Kings defenseman Drew Doughty figures to get plenty of votes for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the 2014 playoffs. Here’s what teammate Willie Mitchell had to say Wednesday when asked what makes Doughty a special player: “His passion for the game. I’ve said it all along, there’s people who kind of thought he didn’t care enough or was too lax. But he just loves the game and loves to compete. … That’s his No. 1 attribute. He loves to come to the rink and he wants to make a difference every game and I really respect it.”
The Kings had the New Jersey Devils down and out going into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 at Staples Center. The Kings led the series three games to none and were primed for a sweep. The Devils rallied with victories in Games 4 and 5 against the distracted Kings, who finally secured their first championship with a resounding victory in Game 6. The Kings vowed to avoid a repeat after taking a 3-0 series lead over the New York Rangers.
“Just basically the distractions last time were trying to get tickets for certain people, there weren’t enough tickets, stuff like that going on,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said Wednesday. “Basically, we just talked about it as a group and just said let the families deal with it. Get your mom in charge, get your wife in charge, whatever it needs to be, and just completely forget about that rather than having to go out for breakfast with them, something like that.
“Just focus on the team.”
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty seemed calm, cool and collected as he slumped in a folding chair during a formal news conference Tuesday. He answered questions with his customary honesty, admitting that he was a bundle of nerves with Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final more than 24 hours away.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Doughty said. “It kind of sucks that the game is at 8 p.m., waiting around during the day. You just want to get out there. You don’t want to get overanxious at the same time. But it’s fun to play in these types of games. When the pressure’s at a high (level), you just want to go out there, play your best as a team, win games. Yeah, I just can’t wait to get out there, get warmups over, drop that first puck.”
As long as he harnesses it the right way, Kings captain Dustin Brown said he likes it when defenseman Drew Doughty plays with emotion. Brown has spoken to Doughty about learning how to channel his anger in the right direction and making it work for him rather than against him. Here’s more from Brown:
“I think the emotion is awesome. He’s still learning how to use that emotion the right way. Sometimes people blow it up and say, ‘Oh, he’s so emotional.’ I think it’s great. There are other times and I’ve had talks with him. He understands it’s not an easy thing to do. He’s learning it. It’s something all players learn. I’ve learned.”
Here’s what Doughty had to say about playing mad and yelling at the referees at they missed seeing him get hit in the face with a stick in Game 1:
“I’m going to be upset if I get hit in the face. Maybe instead of yelling at them, I should just be talking to them or completely ignoring it, to be honest. I got frustrated. I probably wouldn’t have snapped if we didn’t get a penalty right after that happened. It may be that showing frustration to my teammates isn’t a good thing, but it makes me play better. I’ve got to fix it, but I like it at the same time. I’ve learned that. Losing it on the refs is the wrong thing to do. I don’t know why I still do it. I’ve got to fix it.”
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.”