Kopitar’s skill not limited to offense
Much attention has been paid this season to Anze Kopitar’s offense, and rightfully so, given that he is the Kings’ leading scorer and first-line center. Offensive production is key. Not to be overlooked, though, is the effort Kopitar has given, and the progress he has made, on the defensive end. In the three years since Terry Murray has taken over, Kopitar’s two-way game has blossomed, and it was apparent last night, when he did an outstanding job of killing penalties and helping the Kings hold down a one-goal late in the third period against Detroit. In fact, as Nick Nickson pointed out last night, Kopitar’s four games against the Red Wings this season provide a great case study. For much of the series, Kopitar’s line was matched up against the Detroit line that included high-level scorers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. In the four-game series, Kopitar had four goals and three assists. Datsyuk had one goal and one assist. Zetterberg had zero goals and two assists. To the extent that you believe plus-minus is a relevant stat, Kopitar went from minus-17 in 2008-09 to plus-6 last season to plus-20 so far this season.
KOPITAR: “It’s one of those things, where you want to be known as a two-way player. Both examples that you mentioned, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, they’re both really good defensively, and obviously you don’t have to explain their offense. Just matching against them, it’s a nice challenge for me. It’s where I want to be. You want to be remembered as a decent two-way player.”
Question: That has evolved, right? I mean, in your first couple years, you might not have been on the ice like that, late in a tight game…
KOPITAR: “I don’t think that happened very often when we were up one in the last few minutes. Now, I think Terry is comfortable putting me out there, and I’m definitely comfortable to go out there and shut it down. I’ve done it this year a bunch of times, and even last year. That comes with just the growth and the responsibility that you put on yourself. You’ve got to learn that. That’s what you learn as your career goes along.”
Murray also talked about Kopitar’s defensive prowess and his improvement in his own zone…
MURRAY: “Kopi, he’s a player that responds to a challenge against premier players in the game. I think, from where he has come from two years ago, in his checking game, he’s right there with any of the top players in the game in that kind of a responsibility. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s very heavy. He uses his stick extremely well, and that’s guy against players who have the puck on their stick a lot, like Datsyuk and Zetterberg. You have to have stick-on-puck. They cycle from below the goal line, or attack the seem at the top of the circle, and in today’s game you can’t put a hand on a player, so stick-on-puck and moving your feet, to take away shots and take away passing options, is absolutely critical to have. That’s where Kopi makes those good reads. You pick it out many different times in the game last night.”