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Getzlaf, Kopitar at center of Ducks-Kings series

Friday, 05.02.2014 / 7:40 PM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Bob Gainey won the Selke Trophy the first four times it was awarded by the NHL, and until recently it often went to a forward who lacked elite offensive numbers.

There were some exceptions, like Bobby Clarke in 1983, Troy Murray in 1986 and a four-year run in the mid-1990s, but until 2006 it was more often than not the case. Teams deployed check-first centers to combat the best offensive players.

That philosophy changed for many teams around the NHL and caused a shift in the Selke Trophy voting. Rod Brind'Amour won twice and Pavel Datsyuk three times, and suddenly a defensive award was going to a great offensive player.

The responsibilities for a No. 1 center in the NHL have changed, and the Western Conference Second Round series between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings should be another example of that.

Anze Kopitar, a first-time Selke finalist, has evolved into one of the best all-around players in the world and is the No. 1 center for the Kings. Ryan Getzlaf, a Hart Trophy finalist and No. 1 center for the Ducks, is part of a group of franchise centers who excel at both ends of the ice; it includes Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, David Backes of the St. Louis Blues, and Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings.

"I think it goes in waves in what you have and similarities between players because of the way players are coached, drafted or all that on the development side. There is something that is working so everyone goes and does that," Los Angeles defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "I think right now we're in that wave of extremely strong, skilled, big, responsible centermen. They are a huge part for the teams that are winning. Those are the main centerpieces that those teams are built around, that and goaltending.

"What the reason for that is, I'm not sure, but I'd guess it is about the development being done beforehand to get those players to come up and be that way. Then it becomes how the coaches are allotting the ice time. I think coaches are pushing guys to be that way, and they are responding."

Getzlaf and Kopitar may see a lot of each other on the ice in this series, which begins Saturday at Honda Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN)

When the Kings eliminated the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round, Kopitar and Mike Richards played the most minutes against Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, San Jose's top two centers. Kopitar's line saw Couture's the most, and he had zero points in the final four games of the seven-game series, all won by Los Angeles.

In previous eras, the standard line of thinking was teams had offensive forwards and checking forwards; now the lines have been blurred. Kopitar, Toews and Bergeron (the three Selke finalists this year) get deployed against the opposing team's top players. Getzlaf wasn't always considered that type of player but he's grown into the role.

Kopitar and Getzlaf were among the top 30 forwards in the NHL in quality of forwards competition (QoC) and the top 20 in overall QoC, according to the metrics at ExtraSkater.com.

"[Kopitar] is a great hockey player," Getzlaf said. "I got a lot of respect for [Kopitar]. He plays the right way. He does things the right way. I welcome that challenge. It's a lot like the last series with [Jamie] Benn."

The Kings are the deeper team at center, so coach Darryl Sutter doesn't need to deploy Kopitar against Getzlaf, who finished second in the regular season with 87 points. Richards is considered a strong defensive center, and that could allow Kopitar the chance to go against one of Anaheim's other options.

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau will have more say in the matchups for the start of the series.

"I'm still thinking about that," Boudreau said Thursday. "They've got a big line in [Marian] Gaborik, [Dustin] Brown and Kopitar. When I mean big, I mean size. We've got Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry and [Matt] Beleskey and they're big too. It might be a good fit. I have to go through all my notes and see who we matched up and how we matched up and what we did in those matchups before I decide."

Kopitar was one of Los Angeles' best players when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, and he had a great showing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, helping Slovenia, which had no other NHL players, win two games and reach the quarterfinals.

Kopitar led the Kings with 29 goals and 70 points this season and likely earned some Hart Trophy votes.

"With Anze, he's just so responsible in all three zones," Regehr said. "In the defensive zone, he uses his size and strength to be responsible and be in the right areas shutting guys down, banging guys off the puck. Through the neutral zone, he's a lot of fun to watch. He either makes the move or gets the puck to the right person. Very rarely does he not get us through the neutral zone. You almost get used to how well he does it. In the offensive zone, he's the reverse of the defensive zone. He uses that body to shield the puck, keep bodies off him and control the puck, control plays down low."

Sutter definitely liked playing Kopitar against Getzlaf during the regular season. The Ducks captain saw more ice time against Kopitar than any other center in the League except for Thornton, Pavelski (who played on Thornton's wing a lot) and Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers.

Boudreau may look to avoid that matchup. When Getzlaf was on the ice against Kopitar at even strength, the Ducks had 24.5 percent of the shot attempts (Corsi).

"The guy is just flat-out good," Boudreau said of Kopitar. "I think he's up there with the best in the world. If you're playing against him, you'd better be ready because he can play both ends of the ice and he can do it all."

Part of dealing with Getzlaf means playing against trusted sidekick Perry as well. They've been one of the most productive duos in the NHL for years.

Perry won the Hart Trophy in 2011, and Getzlaf became an MVP candidate this season after setting a career-high with 31 goals.

"Those two have been together a long time," Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said. "They have a lot of chemistry together and they kind of know where they are going to be on certain plays. We have to be very clear with where they are on the ice and be very vocal with each other on how we defend that top line."

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