COMMENTARY | With forwards Jarret Stoll, Kyle Clifford, and defenseman Matt Greene already out with injuries, the bad news just keeps piling on the Los Angeles Kings -- Conn Smythe-winning goalie Jonathan Quick is expected to miss four to six weeks and high-scoring forward Jeff Carter is expected to miss another three to six weeks of game time as well.
The initial reaction for most Kings fans after finding out that their starting goalie has a grade 2 groin strain, which thankfully doesn't require surgery, and that their most consistent goal scorer, who has already missed the last two weeks with a foot fracture, isn't coming back anytime soon, is to crawl into the fetal position and cry. However, fear not, as rookie forwards Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson, and second-year goalie Ben Scrivens are here to save the day.
At a time when the Los Angeles Kings, who are now inside the Western Conference playoff bubble with a 12-6-1 record, could be at their weakest, their young guns are doing their best keeping the team afloat, especially after they starred in a 3-2 comeback win over the New York Islanders Thursday night.
After a shaky first two periods, in which the Kings consistently turned the puck over and handed the Islanders a 2-0 lead heading into the third period, Toffoli, Vey, and Pearson helped stun the Islanders by contributing to three goals in the final period. After the final horn sounded, Toffoli had scored the winner in the game's waning moments on a deflection from defenseman Jake Muzzin, Vey had collected two assists, and Pearson notched his first NHL goal -- the game-tying goal that dribbled just past Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin.
Not too long ago, these three were racking up points playing on the same line together for the Kings affiliate in the American Hockey League, the Manchester Monarchs, where Toffoli had 12 points and Pearson and Vey had 11 points before being called up. Aside from 10 games played last season for Toffoli and a one-game taste-of-the-bigs for Pearson, these three are largely untested by NHL-level players and pace.
Tested or not, these three have chemistry that's unquantifiable, as Toffoli has three goals and four assists in five games, Vey has three assists in four games, and Pearson has one goal in one game. Even without Carter, Stoll, Clifford, and Greene, the Kings still have strong scorers with Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards leading the way; however, Toffoli, Vey, and Pearson are more than earning their keep as the Monarch Line.
As for Scrivens, there's no point in comparing him to or expecting the same results as Quick. Scrivens is a backup goalie who had previously only had 32 career games and 11 wins, all with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was originally more of a throw-in piece in the Kings trade with Toronto when they sent goaltender Jonathan Bernier to Toronto for Scrivens, a 2nd-round draft pick, and forward Matt Frattin, who the Kings had high hopes for. So far, Frattin has fallen flat with only four points in 18 games, but in just a small sample size this season, Scrivens has two wins, one loss, a 1.92 goals against average and a .923 save percentage -- all respectable numbers for a backup goalie.
Now, it's all eyes on Scrivens. In his first start after Quick went out with the groin strain, Scrivens kept the score low against the Islanders, only allowing goals to forward Casey Cizikas and defenseman Aaron Ness, while making timely saves and keeping the Kings within striking distance before the Monarch Line rallied the Kings to a victory. He ended the night with 23 saves in 25 attempts. Scrivens likely won't make Kings fans forget about Quick during his absence; however, he's played well enough so far that Kings fans should be comfortable with him between the pipes until Quick is physically able to play again... or at least they better be comfortable with him, because the only other organizational goalie option is Martin Jones, recently brought up from Manchester.
The next test for these largely-unproven-but-so-far-successful youngsters will be in a matchup against their 2011-2012 Stanley Cup finals nemesis, the 6-7-5 New Jersey Devils. Although this matchup doesn't have quite as much importance as when these teams met in the finals, it could be a glimpse at the long-term future of the Los Angeles Kings.
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