Just to be on the safe side, Drew Doughty
might want to start tucking a rabbit’s foot in his skate.
The past two months have not been particularly lucky or smooth for Doughty, who is trying to put his inconsistent 2010-11 season behind him and return to his marvelous play of the season before, when he wowed the NHL and earned a nomination for the Norris Trophy as a 20-year-old defenseman.
Doughty’s start has been clunky, a bit like the engine of a 1984 Ford Escort trying to turn over. He is once again leading the Kings in average ice time but has yet to score a goal to go with four assists in nine games.
To whom much is given, much is expected, and that’s why critical eyes have turned to Doughty, and why not all of his early-season struggles are merely written off to bad luck. He’s had one injury, and narrowly avoided another over the weekend, but some suggest he’s still trying to play catch-up from the summer.
``It’s not going my way, just in all areas, whether it’s getting hurt or trying to get points,’’ Doughty said. ``Nothing is going my way.
That’s part of hockey, and it’s just something I’ve got to overcome and deal with. I’ll be fine. I’ve just got to get back out there and do my thing.’’
On July 1, Doughty became a restricted free agent, a player without a contract. As negotiations dragged out, and became increasingly public and messy, Doughty first missed some voluntary summer workouts with his teammates and then did not report for the start of training camp in mid-September.
So while his teammates skated, bonded and worked together in Southern California, Doughty remained tucked away in the Toronto area, working out diligently with younger players, but not at an NHL level.
Both sides exhaled on Sept. 29, when Doughty and the Kings agreed to an eight-year contract worth an average of $7 million per season, but the good feelings lasted just more than two weeks.
In the fourth game of the season, Oct. 15 at Philadelphia, Doughty took a crunching shoulder-to-shoulder check from the Flyers’ Zac Rinaldo and left the game after less than a minute. Doughty would be out of action for two weeks and miss five games, and it’s been a bit of a tough go on the ice since his return.
``It’s a process,’’ Doughty said. ``I think, since I’ve got back, I’ve been better and better every game. I think I’ve played pretty well.
Even though I’m not getting points, I think, defensively, (against
Pittsburgh) we shut down (Evgeni) Malkin, and that’s a huge challenge because he’s such a good player and has good wingers as well. But it’s a process, and it’s frustrating for me, obviously, but I can’t get frustrated with myself. I’ve just to continue to work hard in practice, and I’ll be better in game.’’
Per normal for an injured player, Doughty has needed a bit of a readjustment period upon his return, but the player who totaled 59 points in his second NHL season has been off pace. Doughty did give his numbers a bit of a boost with a two-assist effort Monday, but that was in a 4-2 loss to San Jose.
To add, well, injury to another injury, Doughty took home a souvenir from Saturday’s shootout loss to Pittsburgh: a shiner around his left eye, suffered when a deflected puck actually went up under his visor, broke it into pieces and hit him flush around the orbital bone, fortunately not causing serious injury.
``I went to go stick-on-puck and it jumped up, and luckily it hit my visor,’’ Doughty said. ``It hit my visor, and right when it hit, it was going like a saucer and as it hit my visor it flattened it. So it kind of hit me right around the whole eye. So I got lucky, because if it was a saucer I would have had stitches for sure.
``It would have been a huge cut and it might have hit me right on the eyeball. That wouldn’t have been good. So, if I wasn’t wearing a visor, I might not be too good today, or ever. So I got really lucky.’’
It’s been that kind of season for Doughty, but the question -- unanswerable as it might be -- is: how much of Doughty’s early-season struggle would have been avoided with a full training camp? Clearly, the injury was a fluke situation, but coach Terry Murray holds a general theory about Doughty’s play.
``I think a lot has to do…I’ve seen this so many times, over the years, with players who, for whatever reason, miss the training camp,’’ Murray said. ``There’s some lag time here, to get the rust off, to get the cobwebs out, to get going into that high-level game.’’
Perhaps not surprisingly, Doughty isn’t really in agreement with his coach.
``No, I don’t think so,’’ Doughty said when asked about any residual effects from missing training camp. ``I thought my first couple games, when I did get back, over in Europe, I thought I played great. After I got hurt and came back, maybe I did have a little bit of a slow start in the first game, but since then I think I’ve played pretty well.
``I’ve been good defensively and I’ve been creating offensive opportunities as well, but they’re just not going in. So I just need to continue to do what I’m doing, and eventually the bounces will come.’’
Regardless, Doughty and Murray agree on one key point: Doughty needs to get on the score sheet on a more regular basis, as do most of the Kings’ defensemen. Doughty said there is more that he, and his fellow defensemen, can do to be more involved. Perhaps, then, luck will start coming Doughty’s way.
``In the offensive zone, more movement,’’ Doughty said. ``As D men, sometimes we just stand still at the blue line and we don’t really move as much. I think, this year, we’re really trying to move more, whether it’s switches or moving down low. It’s something that is really important to do. It will help us create offense, and as an offensive defenseman I love doing it. So it’s a huge part of our game, and hopefully it will get us some more pucks to the net.’’