Kings coach Darryl Sutter fields questions almost daily about Drew Doughty’s remarkable progress. Someone asked Thursday whether Sutter believes he looks at the 24-year-old defenseman in a different way because he’s built some credibility with the coach.
“Plays a little more probably, for sure,” Sutter said. “Didn’t kill penalties. Now he kills penalties. Plays against top players a lot. He’s a young player. I think when you do all the analytics on athletes, he’s a long ways form being as good as he’s going to be just because of his age.”
Indeed, there’s still room for growth and improvement.
“Learn to manage your ice time better, learning to manage what’s going on, on the ice,” Sutter said when asked what Doughty could do better in the coming seasons. “You become a better shot selection guy. You become a better penalty killer.
“You learn the league better. You learn players on the other teams better. Nuances of start players. You learn how to handle your practice habits, nutrition, what you do on game days. All that stuff. What can he do better? As I said, there’s a big difference between being 25 and 35.”
Most NHL players can skate backwards without a great deal of trouble, although defensemen are generally better at retreating while watching the play in front of them than forwards. There’s no one who isn’t a good skater going forwards, although some are a little faster than others, especially with the puck on their stick.
But how about sideways?
Willie Mitchell marveled at fellow Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s ability to move laterally with the puck while making a move that produced the tying goal in the second period of a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
“There are very few defensemen in the league who can skate sideways,” Mitchell said. “If you watch that goal, he was pretty much skating sideways to make his little shuffle there. We all know probably one of the best defensemen ever to play the game, (Nicklas) Lidstrom, and how he could skate sideways. We’re fortunate enough to have a player of that magnitude to do that and he knew he had to do that to get us back in the game after the stuff early on.”
Drew Doughty of the Kings might merit greater consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs if it weren’t for the remarkable 21-game run of Kopitar. Doughty is the Kings’ fifth-leading scorer in the postseason with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists). He plays in all situations and he’s elevated his play to the point that he’s put his stamp on most of the Kings’ postseason games. The Norris Trophy finalist plays in all situations and he excels to a degree that belies his 24 years. The Rangers do not have a defenseman who has a similar impact, although Ryan McDonagh should not be discounted as a player who fills a similar role for New York. It remains to be seen if veteran Robyn Regehr can return to the Kings’ lineup. He hasn’t played since he injured his knee during Game 1 of their second-round series against the Ducks. Matt Greene has filled in for Regehr.
By now you probably know that Jake Muzzin, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown scored to give the Kings a 3-0 lead by the end of the first period as they roared to a 5-2 victory Monday over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. Muzzin and Brown scored on the power play.
What you might not know is that the Kings’ power play improved to 16 for 56 (28.6 percent) over the last 16 playoff games, dating to Game 3 of their first-round victory over the San Jose Sharks. The Kings’ power play clicked at a meager 15.1 percent during the regular season, 27th-best in the NHL.
“We’re trying to simplify it a little bit,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of the rejuvenated power play. “We’re just trying to get pucks up to the D-men, trying to get shots that way. My mentality on the first one, just kind of get a shot off, a one-timer, no matter what it was. If it hits the guy, it hits the guy. Just want to get that in their heads, that we’re going to be shooting pucks. The more you shoot, the more other things open up. We took advantage of those things.”
The Kings have blanked the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane in the first three games of the Western Conference finals, one reason why they took a two-games-to-none lead into Game 4 on Monday night at Staples Center.
“We’ve got to keep playing him the same way,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “We’ve got to keep playing him very hard. We can’t give him a lot of space. He’ll try to find speed and ice underneath and just kind of weave his way into the zone and create offensive chances that way.”
Doughty said the Kings expect more from Kane, who had six goals and four assists in the first two rounds for the Blackhawks.
“We just need to stay tight with him,” Doughty said. “We’ve been doing a good job but we know he’s going to play his best game tonight, so we’re going to have to pay special attention to him. We just want to play him hard, hit him hard. I think that’s the way you take him off his game, play him physical. We need to continue to be doing that and take his space away.”
Said Kings coach Darryl Sutter: “Kane is a scary guy. We talk about it all the time. You know what? The more you play him, the more you know it’s coming somewhere. We’re very familiar with him and we’re very respectful of what he brings to the team. … He’s had some brilliant opportunities. Those guys like that, they only need those one or two.”
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.”
Question and answer session Sunday with Drew Doughty …
Question: You said yesterday morning that you didn’t think the Ducks would put rookie goalie John Gibson into Game 4?
Answer: “I was surprised. He played a good game. We need to do more to get to him, obviously. We gave him too many easy shots. We need to crash the net more and put people in front of him. He played good, but we have to do a better job.”
Q: Do you more film on Gibson?
The Kings were prepared to face either Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller or Frederik Andersen in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series Saturday night. They faced Hiller enough times over the years to know what to expect, and got a good look at Andersen during the regular season, too.
But what if John Gibson started for the Ducks? How would the Kings react to facing a 20-year-old rookie goalie with only three NHL games worth of experience? And zero games in the Stanley Cup playoffs? What would they do then?
Hiller started the first two games of the series, both Kings victories. Andersen replaced Hiller for Game 3, but suffered a lower-body injury in the third period and couldn’t finish the Ducks’ victory. Gibson was recalled Saturday morning from Norfolk (Va.) of the American Hockey League.
“One catches left and one catches right and one is a little better at puck-handling than the other,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of possibly facing Hiller or Andersen, who was later ruled out of Game 4 by Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “It doesn’t effect us at all.”
“I don’t see Gibson going in,” Doughty said when asked about the possibility of a real change-up in goal.” I think it’ll be Hiller going in. He came in during the third after not playing for 50 minutes and did a pretty good job. Hopefully, we can push Hiller out and make Gibson come in late.”
Here’s what Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Thursday morning about the team’s play in a 3-1 victory Monday in Game 2: “We didn’t play good enough in Game 2. We played well enough to win, a good playoff-style game, I guess, but it’s still not what we want to be doing. We want to be the team outshooting the other team and, obviously, not be giving them as many opportunities. If we can put more pucks on the net that would be great, too. The bigger the cushion, the better chance we have to win. We’re going to be looking to get more shots and more goals tonight.”
Injured defensemen Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr were not on the ice when the Kings held a short practice Wednesday morning in El Segundo. Forward Jeff Carter also was not on the ice, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he would try to give Carter and defenseman Drew Doughty plenty of rest during the playoffs.
“Jeff and Drew played a lot of hockey this year, played in the gold-medal game,” Sutter said, referring to Carter’s and Doughty’s participation with Canada in the Sochi Olympics. “The more (rest) you can give them, the better. (Carter) is not a guy who needs to skate. He does his work off the ice.”
That was about it as far as news goes.