EL SEGUNDO, CA — Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty enjoyed his best year, in terms of goals, assists and points, in 2009-10, his second National Hockey League season, when he scored 16 goals and contributed 43 assists for 59 points, with a +20 plus/minus rating and 54 penalty minutes.
This season, the All-Star defenseman has played in 48 games, scoring nine goals and adding 18 assists for 27 points, with a +15 plus/minus rating and 36 penalty minutes.
Those numbers put Doughty on pace to score 15 goals and tally 31 assists for 46 points this season, matching his point total last season. But even though he had better offensive numbers back in 2009-10, if he continues on pace, 2015-16 could turn out to be the finest regular season offensive performance of his career, to date.
Indeed, six years ago, Doughty wasn’t drawing the close attention and scrutiny of opposing defenses as he did in ensuing years, giving him a lot more high-quality scoring chances back then.
But after that season, teams began to challenge Doughty at the point, taking away shooting lanes, and he struggled just to get pucks through to the net, let alone putting them in the back of the net. It seemed that more often than not, Doughty’s point shot was getting blocked. Even last season, that was often the case.
But all that has changed this season, as Doughty has been pounding pucks on net from the point, especially on the power play.
“I think I had my most shots ever in a season last year and the puck just wasn’t finding the net for me,” he said. “But this year, I’m definitely thinking shot first more, which is why I probably have more goals than usual.”
Doughty credited work last summer with former Kings Hall of Fame defenseman and current assistant general manager Rob Blake and associate head coach John Stevens with his vastly improved ability to get his shot through traffic.
“A lot of times, guys just say get it through, wrist shots this, wrist shots that,” Doughty observed. “But guys are too good at blocking those wrist shots now. Guys don’t want to block slap shots.”
“I think every one of my goals [this season has come] on slap shots, thus far.” Doughty added. “I worked on that in the off-season—my shooting. I worked on that with Blakey and John, and I think it’s helped.”
“I’ve just been working on it in practice, and I’ve gotten better at it. Sometimes, they just don’t go in for you. Like I said, I worked on it a lot over the summer. I learned a couple of different things guys around the league do, and I use those.”
And what exactly are those different things?
“It’s just kinda what I’m looking at,” he said. “A lot of times, I would try to go through a guy’s legs. From up top, a lot of times, there’s not a lot of space. The shot has to be absolutely perfect.”
“Now it’s more deceptive movement,” he added. “Make’em think you’re going one way, then you pull the puck the other way and shoot it there. It’s more about that than just trying to get by him without making him move. I want him to be thinking, ‘is he going to move or not?’ That’s what opens a shooting lane.”
Getting his point shot off quicker, most noticeably by shortening his backswing significantly, has also been a factor, even though that’s not something he worked on.
“One of the things that’s helped me with goal scoring this year is getting my shot off quicker,” said Doughty. “But I’ve never worked on that, really. If my backswing is shorter, I haven’t noticed it, myself. Blakey just told me that every time he got the puck, he was shooting it. He really just wanted me to have a shoot first mentality.”
Doughty added that getting a shot through to the net isn’t just about scoring goals, at least, not directly.
“It’s not always about putting the puck in the net,” added Doughty. “It’s about getting it down to the net, hoping that one of our guys can bang a rebound in. Even if it’s a shot [that’s stopped], if we can get the loose puck back, reset and get more shots on net, teams start to back off.”
Aside from improved offensive numbers, Doughty’s entire game has been outstanding this season, worthy of consideration for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top defenseman. But as they say, you’re your own worst critic.
“I’ve felt like the last four or five games, I haven’t played my best,” he said. “Ever since the Anaheim or Dallas games [January 17 and 19, respectively], I haven’t been playing too well. But before that, I think I played well every single game. I think I’ve been pretty consistent this year, which is something I’ve been working on.”
“Right now, I’m on track for my best statistical season in awhile, but I still think I’ve got a lot more,” he added.
With the fine season he’s having, Doughty has thought about winning the Norris Trophy.
But not much.
“I think about it once in awhile,” said Doughty. “Obviously, I want to win it. But it’s not the be-all-end-all. All I really care about is winning another Stanley Cup this year. We have a lot of work to do. We want to finish in first place in our division and conference, if we can.”
Perhaps noting that playing on the West Coast puts him at a rather hefty disadvantage for consideration for Norris Trophy, Doughty shrugged it off.
“It’s in the back of my mind, but I’m not banking on it.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (right) receives instruction from associate head coach John Stevens (left). Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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