After acquiring center Mike Richards during the 2011 offseason, the Los Angeles Kings continued to bolster their roster by trading for forward Jeff Carter just a few months later in February of the following year. Both players came to Los Angeles having already had success in the NHL, but most importantly, the acquisition of the two forwards reunited a pair of former linemates, giving their new team a much-needed secondary scoring threat.
Richards and Carter were first-line mates while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Kings' ability to recreate that powerful pairing was instrumental in the team's success last season. The two of them have built good chemistry with one another over the years, having been drafted just 13 picks apart in the 2003 NHL Draft, and brought up together in the Flyers' organization. The pair helped their former team reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 but would lose in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, and after being ousted from the playoffs the following year they were traded away in two separate offseason deals. Many in Philadelphia believed they weren't capable of winning the biggest of games, but that perception would change after a historical run in Los Angeles.
The Kings already had a successful first line in place before the arrival of Richards and Carter. So naturally, placing those two on the second line behind Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams brought offensive depth to a Kings team that needed it badly. Jarret Stoll had been the second line center prior to the 2011-12 season, so the moves to acquire Richards and Carter allowed him to move back to a more natural position on the third line, giving the Kings a solid rotation up the middle on the top three lines.
One of the biggest factors that led the Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup title was the offensive contributions they received from all four lines. The team already had a solid top line in Kopitar, Brown, and Williams entering 2011-12, while also developing a tough defense and reliable goaltending. But the NHL is a league where even the best offensive players see the ice for only around one-third of an entire 60 minute game. Having a second line that can consistently make plays and create scoring chances means, in theory, that a team can cover around two-thirds of a game with quality players on the ice.
Richards and Carter provide the team with that exact opportunity, giving the Kings a secondary scoring threat behind an already productive first line. The 27-year-old Richards produced 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) in 20 playoff games last year, while the 28-year-old Carter recorded 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) during that same span, helping the Kings win their first ever Stanley Cup title.
Richards is a play-making center who can provide a little of everything. He is usually the one setting his linemates up with scoring chances, while also having the ability to put the puck in the back of the net. He wasn't entirely consistent with his new team at the start, posting just 44 points in 2011-12, but his play improved as the year went on, saving his best effort for the stretch run and on into the playoffs.
Carter is known best for an unyielding and accurate wrist shot. He has been a goal scorer since coming into the league, playing best with a teammate like Richards who can put him in positions to use his strengths best. Carter has scored 25 or more goals in five of his seven seasons in the NHL.
As the second line goes, so do the Kings.
Since acquiring Richards, Los Angeles is 32-4-8, including the playoffs, when he records at least one point in a game. The team has an even higher winning percentage when Carter picks up at least a goal or an assist, going 15-1-1 including the playoffs.
Richards and Carter have been a mainstay on the second line, at center and right wing respectively, but the third spot at left wing has been a revolving door. The pair has seen multiple players come and go, including forwards Dustin Penner, Simon Gagne, and Kyle Clifford. Penner played alongside Richards and Carter during the 2012 playoffs, and the line was fairly successful together, posting 39 points in 20 postseason games. After the second line failed to produce any offense while the team dropped its first two games of the season, head coach Darryl Sutter elected to sit Penner, making him a healthy scratch for three straight games now. Penner was replaced by the Kings' leading scorer at the moment, 22-year-old Kyle Clifford, who has played mainly on the fourth line early in his career, but has done well to start the season, recording five points through the first five games.
Gagne, a 13-year veteran in the NHL was a teammate of both Richards and Carter in Philadelphia. While playing for the Flyers, he saw plenty of ice time with the pair, and has also seen a few shifts with the them as of late. Gagne is a proven goal scorer in this league, netting as many as 47 goals in 2005-06 with the Flyers, but has seemed to slow down a touch since suffering a concussion in December of 2011.
After an 0-2-1 start to the season, the Kings have gone 2-0-1, with Carter scoring a goal in each of those three games. Richards finally posted his first point of the season Monday, earning an assist on Carter's second period goal in the Kings' 3-2 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Carter was the only player from either team to score in the shootout against the Canucks, clinching the Kings their second win of the season.
Playing often with different linemates doesn't help in finding consistency, but it's clear that the production of Richards and Carter improve the team dramatically, and the numbers seem to back that up. If the second line in Los Angeles can produce goals on a consistent basis, the Kings will be a difficult team to dethrone.
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