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Anze Kopitar is Happy, Healthy and Producing Again for LA Kings

'He never said a word. He couldn't shoot for three months. That hurt his numbers. The goals weren't there because he couldn't shoot.' - Kings president Luc Robitaille on Kopitar suffering a wrist injury in November last season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LA Kings center Anze Kopitar is scoring again, and it's no wonder, really.

He didn't play two tournaments before the NHL season started. He isn't adjusting to being the Kings captain or living up to a huge contract. He isn't dealing with a wrist injury.

For all the other factors, among them a new coach and strong linemates, what hasn't happened is more significant than what has.

"I'm feeling good this year," Kopitar said. "Maybe that's the biggest reason."

When Kopitar scored two goals in a 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday, it gave him 12 goals in 25 games. He had 12 goals in 76 games last season, his lowest total in an 82-game season since he entered the NHL in 2006-07.

He also had an assist against the Red Wings, giving him 28 points. He had 52 points in 2016-17, also his lowest total in a full season.

In terms of goals per game (0.48) and points per game (1.12), he's producing at the highest rate of his NHL career entering the Kings' game against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Thursday.

If he continues to produce at this level, he'll finish with personal bests of 39 goals and 92 points, bettering the 34 goals and 81 points he had in 2009-10.

"I'm feeling obviously confident again," Kopitar said. "You know, I guess, a big part of it is confidence too, and having a good start, myself and the team. It makes it a lot more fun obviously. You just get rolling like that."

Video: LAK@DET: Kopitar picks the corner for his second goal

Kopitar never had a chance to get rolling last season. He played three games for Slovenia in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Minsk, Belarus, then played six games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in Toronto, then reported to the Kings.

"I was pretty tired going into the season," he said.

On top of that he was starting his first season as captain and the first season of an eight-year contract reportedly valued at $80 million ($10 million average annual value). The Kings started 7-8-0 and he had eight points (two goals, six assists).

On top of that he injured his wrist during a 2-1 loss against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Nov. 11. During the next 32 games the Kings went 15-13-4, and Kopitar, playing in 26 of those games, had 17 points (two goals, 15 assists).

"He never said a word," Kings president Luc Robitaille said. "He couldn't shoot for three months. That hurt his numbers. The goals weren't there because he couldn't shoot."

All of it piled up, and piled up, and piled up.

"He had a lot on his plate last year, and as a team we struggled," said forward Dustin Brown, Kopitar's predecessor as captain. "I know how that feels when the team's struggling and you're a leader."

All the while, though, Kopitar averaged 20:45 of ice time per game and had a 54.45 shot-attempts percentage.

"It wasn't like he wasn't performing," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "He was playing his butt off and playing well. He just wasn't getting points. Sometimes that's the way she goes. But he's back."

Video: NYI@LAK: Doughty taps in Kopitar's pass for SHG

After the Kings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they replaced coach Darryl Sutter with assistant John Stevens, who had a plan to boost the offense by moving the puck through the middle of the ice quicker and getting it into high-danger areas more often. Kopitar had a long summer to rest and reset.

The Kings started this season 11-2-2, and Kopitar had 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists). After a 1-6-0 stretch in which Kopitar had five points (one goal, four assists), they're 2-0-1 in their past three, during which Kopitar has four points (three goals, one assist).

Stevens has reunited Kopitar and Brown, who had chemistry in the past, and they look rejuvenated on a line with rookie Alex Iafallo. Brown and Iafallo complement Kopitar's skill set.

"I think [Kopitar] kind of missed that in the past," Doughty said. "He didn't have two guys that are really good on the forecheck to get him the puck. I think that they're doing a good job this year."

When Kopitar gets the puck now, he can let it go. His first goal against the Red Wings came on the power play, when he won a face-off, got into position for a one-timer and blasted a hard cross-ice pass from Doughty past goaltender Jimmy Howard. His second goal came when he took a pass from Doughty in the neutral zone, skated across the blue line and flicked a wrist shot from the right circle through a screen by Brown.

"Basically when I'm on the ice with him, my first thing is, I'm just going to get [Kopitar] the puck and then I'll join the rush with him," Doughty said. "He has that talent where he can just go through the entire team and get the zone.

"I don't know. He does it all. That's all I can say. There's other centermen in the League that do it all too, but not to the same ability that he does it, that's for sure."

Video: Anze Kopitar lands at No. 36 on the list

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