The Biggest X-Factors in the Remainder of Los Angeles Kings' Regular Season
The Los Angeles Kings' winning streak ended with a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on the final day of March. They came back with a strong performance against the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday, winning 4-0.
The Kings are now on a four-game road trip that includes stops in San Jose and Western Canada, before finishing the season at home against the Anaheim Ducks. In other words, the Kings will be up against three non-playoff teams that are looking to play spoiler.
There are a few youngsters who could play crucial roles in these games as the Kings prepare for the playoffs. These players are the Kings' biggest X-factors for the rest of the season.
Tyler Toffoli has shown he's capable of producing at crunch time. The 21-year-old put up six points in 12 playoff games last season and played considerable minutes for a postseason rookie.
He's on the second line for now, but Dustin Brown and Mike Richards are hoping to show Darryl Sutter they deserve to be in the top six heading into the playoffs.
The final five games will be key for Toffoli, as he tries to prove he can contribute on the second line. He has 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points in 57 games, including four points in his past six games.
He will need to be at his best defensively as well to combat the young, speedy Oilers and high-flying Ducks.
Joining Tyler Toffoli on the second line in recent games has been Tanner Pearson.
The 21-year-old got off to a slow start this season and has been in and out of the lineup, playing 22 games. However, he's on fire of late, notching one goal and three assists in his past four games.
He has a lot more to prove than Toffoli. He's played in just one playoff game, which came in last year's series against the Sharks. If he can continue to build on his current offensive outburst while also playing strong defensively, he will earn a place on the second or third line heading into the playoffs.
You can get a sense of how passionate Alec Martinez is about the game just by looking at the picture above. And if you've watched him the past few years, you know he's playing the best hockey of his career both offensively and defensively.
Martinez is the X-factor on the Kings' blue line. You know Drew Doughty will play at an all-world level every game. You expect Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr to shut down the league's top stars. But what Martinez offers can vary.
With 14 points in his past 16 games, he could be the difference-maker in the final games—specifically on the power play—as the Kings take on a couple of Western Conference bottom feeders in Calgary and Edmonton.
Look for his hot streak to continue into the playoffs as he earns more ice time.
Kyle Clifford has seen limited ice time this season, averaging just more than 10 minutes per game. He's also put up what so far are a career-low three goals and five assists for eight points.
That could change down the stretch, however, as Mike Richards is centering the fourth line that also includes Trevor Lewis.
If Richards can return to his usual form as a dynamic, playmaking center, Clifford could rack up a few points by going hard to the net, screening the goaltender and digging for rebounds.
It may not be pretty, but in a close game with the oppositions' third pairing defending, Clifford and Richards could get the job done.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.