One of the supposed byproducts of the Kings acquiring Marian Gaborik was the notion that forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards could resume their partnership, helping shake Richards out of a prolonged slump.
It hasn't quite happened.
Richards has three goals in 2014 — nine in all this season — and has no points in the last six games since scoring the game-winner at Winnipeg on March 6. In the last five games, Carter has one assist, but he did score in the shootout of Thursday's win against Washington.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter reacted, in part, by having Carter centering youngsters Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli at practice Friday. The more dramatic move was dropping Richards to the fourth line with Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis. Jordan Nolan could be used on the fourth line, but he was a healthy scratch Thursday.
Of course, Sutter has been known to change his lines again as quickly as a day later, the way he did in Tampa in October on the Kings' second trip of the season.
On Friday, Sutter was measured in his criticism. It wasn't like a couple of years ago when he talked about the duo of Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown getting "stale." There was the suggestion Carter could help the kids.
"It's not Jeff helping them," Sutter said. "Those kids are playing well. Trying to get Mike and Jeff [going] and Kinger [Dwight King] … they haven't been as quite as effective."
He clarified that last comment, at least in terms of Carter. He leads the Kings in goal scored (24) and is the team's second-leading scorer behind Kopitar.
"Jeff was really sharp coming out of the break. Even when he's average, he's good. Put it that way. We're trying to get Mike and Kinger going and clearly we have to get them going.
"I think [Richards has] had a year like Brownie [Dustin Brown]. Hopefully they're getting their games together at the right time.… These guys are experienced, veteran players on our team. They have to get their game in order if we're going to be a playoff team."
Brown's numbers have declined. In 67 games, he has 12 goals and 22 points. Last season was lockout-shortened, and two seasons ago Brown had 22 goals and 54 points in 82 games. He scored 28 goals the season before that.
He returned to the lineup Thursday after missing two games because of a lower-body injury. Brown said he has felt more patient and able to use his size more since returning from the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"I watched film today and you feel a lot slower than you probably are on the ice, just getting back into it," he said. "Overall, it's good.… I just held on to the puck a lot more. I've said this since the Olympic break, I feel more like myself. I'm holding on to the pucks, making plays, coming out of the corner with pucks … just holding on to the puck and waiting for the play to happen."
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Etc.: The Panthers have stabilized their goaltending with the acquisition of veteran Roberto Luongo from the Canucks, the day before the trade deadline. He has a .926 save percentage and is 3-3-1 since arriving from Vancouver. The most unlikely scoring leader of any NHL team is the Panthers forward Scottie Upshall, who has a career-high 34 points in 64 games. His previous career high was 32 points with the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2009-10 season.
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