseman Matt Greene. He came back for Game 4 but was more of a force in Game 5.
Greene credited Carter's hockey sense.
"Carts is a great hockey player," Greene said. "It's one of those deals where you hear a lot about him, goal scorer, this and that. He killed a lot of penalties in Philly. At the same time, he's a smart hockey player. He just knows what he is doing — that's the main thing with penalty killing. If you're smart, you can be in the right position and have a lot of success."
But perhaps the man with the best vantage point to assess the penalty killers, and Carter in particular, is Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
"He's a great skater and fast, so he's able to take lanes away quickly," Quick said. "He does his homework, knows our system and knows what they're trying to do. It's what I was saying about Slava [Voynov]: He knows the game really well and so he knows what top-end players are looking for, knows the seams that he has to cover."
For the Kings, Greene's return to form was a steadying influence on the back end in Game 5.
"I don't think I felt any better than I did in the first game," he said. "It's just the opportunities were there to make plays and you make them. Especially a guy like me, the minute you start running around trying to make plays, that's when you get into trouble.
"When it goes the other way, if a hit is there — like it was the other night — you take it."
The Kings rarely faced adversity during the playoffs last season in their run to the Stanley Cup. They were relentless on the road, and they're still searching for that elusive magic touch this time around. Not only would a win in Game 6 answer some of those questions, but closing it out Sunday would allow some extra healing time before the Western Conference finals.
"It goes a long way, regardless of the other series, it gives us another day of rest," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "If you look back at what we did last year, a lot of it was we had more days of rest than any other team in recent memory.
"That's key this time of year — getting rest."
It starts with the start. San Jose jumped on the Kings immediately and outshot them, 15-3, in the first period of Game 4 Tuesday.
"It'll be a good game," Greene said. "We've just got to start on time."