LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — When Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty scored his first goal of the season on March 19, in the Kings’ 29th game of this abbreviated 2013 National Hockey League season, many fans breathed a big sigh of relief, while some pundits started analyzing Doughty’s long scoring drought, trying to figure out why he was playing so poorly all season long.
This brings to mind the line from the Naked Gun movies:
“Move along, nothing to see here.”
The only difference is that unlike in those movies, this time, it’s probably sage advice. Indeed, many have apparently forgotten that Doughty is a defenseman, a player whose primary responsibility is keeping the puck out of his own net. Despite that, the focus for much of the last six weeks has been his goose egg in the goals column of the stats sheet, something he was frustrated about, despite earlier comments to the contrary.
“Oh yeah, it was bothering me a little bit,” he said. “I just had to stay positive, to myself, and to you guys [the media]. It was frustrating. I’m supposed to be an offensive defenseman, even though I’m playing a little bit of a different role this year. I still want to get points, I still want to get goals. [That] helps us win games.”
When he finally scored his first of the season, he got the proverbial monkey off his back.
“It was good to get that one off my back,” said Doughty. “Hopefully, I can get on a little roll now. I’m kind of a streaky scorer, so hopefully, that continues.”
“I’ve had a lot of good chances, especially tonight,” added Doughty. “I had five or six that could’ve gone in. I guess that’s how I’ve got to look at it. It’s a good thing that I’m getting those chances. I’ve just got to bear down, and put’em by the goalie.”
But for those who were stressed out, even just a little, about Doughty’s goal scoring drought, or for those hockey pundits who pointed to the zero in the goals column, and then said he has had an off year, you might want to start looking at the big picture.
All one has to do is look at how Doughty began the 2013 season to see where his game was, compared to where it is now, heading into the final 19 games of the regular season.
In the Kings’ first ten games, Doughty contributed just four assists, and one might expect more than just four points in ten games from a former James Norris Memorial Trophy candidate. However, the more glaring number was that he had a -10 plus/minus rating.
A big reason for that was that Doughty committed numerous turnovers and was guilty of more than his share of blatant coverage mistakes in the defensive zone.
“We expect a lot out of [Doughty],” head coach Darryl Sutter told the media following a 3-0 loss at Nashville on February 7. “He has to, clearly, play better in his own zone.”
With veteran, stay-at-home defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell out due to injuries, Doughty has been thrust into a different role, seeing much more time on the penalty-kill, and shutting down the opposition’s top players.
“If you look at Drew, everyone’s talking about how he hasn’t scored a goal,” said winger Dustin Brown. “But he has a huge impact on every game. He plays the most for our team, he shuts down the top line, and he has [eleven] assists.”
“[Even] if he doesn’t have a point on a play, he has some type of involvement, because they’re aware of him on the ice,” added Brown. “He’s the example for those two young guys [defensemen Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov]. I know it [was] bugging him that he [didn’t] have a goal, but he understands that he’s having a positive impact on our team.”
Star center Anze Kopitar agreed.
“The difference between this year, and years past [is that] he understands what he needs to do for us to win,” Kopitar stressed. “Until this point, he didn’t need to score. But he made some great plays on the penalty-kill, and in the defensive zone.”
“At the end of the day, yeah, it bugs him because he has a goose egg,” Kopitar added. “But as long as we win, I don’t think he’s complaining too much.”
As the comments by Brown and Kopitar indicate, Doughty seems to have embraced his new role. Indeed, after starting the season with that -10 plus/minus rating in the first ten games, the turnovers and defensive blunders have mostly vanished, and he is now in positive territory with a +1 rating after earning a +11 plus/minus rating over the last 19 games.
Quite the turnaround, to say the least.
“It starts in our own zone, being hard defenders, creating turnovers, being quick on the puck, being quick to [get to opposing players], making that first breakout pass, getting [the puck] through the neutral zone and into their zone—that’s when we’re at our best,” he explained. “When we’re doing all those things, we have so many offensively skilled guys in this room that, when we get it into their zone, they can take it from there.”
“All we have to do [are] those few things in our defensive zone to get the puck out of there, and get it [into the attacking zone],” he elaborated. “We should be fine from there.”
Despite having more defensive responsibilities on his shoulders, Doughty noted that he is still an offensive defenseman.
“We’ve got two of our top defensemen out, so I’ve had to take on a new role,” he noted. “I’m enjoying it. I love playing against the other team’s top players, but I still want to kick in on the offense when I can.”
“I was frustrated with myself that I didn’t have one, but now I’m frustrated that I only have one,” he added. “I’ve got to get back to it, and try to get a few more.”
“Nobody’s pulling for Drew to score the goal more than I am,” said Sutter. “[But] you just want him to move on now.”
That goes for everyone else, too, coach.
When asked for his thoughts about Doughty finally scoring his first goal of the season, Sutter joked, “Aww jeez…I’m sure they’ll change it. I thought it hit Jeff Carter.”
After the laughter subsided, Sutter was asked if he was going to mention that to Doughty.
“No, I don’t want to tear him down too much. I want him to feel good about himself,” he said, with a laugh.
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