As it was in the second round against St. Louis, the battle of the centers figures to be an important one for the Kings in the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix. The Kings will line up Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll against Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette and Boyd Gordon. So far in this postseason, Hanzal has three goals in eight games, and Vermette has five goals in 11 games. (The Coyotes, it should be noted, have been a strong faceoff team as well.) Richards has been known, for a few years, as a solid two-way center, and Kopitar’s reputation in that area is growing as well.
SUTTER: “I think, from a statistics standpoint, he’s been really good, not just for the playoffs but probably for the last three months. He’s been a point-per-game guy, and that’s sort of what you want. … I think he is a complete player. I said that when they were talking about the Selke (Trophy) and the Lady Byng and all that. How could Kopitar not be in that? He’s a big part of the penalty-killing minutes on a good team. He takes big faceoffs, plays against top players, plays against checkers, plays a lot of minutes. So, I don’t think it’s something that has just, all of a sudden, come about. That’s part of his game.”
Kopitar’s development as a two-way player was a major point of emphasis for former coach Terry Murray. In terms of plus-minus rating, in Kopitar’s first three NHL seasons he was minus-12, minus-15 and minus-17, respectively. In his last three seasons, he has been plus-6, plus-25 and plus-12. Of course, that stat hold questionable meaning, and certainly the Kings, as a whole, have been better in the last three years, but it’s clear that Kopitar has improved as an all-around player, and that he takes some pride in that.
KOPITAR: “You want to be on the ice in every situation. Sometimes, if you’re not on penalty kill, it’s tough to stay in the game if we take a couple penalties in a row. For me, it’s just nice to stay in the flow and keep my body warm and try to help kill penalties, and obviously power play and stuff like that. It just gets you more involved.”