LOS ANGELES – Two years ago during the Los Angeles Kings second Stanley Cup run in three years, they were led by a young second line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, affectionately known as "That 70s Line."
The trio's nickname took shape as each skater's jersey number was in the 70s, making for an easy play on words to the hit Fox TV Show starring Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis.
Two years later, after the Kings missed the playoffs last season, head coach Darryl Sutter replaced Pearson on the line with Milan Lucic, a strong, physical forward that they got in the offseason in a trade with the Boston Bruins.
Sutter's vision originally saw Lucic on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. He believed that a big physical first line to start the game would be dangerous against the opposition's top defenders. That eventually, they would wear down their opponents and be able to score in droves in the third period.
Unfortunately for the Kings, things didn't go according to plan as the trio was outscored dramatically to start the season, and LA dropped their first three games (all at home) to begin the year 0-3.
Sutter decided to abandon the line and move Lucic to the second line with Carter and Toffoli. The thought process made sense: Lucic played the entirety of his career in Boston alongside David Krejci, a right-handed center. Kopitar is left-handed, and to the laymen, this subtle change might not move the needle, but in hockey it makes all the difference in the world.
A left-handed player delivers the puck differently, than that of a right-handed player, with Lucic playing the left wing, Kopitar's passes were coming on his non-dominant side, and usually on the backhand. It's much easier for a left-handed center to deliver pinpoint passes to the right wing skater than the opposite side of the ice.
After he was moved to the second line, and partnered with right-handed center Jeff Carter, things came more easily and naturally to Lucic. The puck started coming more crisply, and he was finding a comfort zone with the veteran marksman.
"Jeff's a guy with a lot of speed and you can tell he is using it well," said Lucic of his new linemate. "He is controlling the play and using myself and Toff [Tyler Toffoli] to support him."
Sutter's experiment worked, and the Kings have exploded since the change on the line. They have won 9 out of their last 11 games and currently stand in first place in the NHL's Pacific Division.
The line, that we are now calling, "That Dominant Line," is responsible for more than half of the Kings points through the first 14 games of the season and are easily one of the top lines in the NHL.
"We know how to get out of each other's way and get open for each other," Lucic said. "We're doing a good job in the defensive zone, and transitioning the other way. We jump on loose pucks and win battles. Those are the things that have given us success so far, and it's been really fun playing that way."
The trio has combined to score 19 goals and 17 assists in the last 11 games, totaling 55 percent of the team's 35 total goals on the season. Toffoli is tied for second in the NHL with nine goals, and Carter is not far behind with seven.
"It helps when you're playing with two guys who are on fire," Lucic continued. "That makes it a lot easier for me to go out there and play my game."
As a cherry on top, Lucic, Toffoli and Carter were named the three stars of the game in the Kings 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday at Staples Center.
"That Dominant Line" combined for two goals and three assists in the win and whopping +5 on the ice. Drew Doughty's first goal of the season in the second period also came from this line.
"They scored three goals tonight," said Sutter. "They're clearly our best line."
With the Kings stock rising, "That Dominant Line" looks to continue to surge ahead as Los Angeles seeks to claim the cup for their third time in five seasons.