The youngest player in Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta kept his eyes wide-open, and made it a point to take plenty of notes over the weekend.
“It always helps to be around great players,” Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “You never know when you’re going to see a couple of moves or plays that you can copy.”
Kopitar is only 20, but he already has moves of his own that some of the League’s elite players can note. Kopitar did not pick up any points in the All-Star Game, but he displayed one of his best moves Sunday in Atlanta, making a stunning pass from behind the net that somehow ended up on the tape of linemate Mike Ribeiro, who did not score. No matter. The NHL’s first player from Slovenia made it clear he belongs with the League’s elite.
Kopitar has also steered clear of the “sophomore jinx” this season. He’s on pace for 30 goals and 73 points, up from 19 goals and 46 points last season.
With a league-worst 42 points (20-29-2), it’s his Kings team that is having trouble making the grade. The Kings were one of the biggest disappointments of the season’s first half, and no one is more unsatisfied with the club’s play than Kopitar, who entered the season expecting a turnaround.
“We had that bad year last year and we were talking about this year and how much better it’s going to be,” Kopitar said. “But, it’s pretty much the same.”
The Kings have been beset by their perennial woes in net, where Jason LaBarbera and Jean-Sebastien Aubin have played hot potato with the starting goaltending job. LaBarbera’s 2.90 goals-against average is 34th in the NHL, while Aubin’s 3.19 mark ranks 44th. Collectively, the Kings rank 28th in goals allowed (3.28 per game).
Former first-round draft pick Jonathan Bernier is developing at Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior League, meaning patience might be the answer. The 19-year-old Bernier is 10-9 with a 2.96 GAA and .903 save percentage in 20 appearances for Lewiston.
Improved goaltending won’t be a panacea for the Kings, but it would go a long way toward giving the team a more balanced makeup. The Kings rank 14th offensively, averaging 2.74 goals per game, and possess the NHL’s fifth most effective power play unit, converting 19.9 percent of the time.Their penalty killing, not surprisingly, has been troublesome, ranking 28th.
The Kings’ young nucleus of Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov and Jack Johnson, continues to improve. So why does the team remain stuck in reverse?
“It’s frustrating,” said Kopitar, who believes the Kings are closer than their record suggests. “We’ve had games this year in which we played really well. We beat a couple of really good teams. That just shows how good our team can be. We need to get more consistent. Sometimes that’s the problem when you have so many young guys. We’re not as consistent as a 10-year veteran in the league.”
Losing eight one-goal games has added to the frustration. But all those tough losses have also provided hope that the Kings aren’t all that far away.
“When you’re losing one-goal games,” Kopitar said, “you’re obviously doing some things right. That’s the thing that is frustrating. You’re doing good things on the ice and you’re staying in the games, but you don’t get any results out of it. That’s the hardest part. You don’t get any points and you’re just sliding down the standings, which is not good at all.”
Kopitar is frustrated, but he has not lost faith.
“Sometimes,” Kopitar says, “it takes a little longer to learn all the stuff you need to know. When we learn those things, I think that we will be a good team. I think it will happen soon.”
Around the Pacific -- Not surprisingly, Teemu Selanne has decided to rejoin the Ducks. Selanne will join the Ducks for their eight-game, 15-day road trip. … Anaheim GM Brian Burke says he’s not interested in occupying the vacant general manager’s office in Toronto, but the Canadian media isn’t buying his disinterest, insisting he’s still a candidate. … Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract with the Coyotes last week. “I chose to stay in Phoenix,” Bryzgalov told the Arizona Republic, “because I love our fans, my teammates, and I'm confident that we have a bright future ahead of us.”… San Jose coach Ron Wilson served as an assistant coach during the All-Star Game in Atlanta, and commemorated the occasion by purchasing 10 authentic, $300 jerseys for various family members. “You get one for yourself,” Wilson told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News, “and then you’ve got to shovel out the money.”
Who’s hot -- Shane Doan of Phoenix has 18 points in 11 games; teammate Peter Mueller has eight points in five games. Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is 2-0-1 with a 1.90 GAA and .922 save percentage in his last three games. … Joe Thornton of the Sharks picked up four assists in his last two games. Thornton began the week with 45 assists, tops in the NHL. Thornton is eighth in the league in scoring with 60 points. …The Sharks’ Milan Michalek has picked up six points in four games, while Patrick Marleau has seven points in seven games. Sandis Ozolinsh has four points in three games. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has picked up wins in his last two starts, posting a 1.50 GAA and .938 save percentage. … Alexander Frolov of the Kings has 14 points in his last 11 games. … Mike Ribeiro of the Stars has 10 points in 10 games; teammate Brenden Morrow has five points in five games. … In Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf has 14 points in 11 games, while goaltender Jonas Hiller is 2-0-0 with a 1.20 GAA and .951 save percentage in his last three appearances.
Who’s not -- Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere is 0-3-0 with a lowly .883 save percentage in his last three appearances. Teammate Brian Sutherby has been kept off the score sheet for 13 consecutive games, while Scott Niedermayer hasn’t scored in five contests. …The Coyotes’ Mike York has not scored in 10 games. … Rob Blake of the Kings is scoreless in four games. Not counting the abbreviated lockout season of 1994-95 when he had four goals, Blake is on pace for a career-low six goals.
The week ahead -- All five Pacific Division teams will launch the season’s unofficial second half with road trips. Anaheim takes a three-game losing streak along as the Ducks embark on an eight-game road trip that takes them to Minnesota, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York (for games against the Islanders and Rangers), New Jersey, Detroit, and Colorado. The Ducks won’t play their next home game until Feb. 15, when they host Dallas. … Dallas begins the post-All-Star Game portion of the schedule in Western Canada, where the Stars face Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. … Los Angeles plays eight straight away from Staples Center, visiting Philadelphia, Long Island, Manhattan, New Jersey, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and St. Louis. … Phoenix kicks off a five-game road at Columbus, then visits Detroit, Nashville, Colorado, and Calgary. … San Jose plays back-to-back road contests, traveling to Edmonton and Calgary.