The Kings’ top two scorers will not be healthy when the playoffs begin. That’s the grim reality facing the Kings after Anze Kopitar broke his ankle in the second period of a 4-1 win over the Avalanche on Saturday.
Head coach Terry Murray said that Kopitar will miss “a minimum of six weeks,” which certainly dampened the mood inside Staples Center.
Kopitar suffered the injury at 15:39 of the second period during a puck battle along the boards with Ryan O’Byrne (you can see the severity clearly at the 1:50 mark of this video):
The Kings are already without Justin Williams, who sustained a separated shoulder against the Calgary Flames earlier in the week. Now without Kopitar, “we have to find a way either way,” captain Dustin Brown said. “You don’t want have your best player go down but if that’s the case, we need to fill the responsibility collectively and find a way because no other team is going to feel sorry for us.”
“He’s your top player, your top forward, so there’s quite a hole that’s going to be there with him out of the lineup for this length of time,” Murray said. “I’ve dealt with this before with top guys being out with injuries and it’s an opportunity for other players to step up, the character of the team needs to step up and everyone needs to start doing the right things. You’ve got to trust your structure and your system and give it the best opportunity you can as a group to finish games off and play the right way.”
Kopitar could not finish his team-record 330th consecutive game after the injury. Willie Mitchell, Michal Handzus, Ryan Smyth and Trevor Lewis scored goals and Jonathan Quick stopped 20 of 21 shots against the rebuilding Avalanche.
The Kings are short on options at center. Everyone moved up a line after Kopitar’s injury -Handzus between Dustin Penner and Oscar Moller; Lewis between Brown and Smyth. But top prospects Andrei Loktionov (season-ending shoulder surgery) and Brayden Schenn (playing in junior) are not options. Cory Elkins (18 goals, 24 assists, 42 points) and Justin Azevedo (17+30=47) are the top two centers currently playing for AHL affiliate Manchester, but it’s unlikely that either player would be expected to fill a top-six role in the NHL today.
The Kings do not practice tomorrow and next play Tuesday in Edmonton.