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Kopitar, Kings 'have something to prove' after missing playoffs

Center says he expects turnaround under new coach McLellan

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Anze Kopitar said he expects better things from himself and the Los Angeles Kings this season after they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

"The way [last season] went, nobody was happy about it from top to bottom, so we have something to prove right now," the center said at the NHL Player Media Tour on Friday. "If that's not motivation enough, I don't know what is."

Kopitar said he expects new coach Todd McLellan to make a difference. McLellan was hired on April 16 to replace Willie Desjardins, who took over after John Stevens was fired after a 4-8-1 start.

 

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"Everybody had a good summer," Kopitar said. "Todd coming in is going to be somewhat of a fresh start, a new voice that we needed. And then it's the same thing: You have to have a good start to the season. That's what it is. Come Thursday, we have to start preparing toward the first game and making sure that the chemistry is there and the energy level and obviously the character is still there. I know that. But we have to put it all together."

The 32-year-old led the Kings with 60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) in 81 games last season, a big drop from the 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) he had in 2017-18, when he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most valuable player.

"You just kind of try to forget it and remember the year before when I was nominated for the MVP," said Kopitar, who won his second Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward in 2018. "I mean, you gotta take the good with the bad and the bad with the good."

Kopitar said he couldn't recover from a slow start last season.

"Just very hard to say," he said. "Sometimes not having a good start to the season certainly affects everything. You're not feeling as good, you don't feel comfortable or confident or all of the above, and whether that's personal or team, things just didn't go right, and we could not get it going. Even though we had some spurts when we were kind of there, we couldn't maintain and sustain it. It was the same for me."

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The Kings have plenty of work to do to get back into the playoffs after finishing last in the Pacific Division (31-42-9). Their goal differential of minus-60 was the worst in the NHL last season. Only Kopitar and forward Dustin Brown scored more than 20 goals (each had 22). After allowing the fewest goals in the NHL in 2017-18 (2.46 per game), the Kings were 22nd last season (3.26). 

McLellan was 434-282-90 in 11 seasons with the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers. He has guided his teams to the the playoffs seven times, including six of his seven seasons with San Jose. He's 37-38 in the postseason.

Kopitar said he likes what McLellan could bring to the Kings, especially on special teams. The Sharks' special teams were especially good under him. The power play was in the NHL's top 10 in his first six seasons. The Sharks' penalty kill ranked in the top 10 in four seasons. Last season, the Kings ranked 27th on the power play (15.8 percent) and 29th on the penalty kill (76.5 percent). 

"There are some new dynamics that Todd's going to bring, for sure," Kopitar said. "I know his special teams are really, really good, always. So that's maybe the biggest thing that I remember. I mean, playing against him in San Jose and Edmonton and even as an assistant in Detroit (under Mike Babcock from 2005-08). So I'm sure there's going to be an emphasis on that."

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