EL SEGUNDO, CA — The Los Angeles Kings appear to have turned things around, earning a 5-0-1 record in their last six games, and a 6-3-1 record in their last ten. All that comes after an absolutely dreadful stretch from late December through much of January that saw them lose ten out of twelve games.
Even more impressive, the Kings are 2-0-1 in the first three of ten straight games away from Staples Center.
But with six more ahead of them—a brutal road trip that includes contests against three of the Eastern Conference’s best—the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals, and the Philadelphia Flyers (they skate at Anaheim to end the ten-game stretch), it will be quite the struggle for the Kings to come out of that six-game trip with even a .500 record.
The problem is that the Kings need to come out of that six-game trip with a winning record just to stay in the hurt for playoff berth in the National Hockey League’s ultra-competitive Western Conference. But to do that, they will need more from top center Anze Kopitar, who is mired in yet another of his all-too-familiar goal scoring droughts, with just one goal in his last 19 games, and none in his last nine games. His last goal came on January 15, in a 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center.
Although Kopitar has continued to contribute with 14 assists in those 19 games, still leads the team in scoring with 16 goals and 34 assists for fifty points, and is ranked 15th in the league in scoring, the ninth-place Kings desperately need goals from Kopitar if they expect to gain ground on the eight teams currently holding onto the playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Indeed, Kopitar must break out of his slump. But how?
“I don’t know, maybe a bounce or two, maybe shooting the puck a little more,” he said. “A mix of everything, I’m sure. I’ve been there before, so I kind of know—well, I guess I don’t know how to handle it, because I’m in [a slump] right now. I just have to play hard, and things will come.”
“I wish I had that one answer that could turn it around,” said head coach Terry Murray. “You just have to work your way out of it. Just about every player that’s played sports—you’re going to go through a hard time, and there is no magic. It’s just getting back to the hard work, the fundamentals.”
Murray emphasized that Kopitar needs to get to the “dirty” areas to generate quality scoring chances.
“The most important thing, especially on the offensive part of the game for a player you’re looking for goal production from, you have a tendency as a player to get away from things,” Murray explained. “You think you have to find space, you have to get open, to a nice, quiet area out there so you’re available for somebody to get you the puck. That’s what you think, but that’s the wrong thing.”
“You’ve got to get there, where it’s really hard, and really nasty and dirty, and you’re looking for one to [bounce] off your backside, or off your stick, a rebound, a loose puck,” Murray elaborated. “That’s the ice breaker sometimes. Then it clicks on and away you go.”
“I was close to [a dirty goal on a jam play at the net] in Calgary,” said Kopitar. “You’re going to the front of the net for those goals. I’ve been hanging around. Like Terry says, if you play the right way, good things are going to come, and I’m pretty sure one of these days, I’m going to get a greasy one.”
Of course, net presence and going to the dirty areas is something Murray wants from all of his forwards.
“We haven’t really gotten a lot of those [dirty goals] as a group,” Murray lamented. “We saw a couple of them in Calgary. [Dustin] Brown and [Justin] Williams, those are quick plays around the net.”
“In general, those are goals you’re going to have to score at this time of year, as you get to the last part of [the season],” Murray added. “Everybody now, you see the games, five [players] are back, collapsing, [they have] five across their blue line, it’s very difficult to get on the rush today with possession and make something happen. You’ve got to get it in and go get it again. It does become a real grinding game.”
Back to Kopitar…for most people, under normal circumstances, being selfish is not a good thing. But in Kopitar’s case, it would be a welcomed sight.
“I would love that [seeing Kopitar look for his shot more often],” said Murray. “I think you always find, over the course of history of the game, that the guys who are big goal scorers always tend to shoot before passing. But as long as the puck is going in, that’s OK.”
“I watched a game yesterday with Tampa Bay,” added Murray. “[Steven] Stamkos has forty already, and there’s no doubt what he’s going to do. Everybody knows where it’s coming from, and he obliges. He’s shooting, every time, and that’s OK. I’d like to see that a little bit more from all of us in our group to [have] more of a shooter mentality than looking for the passing option.”
Perhaps Kopitar is getting the message?
“I’ve said it a couple of times already, maybe I do look for the perfect play too often, instead of just putting it on net,” he noted. “Something good always happens after that. Maybe I need to be a little more selfish.”
To be fair, even without Kopitar lighting the red lamp lately, the Kings have had success, thanks to their depth.
“That’s the one thing we were looking at before the season—how deep this team is,” said Kopitar. “We added [Alexei] Ponikarovsky with [Michal] Handzus and [Wayne] Simmonds. I know they’re not playing together now, but he’s been providing some scoring [lately].”
“[Willie] Mitchell, Williams, [Ryan] Smyth and [Jarret] Stoll have been huge for us,” added Kopitar. Brown broke through last game, and I think it’s my turn now to pick it up again, break through, score some goals, and put some points on the board again. I’ll get myself going, that’s for sure. It’s just a matter of playing hard and breaking through.”
Regardless of the situation, Kopitar knows that, even though others have been carrying the team in recent weeks, he must start putting the puck in the net again, and that there is no time to waste.
“I realize that if the team’s going to win, my production has a little bit to do with it,” Kopitar acknowledged. “I understand that, I know that, but we’re winning right now. I don’t want to take anything away from the guys, definitely not. They’ve been playing hard, they’ve been picking me up, trying to get me going.”
Raw audio interviews
(Edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Anze Kopitar (3:36)
Terry Murray (2:30)
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