Photo credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
When it comes to the playoffs, all players are expected to raise their games. Top guys are supposed to play well all season and be even better in the postseason. But then there are guys who just go to another level and are often leading candidates for the Conn Smythe trophy. Occasionally fans claim that these players are in “beast mode.” Or if this was a video game, they turned on cheat mode. For the LA Kings, there are two guys that fit that mold: Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar.
As a two time Olympic gold medalist and a Stanley Cup winner, Drew Doughty is no stranger to important games or elevating his game when he needs to. But sometimes he’s underrated as a leader on the team. Capable of playing as many minutes as the coach will allow, his competitive spirit fuels a desire to never leave the ice. Fast and smart, much of LA’s success runs through him. Whether he’s making a simple outlet pass or closing the gap with a sick hip check, the star defenseman does it all and thrives under pressure. On Saturday night, the Kings were short a defenseman when Robyn Regehr was injured in the first period. In 33:06 of ice time (including overtime), Doughty put up a +2 rating, had an assist on the game winning goal and played on the left when necessary (he’s a right handed d-man). Big players have to step up at big times in big games and Doughty is certainly doing that in the playoffs.
Speaking of stepping up, Anze Kopitar is on another planet right now. The Slovenian native had 20 points in 20 playoff games in 2012 and was a favorite for the Conn Smythe. This year, he’s on pace to blow that away.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 4, 2014
Similar to his defensive counterpart, LA’s success relies heavily upon their star center. A little background on Kopitar: He was drafted in 2005 but didn’t play in the NHL until 2006. He is a high reward-low maintenance player as he has had very few injuries in his career and has led the team in scoring every year except his rookie year. Most importantly to fans, he’s become an elite two-way center who has shown a willingness to give up his offense for the good of team defense. As a leader, he has a well-appreciated ability (again, similar to Doughty) to load the team on his back and push through when the Kings are down a goal or two. Right now, that’s paying dividends because he is red hot.
Sometimes, though, depth players surprise everyone when they step up. They’re not necessarily in “beast mode” or “cheat mode” but they provide critical minutes nonetheless. One such player for LA is Alec Martinez. A third pairing defenseman, Martinez is often underrated as a good puck mover. He wasn’t blessed with the talent and insane hockey IQ that Doughty has, but he is still a very good two-way player. On Saturday night, with Regehr’s injury causing the blue line to be in a constant shuffle, Martinez logged a career high 28:13 of time on ice, including nearly 5 minutes in overtime. He was entrusted with special teams time and rewarded head coach Darryl Sutter by opening the scoring with a power play goal. He also logged decent possession numbers (48% CF, which isn’t GREAT but that’s not bad) and made a key block/kick save in overtime on Anaheim‘s Corey Perry.
The postseason brings out the best in everyone as they all drive towards the same goal of ultimate glory. Depth players step up and prove their merit while star players either crumble or prosper under the glare of the spotlight where every little mistake is magnified. Sometimes surprising leaders emerge and sometimes a team’s best players find ways to up their games more than thought possible.
Drew Doughty logged a season high 33 minutes of ice time; it was 4th highest in his career and he probably would’ve been happy with even more time, especially after advocating for it. The team owned 64% of all shot attempts at even strength and attempted almost 20 shots towards the net every time he was on the ice. He was one of the best skaters during the game and every day he finds ways to get better.
Anze Kopitar has figured out a way to blend his offensive skills with his defensive skills. While it certainly helps to have high skill guys like Marian Gaborik on his wing, his game is another level right now. He has struggled in the past with putting the puck in the net, though he always managed to rack up points in assists. This year, however, he’s found a way to not only set up plays, but score as well. His speed, strength and hockey IQ make it seem like he’s found a cheat mode after all.
For a team to be successful in the postseason, it takes not only guys like Kopitar and Doughty, but guys like Alec Martinez as well. His key blocks/saves and timely goals helped his team earn a victory (maybe undeserved) over their division opponents. If he remains a good possession player, he’ll be an incredible asset for the Kings as they look to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup once more.