AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Listen to audio of May 6 interviews with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Matt Greene, Jeff Schultz, and head coach Darryl Sutter.
ANAHEIM AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Heading into the second round playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, a matchup that Southern California hockey fans have been waiting twenty years for, much of the hype focused on the battle between two of the National Hockey League’s best centers, Anze Kopitar of the Kings, and Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks.
Getzlaf is a finalist for this season’s Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, while Kopitar is a finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league’s top defensive forward.
Looking at their offensive numbers, Getzlaf is fifth in playoff scoring with three goals and seven assists for ten points, with a +1 plus/minus rating and six penalty minutes in seven playoff games.
Kopitar leads the league in playoff scoring with four goals and ten assists for 14 points, with a +6 plus/minus rating and four penalty minutes in nine playoff games.
Through the first two games of this series, Getzlaf has contributed three assists, while Kopitar has tallied four—in terms of offensive numbers, the difference between the two is razor thin.
But that is where the similarities end. Indeed, the big difference has been on defense, where Kopitar’s defensive prowess is shining brightly, including when he has gone head-to-head against Getzlaf.
The most striking example came on Kings left wing Marian Gaborik’s game-tying goal at the 19:53 mark of the third period of Game 1, when Getzlaf made a weak stick check attempt on Kings center Mike Richards along the left wing boards. Richards got past Getzlaf easily and threw the puck in front, setting up the tying goal.
On that play, if Getzlaf took the body, he could have easily pinned Richards against the boards/glass, preventing that shot/pass, sealing the win for the Ducks.
Getzlaf was also guilty of poor defensive play on Gaborik’s overtime game-winner in Game 1, even though he was not solely responsible. On the play, he lost Gaborik, who went to the Anaheim net untouched—no one was anywhere near him.
Perhaps even worse, in Game 2, Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau changed his matchups, taking the line of Matt Beleskey, Getzlaf and Corey Perry off the ice when the Kings had Gaborik, Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the ice.
“I did it because Kopitar’s line was dominating them,” Boudreau explained. “I could be stubborn and leave them out there all day, but we had to move something around to get away from it. Then, maybe [Getzlaf’s] line could get something accomplished.”
In all likelihood, Boudreau’s post-game comments about Getzlaf and his line were less about reality and more about motivation. After all, the Ducks still managed to generate sustained pressure in the attacking zone for extended periods in Game 2, and that included Getzlaf’s line.
“Kopitar has been great for us all year,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “That’s it. That’s two premier centermen going at it. I don’t think you’re ever going to slow down Getzlaf too much. They got a lot of chances last night. They got a lot of chances in Game 1. We’ve definitely got to do a better job against those guys, or they’re going to hurt [us].”
“Those are two high-powered centers on that line—Getzlaf and Perry, and Beleskey [is on that line, too],” added Greene. “They’re hot right now. We’ve got to do what we can to slow them down.”
Kopitar also downplayed the matchup.
“I don’t know about dominating them,” he said. “I think they were playing well. They hemmed us in our zone for a little bit, too. We know, as a line, we can play better, and we’re going to have to play better.”
That said, even though the plus/minus statistic is often highly misleading, in this particular case, it is very, very revealing. Indeed, Getzlaf’s -2 rating in the first two games in this series, compared to Kopitar’s +3, tells much of the story.
“[Kopitar is] great,” said defenseman Jeff Schultz. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for his defensive play. He’s big and strong, and he helps guys with directing traffic in our own zone.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter, who always emphasizes the team and its collective nature, objected when he was asked to comment on Kopitar’s performance.
“I know I have to answer questions about individuals, but it’s not about individuals,” he lamented. “It’s about the collective part of it. We’ll lose a lot of games collectively, and we’ll win a lot of games collectively. It’s not about one player.”
Sutter was also incredulous when asked to comment on the fact that some have said that Kopitar is playing his best hockey now.
“Jeez, the year the Kings won the Stanley Cup, he led the scoring race,” said Sutter. “He led this team in scoring this year. He led it in goals, assists, points, minutes played, plus/minus. So is this the best he’s played, last night? No. Go ask him. That’s not the best he’s played.”
“That’s good they are [saying that],” added Sutter. “That’s not my job, to suggest. If anybody else wants to, that’s good. I’m really not interested in that. I’m trying to get him to be an ace on Thursday.”
Of course, the question was not about Kopitar’s performance in Game 2. Rather, it was about his play all season long.
“He’s been doing it for years, but this might be as well as I’ve ever seen him play,” said center Mike Richards. “He might be getting a little bit more attention now, with the Selke nomination.”
“He’s doing extremely well, putting up points,” added Richards. “But it’s not just the points. He blocks shots, he kills penalties, he takes every big face-off, he plays at the end of games—I could probably sit here for five minutes telling you what he does well, but this is probably the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
If Sutter is worried about Kopitar, he shouldn’t be.
“You can’t get complacent,” Kopitar said, regarding his team having a 2-0 lead in their series against Anaheim. “We didn’t necessarily play our best hockey, but we, somehow, managed to squeak both of them out.”
“Now we’ve got to come home with energy, focus, and all the things we always say—managing the puck, not turning the puck over, playing physical, playing solid defensively,” Kopitar added. “We’re going to have to have a good start on Thursday.”
“They’re going to be desperate. We have to match the intensity they’re going to bring, and their desperation level.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Anze Kopitar (3:31)
Mike Richards (5:58)
Matt Greene (2:52)
Jeff Schultz (4:42)
Darryl Sutter (4:42)
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