LOS ANGELES -- Anze Kopitar
and Marian Gaborik
were briefly neighbors in the popular town of Manhattan Beach, Calif., when Kopitar was remodeling a home earlier this season. It's a natural fit: The two are cut from the same cloth, elite European players who enjoy anonymity in Southern California.
But the buddy-movie notion of the two taking Kopitar's dog, Gustl, for a walk on the strand is slightly farfetched.
"We haven't gotten that far yet," Kopitar said.
That also might apply to their ongoing chemistry project this season for the Los Angeles Kings. After Gaborik and Kopitar clicked in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two will continue searching for that mesh when the Kings look to continue their climb up the Western Conference standings Wednesday at the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
Kopitar has 11 points in the past 14 games and is on pace to lead the Kings in scoring for the eighth straight season. Gaborik leads the Kings with 10 power-play goals and is second with 21 goals. The linemates, much like the Kings, are effective in stretches but haven't been able to find consistency.
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter judges players by the Kings' record with them in or out of the lineup. Los Angeles is 7-7-2 without Gaborik or Kopitar; Gaborik missed eight of the first 11 games of the season with an injury.
It speaks to Sutter's faith that he has kept Kopitar and Gaborik intact through hot and cold streaks. Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli also have remained linemates.
"You look at how much it's affected our record by those guys not being in the lineup and not playing together, it has a dramatic effect," Sutter said. "The story [of] Jeff and Tyler is a good story; they've carried us off and on all year. The reason is [Kopitar] and [Gaborik] not being consistent and productive together. [Gaborik] is leading our team in power-play goals, and we need him to do that. If you look at him, based on games played, he's a 30-40-goal scorer. So if we had him every game, we've been better off."
Sutter out of superstition was reluctant to talk about Kopitar and Gaborik staying healthy. Gaborik made the knock-on-wood gesture when asked about being able to stay in the lineup. He has a significant history of injuries, but the Kings signed him to a seven-year contract worth $34.1 million after they won their second Stanley Cup last June.
Gaborik mentioned Sutter's confidence, especially given that the coach is ruthless in his lineup changes.
"There's a trust that we can know that we get it done," Gaborik said. "We have to keep working on things and we have to keep getting it done. We've been able to click out there.
"[Anze is] a great possession player, and he can find people. You can use that to stay close to each other and use that for a give-and-go game."
Right Wing - LAK
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 38
SOG: 136 | +/-: 8
Even though Gaborik fit in with the Kings seamlessly after he arrived at the NHL Trade Deadline last season, he said it was beneficial to have a full offseason and season with them. In addition to the contract extension, he bought a home in Manhattan Beach in December (Kopitar is nearby) and can grab a cup of coffee without getting recognized.
"This year, it's been good that I started out right away in camp with these guys and just started from scratch," Gaborik said. "It feels good. Everyone believes we have a good team. We just need to get going here.
"You enjoy more when you win. Hopefully we can keep it that way."
Gaborik has gone long stretches without scoring, but had a six-game point streak and tied a career-high five-game goal-scoring streak this season.
"There's not much more that needs to be said about it," forward Justin Williams said. "He’s a world-class guy. He scores a lot of goals, and when he's on his game, he makes a lot of plays, and one thing a lot of people don’t know about [Gaborik] is they figure he scores a lot of goals from the high slot, but he scores a lot of goals from the dirty areas. He scores a lot of goals going to the net, poking at rebounds. And I think that's a misconception about him sometimes from the outside, that he's just a perimeter player. He's not."
Kopitar continues to establish himself among the top two-way centers in the NHL, which makes the games against Anaheim more interesting because the Ducks can counter with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler.
Center - LAK
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 52
SOG: 107 | +/-: -2
The Ducks and Kings have great respect for each other but don't publicly pump up the rivalry as much as the local media wishes. Los Angeles has more immediate worries about making the playoffs, and Wednesday is their biggest obstacle yet.
"I guess in some ways it's kind of good to put yourselves in this position because you're forced to play your best hockey and then carry it over into the playoffs," Kopitar said. "We definitely want to go work at our game and be on our top of game come mid-April."
The Kings are 1-1-2 against the Ducks this season and have not won at Honda Center, where they won Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round, the first playoff series between the teams.
They are in position to meet again, possibly in the first round, and Kopitar talked as if were a foregone conclusion.
"It's probably just going to add a little more fuel to the fire that we already have," he said. "It's not going to be anything new. It's just going to be another playoff series, obviously an intense one. Those are fun to play in."