Here’s a cool look from The New York Times at Manhattan Beach, hometown of many Kings players and staff: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/sports/hockey/la-kings-work-on-ice-but-most-live-on-the-beach.html?ref=sports&_r=0
Kings center Anze Kopitar and winger Dustin Brown each said Friday he was unhappy with his play during a 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday. That was news to Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who had this to say when asked about Kopitar’s comment:
“I think ‘Kopi’ busts his ass every night, for lack of a better word. Somebody brought it up yesterday and it wasn’t ‘Kopi.’ “Kopi’ played more minutes, big minutes, than anybody on our team. In crucial situations he does it, so … He never has a bad game.”
Here’s what Kings center Anze Kopitar said Thursday when he heard Wayne Gretzky said Wednesday that he was the third-best player in the world behind Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks:
“I’ll take any compliment from that guy. Even if he said I was the fifth in the rankings, I would have taken it. It’s obviously very nice to hear things about that. I’ve heard it for the first time right now. I didn’t really pay attention to anything after last night. It’s nice to hear it. Can’t really get caught up in that stuff.”
For all the skill and speed the Rangers displayed in getting this far, it appears they can’t keep up with the Kings’ top line of Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown or That 70s Line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Kopitar is the leading scorer in the playoffs with 24 points, including 19 assists. Gaborik leads the playoffs with 12 goals. Carter has 22 points, including 13 assists. Justin Williams has snared headlines with his peerless Game 7 play (seven goals, seven assists and a 7-0 record in seven career Game 7s), but he’s been pretty good in the other ones, too. He has seven goals and 11 assists in the playoffs. Martin St. Louis (six goals, seven assists) and Derek Stephan (five goals, eight assists) lead the Rangers with 13 points apiece. A key to the series will be how the Rangers contend with the Kings’ ability to maintain possession of the puck. Chasing it isn’t fun. Ask the Sharks, Ducks and Blackhawks about that.
Mike Richards had plenty to say when asked Tuesday how difficult it is to play the sort of exceptional two-way game fellow Kings forward Anze Kopitar has played during a season in which he was named a Selke Trophy finalist.
“To play like ‘Kopi’, there’s maybe two, three guys in the world that can,” Richards said. “I’d say it’s pretty hard. But it just seems like every time he’s on the ice, he calms everything down, whether it’s just a point in the game where it’s hectic out there, we’re running around. He steps on the ice, he seems to have that calming influence on everybody, just the way he plays.
“He’s a big, strong guy. He has skill. He’s really got it all. Then you put the emphasis that he does on playing on the defensive side on the puck, that really makes a special player. What he can do on the ice, take over games. …
“After a couple of games ago, where Johnny (Chicago captain Jonathan Toews) had his game, played really well, ‘Kopi’ was right there with him, too. He can elevate. It’s really fun to watch those two go at it against each other. To see the skill level that he has. …
“I think Darryl (Sutter, Kings coach,) has helped him a lot, putting a little more emphasis on that defensive side. If he played in the Eastern Conference on a team that didn’t stress defense as much as us, he could easily be a 100-point guy. He sacrifices that to be a two-way player and play on both sides of the puck.
“We see it every day, so we kind of get spoiled. But I think a couple years ago when we won the Cup, it was kind of his coming out party, and everybody now realizes how good he is.”
Jill Painter will have much more on this subject in her column for the Los Angeles News Group, but here’s what two of Drew Doughty’s Kings teammates are saying about him in comparison to the now-retired Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit:
Kings center Anze Kopitar (after a 6-2 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday’s: “I’ve been saying this for a couple of years now, but he’s our Nick Lidstrom. We all know what he did in Detroit for many, many years. I think Drew likes the big stage. He likes these types of games. He gets very emotional. He just brings his game to the next level at this time of the year and in these types of games.”
Kings captain Dustin Brown (after Friday’s practice): “I can’t speak for ‘Kopi’, but the way I look at that is Drew has a long way to go to be a Nick Lidstrom. But I think he has the impact on our team comparable to the impact that Lidstrom had on Detroit. Their skill sets are similar but I think Drew has a long way to go to be that player. But his impact on our team has a similar effect. I think there’s been a big growth spurt from him from that (leadership) standpoint in the last year and half. Just being more vocal and saying certain things at the right time. … He’s kind of coming into his own as an off-ice kind of guy with his personality and the way he’s matured. He’s getting to that time where he’s taken more of a role.”
The matchup of top-line centers in the Western Conference finals is one of the most intriguing of the series. Anze Kopitar of the Kings got the better of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews in a 6-2 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday. That’s to say, Kopitar helped to keep Toews off the score sheet after Toews did the same to him in Game 1 on Sunday. The push in Game 2 benefited the Kings. Toews had a goal in Game 1 and helped to keep Kopitar scoreless.
A door opened suddenly and Anze Kopitar emerged from one of a dozen or so auxiliary locker rooms along a dimly-lit corridor in the basement of the United Center in Chicago. Two reporters waited for him, far from the maddening crowd in the Kings’ locker room.
Here’s what Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews said Tuesday of matching up with fellow Selke Trophy finalist Anze Kopitar of the Kings:
“He’s not easy to play against. He’s good on draws. He’s tough to defend, especially in the offensive zone. He’s big and strong and protects the puck well. I think he’s got good vision and knows where to find his linemates even if he’s got his back to the play. You’ve got to try to get on those pucks early and get your stick on him before he can get position on you. The best way to really play defense against him is to try to keep him in his own zone. But easier said than done, I guess.
Fatigue could be a significant factor in Game 1 of the series, what with the Kings playing Game 7 against the Ducks on Friday night in Anaheim, traveling on Saturday and then facing off against the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon in Chicago. The Kings will play twice in less than 48 hours, a tight turnaround. The rest of the series looks less taxing. Game 2 on Wednesday follows two days of rest and preparation. Game 3 at Staples Center also follows two days of rest and preparation.
Goaltending continues to be the Kings’ biggest and most consistent advantage over most teams. Jonathan Quick has played his biggest and most consistent games during the Kings’ elimination games during the playoffs. He is 6-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average, a .957 save percentage and one shutout in six games in which the Kings had to win or be eliminated from the playoffs. That’s pressure netminding and Quick has come through with strong performances against the Ducks and Sharks.
Special teams. Oh, wait, you thought this was about power plays and penalty killing? No, the Kings and Blackhawks are very special teams in every sense of the words. They are meeting in the conference finals for the second consecutive season, the first repeat appearances by the same teams in the Western Conference finals since the Dallas Stars defeated the Colorado Avalanche in 1999 and 2000. In fact, the Kings are back for their third straight West finals appearance.