A minor change in Alec Martinez's mindset coming out of the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics led to a major breakthrough in his game, lifting the Los Angeles Kings defenseman into a more prominent role heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's no secret that teams are focused on blocking shots and guys are really good at it, so as defensemen we had to focus on getting more shots through," Martinez told NHL.com. "I've just been trying to get 'em to the net. With our style of play, the forwards get in on the forecheck and you want to grind teams down, so if we can make that low-to-high play and get that shot through we can create some scoring opportunities."
With one simple adjustment Martinez has become a bigger factor in the Kings' offense. He's given them a desperately needed shot in the arm.
Martinez scored seven goals (on 32 shots) and had 15 points in the final 22 games after scoring four times on 47 shots and registering seven points in his first 39 games.
He's gone from occasional healthy scratch before the Olympics (16 times in total) to Drew Doughty's defense partner on the point of the Kings' first power-play unit, which also features Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. Doughty missed the final four games of the regular season, but should be able to play in Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks.
Martinez had three goals and four assists and averaged more than two minutes of ice time per game on the power play in his 22 games after the Olympic break. He had four minutes of power-play ice time in three games. Prior to the break he was averaging approximately 1:30 of ice time per game on the second power-play unit.
"If you look at that power-play unit, I mean, Drew Doughty is on that, and if you can't play with that guy you've got serious problems," Martinez said. "He's one of the best, if not the best d-man in the League. He's making plays. Then you've got Jeff Carter making plays and capable of putting the puck in the net, Marian Gaborik, and, obviously, Kopitar being one of the best centermen in the League. I've just been a benefactor of them making good plays and maybe a little bit of luck in there too.
"I've been able to put the puck in the net a little bit and that certainly helps and opens up some more doors. I'm just trying to keep my game at an elite level here and, hopefully, carry it into the playoffs."
It's no secret the Kings don't score a lot, especially in 5-on-5 situations, but that only makes their power play more important. The man-advantage unit paced L.A.'s offense in the 23 games after the Olympics, clicking at 19.7 percent (14-for-67), more than four percent better than the Kings' season average.
Martinez was part of the solution which got the power play going and the offense rolling. He has to continue to be part of the answer in the playoffs if the Kings want to score enough to advance.
"Post-Olympic break the power play was extremely important," Kings television analyst Jim Fox said. "It became efficient. It scored third-period [goals], game-winning goals, and Alec was a part of a lot of those. That's an X-factor in itself. If that stays as it has been then watch out, because then it gives the Kings the element they need."