A more aerodynamic Kings squad took the ice for practice Sunday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex as forwards Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar emerged from the club’s dressing room neatly shorn and without the beards they had sported since the Movember mustaches were grown over.
“I guess the White House visit is coming up, and I didn’t feel like being seen as a grizzly bear,” Kopitar said.
In addition to shedding some whiskers, Kopitar and Carter will also be looking to shed the offensive inconsistencies that have plagued their home-road splits this season.
In 28 home games, Anze Kopitar has nine goals, 31 points and a plus-six rating. In 18 road games, he has two goals, seven points and a minus-12 rating.
In 28 home games, Jeff Carter has 12 goals, 29 points and a plus-14 rating. In 21 road games, he has two goals, seven points and a minus-11 rating.
The Kings, who recorded a .564 points percentage on the road over the previous five seasons – winning exactly half their road games with a 94-70-24 record – are only 5-10-6 away from Staples Center this season. Surely Kopitar and Carter’s road production influence-
“Influence winning and losing?” Darryl Sutter said, jumping into the conversation. “Yeah. If they don’t even out, they’re going to greatly influence winning and losing.”
It has become a bizarre development for a team that won its first 10 road games en route to the 2012 Stanley Cup and went 3-0 in road Game 7s while capturing the same trophy in 2014.
“I don’t think there’s any extra explanation or special explanation for it. It’s been like this for the last couple years,” said Kopitar, who had 42 points at home and 28 road points last season. “I mean, we’re getting the match-ups that the other team wants, and we just have to battle through it. I can talk for myself, but I know I haven’t played the best hockey out on the road. I’ve got to make sure that I get ready for it and raise my level of play.”
Perhaps Kopitar’s road challenges this season are a symptom of the team’s success and his own success in emerging, in the eyes of many observers, as one of the three best centers in the game, along with Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. Perhaps teams are keying in on him more. Perhaps he’s absorbing a greater degree of physicality compared to years past.
Kopitar wasn’t necessarily buying that.
“It does seem like I do get hit a little bit more, yeah, but some of it is my fault, not looking up and putting myself in that kind of position,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything extra special – maybe a little bit more – but nothing I’m worried about.”
While the team engineered a strong performance in the 3-1 loss to Boston Saturday night, playoff spots are awarded on points, not moral victories, and the Kings margin for error grows thinner each time they emerge from a road game empty-handed.
“Well, we were only going off starting off our road season last night, and we scored one goal, and Carts had two or three [Grade-A opportunities], and that’s what you expect, two or three Grade-A opportunities out of all your top players, not just one. So if you go past Jeff, in terms of Grade-A chances…”
Instead of finishing his thought, Sutter threw up a hand signal. Zero. There were no other Grade-A chances past Carter’s two or three, as Sutter noted.
Of course, the Kings checked very well in Saturday’s game and didn’t allow much through the center of the ice. As one of the league’s premier stick checkers and outstanding two-way centers, Kopitar clearly had his hand in the team’s defensive efforts and limiting the Bruins’ opportunities in a game that didn’t generate many high quality chances on either side.
“Now we’ve got to look ahead, and bottom line, just win games,” Kopitar said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to care if the numbers are good or great or just OK as long as we get the two points. In the end, they matter.”