The evolution of Anze Kopitar
’s game can be seen in his statistics, to be certain, as Kopitar is on pace to set career highs in both goals and assists.
Kopitar’s biggest improvement, though, can’t be measured in his own stats. It’s measured in the lack of numbers put up by opposing forwards.
For long stretches of games this season, even at home, when the Kings have the right to the final line change, Kings coach Terry Murray has felt comfortable leaving Kopitar’s line on the ice against the opposing team’s top line.
Two years ago, the thought of a Kopitar-centered line consistently facing a line centered by Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, for instance, would not have been a pleasant thought.
But, in Murray’s mind, Kopitar did the hard work last season, and learned how to be a complete player. Now, Murray doesn’t hesitate to use Kopitar in any situation. On Thursday, Getzlaf had two assists but only one shot in the Kings’ 6-4 victory.
Kopitar has a plus-9 rating this season. In his first three NHL seasons, respectively, he had ratings of minus-12, minus-15 and minus-17. Part of the improvement can be attributed to better overall team play, but Murray sees a different Kopitar as well.
"I really like the commitment he made last year, to the checking part of the game," Murray said. "He really bought into it and worked hard at staying on page with it throughout the whole year. I've said this before. I think, on the offensive part of the game, he paid a price, production-wise, but there's a foundation in place now that is going to catapult his game. You have to be able to know what to do against elite players in the game, and he has figured that part out.
"I loved the game last night, not only his physical game -- his puck possession, his awareness, his scoring -- but, if you're going to break through to the next level, it's about attitude. It's about your mental state. This is where this team is starting to grow, big time, and Kopi is leading the way with that attitude that, `I can get the job done. I'm going to do the job. Just jump on my coat tails and follow me, boys. I'm going to lead the way.'
"When you have a core group that has an attitude such as that, then you grow as a team very, very quickly. He is starting to become a real man out there, in my mind, with his attitude and play." CHANGES TO COME
Unhappy with the Kings’ play in the third period Thursday night, when they let a three-goal lead slip away in the third period and had to rally for the win, Murray said he is mulling lineup changes for Saturday’s game against Detroit at STAPLES Center.
Murray did not disclose what the changes would be, but did say that defenseman Davis Drewiske
would not yet return to the lineup. Peter Harrold, who had been playing as a forward of late, was back practicing as a defenseman on Friday.
"I've got to make some changes, for sure," Murray said. "I'm not really sure what I'm going to do yet, but I've got to change a couple things around."
WINNING AND HAVING FUN
The Kings will go for a franchise-record ninth consecutive win tomorrow, and while the players might not be counting – after Thursday’s game, Kopitar asked a reporter if the Kings had set a record – they know that winning breeds fun.
After Friday’s practice, second-year defenseman Drew Doughty
contrasted the feel in the locker room this season compared to last season, when the Kings finished with the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
"Coming to the rink every day is a lot more fun than it was last year," Doughty said. "Last year, you would come in here and everyone was a little quiet. You didn't want to say too much, because we were losing and obviously we were down and not having fun losing. But coming in here every day, it's fun.
"We're loud, having fun in the locker room and the music is blaring. When you're having fun at the rink, you're going to perform a lot better on the ice, and the way it's going right now is pretty awesome."