So, Alec Martinez has four goals and is tied for second on the team with 13 points. The reason?
“His partner’s been better, he’s giving him the puck. That’s all I can say,” Jake Muzzin said, laughing.
Funny Muzz! And while Muzzin has certainly held up his own end of the partnership through the first quarter of the season, he was just having a little bit of fun with a defensive partner who already has Western Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final-clinching goals under his name but is probably playing the best hockey of his career right now.
“No, he’s getting pucks through, jumping up in the play,” Muzzin continued. “I mean, a couple of overtime goals are big. Being in the rush and being in the right area at the right time, he’s been big for us, he’s won us some games, so he’ll continue going.”
The observation that he’s been jumping up in the play is something that was also noted by Darryl Sutter.
“He’s probably our best defenseman in recognizing when he can get into the rush,” Sutter said. “He’s one of the better defensemen in the league, actually, when you look at that, in terms of not just being there, [but] in terms of creating something or getting a shot or creating a quality chance.”
As a player heavily inclined to defer credit and accolades to the players around him, Martinez looked around the room when explaining his early season scoring punch.
“I think I’ve just been on the good end of a lot of other guys making good plays,” he said. “For instance, you take the goal [against the New York Islanders] that doesn’t go in unless Lewy’s in front giving the screen that he did. The one [versus New] Jersey, same way. If Brownie and Seto don’t have that staggered net presence, then that doesn’t go in. I don’t know – I think it’s just points are a funny thing. We’ve said it before, sometimes you feel like you’re playing great and the you’re not getting any and sometimes you feel like you’re not playing well at all and you’re getting ‘em. For whatever reason, they just keep dropping. Hopefully it keeps going.”
In addition to the production, Martinez has improved in his own end of the ice. There may have been some initial growing pains when circumstances dictated that he rise up into a second pairing role two seasons ago, but he clearly adheres to one of the staples of play under Darryl Sutter: move the puck out of your own zone and get it into the hands of the forwards quickly and efficiently. His mobility and ability to read plays and work with a raised pace has helped inflate his possession rates, which took a hit in the two most recent seasons as he adjusted to a more demanding role, but has shown improvement since then. He enters tonight’s game with a 57.1 Corsi-for rating and a +3.3 CF% relative to the team.
But apart from the metrics, Martinez working his way onto the scoresheet is clearly a boon for Los Angeles, which is 9-1-0 in games in which he has registered a point. While the Kings might be misidentified as a streaky team that has lost three, won four, lost three, won three, lost four (including one in overtime) and won four in a row, their performances have, for the most part, been consistent across the board; they’re just a low-shooting percentage team, and sometimes the puck doesn’t go in despite strong efforts, at least according to Sutter.
Martinez has also seen streaks in his own production and is working on a four-game point streak in addition to an earlier four game streak. There’s also been a six-game scoreless streak that ended when the team returned from its five-game road trip earlier this month.
Maybe his defensive partner should continue feeding him the puck, as he did with an important assist against the Islanders.
“I got [the puck] off the wall and gave it to Muzz, and Muzz kind of dragged both their forwards over to him and he was able to make a pretty tight pass,” he said. “That’s not an easy pass to make on the blue line there. I think I got it just inside the blue but that’s a really good play by him drawing two guys to him, that allows the lane to the net, and like I said, Lewie in front, so I’m just the benefactor, I guess.”
Alec Martinez, on averaging two shots on goal per game:
I am? I mean, I think you always have to take focus on getting more shots on net. I think, especially as D-men, often times the forwards are doing all the work down low, when they give us the puck up top and we go low to high it’s our job to get it through because we don’t want them go through all that work and get beat up only for us to get it blocked. Anyone who watches practice knows that we work on it literally every single day, so for whatever reason they just seem to be going through. I think that’s a focus that I’ve took but we all take.
Jake Muzzin, on Martinez improving his play defensively as well as offensively:
Yeah, well you have to or else you don’t play. You know you have to be a trustworthy guy defensively first and he’s proven that and the offense comes from playing good, strong defensive games. Points come and go, we all know that, so just keep riding that wave right now.
Muzzin, on whether one game in particular stands out as a best effort from his pairing:
Any one game? It’s tough, I don’t really reflect on one game. Something we pride on is being consistent game to game, so I think we continue to work on getting better every game. Continue pushing ourselves and we’ll be fine.
Muzzin, on their performance in the Anaheim game:
Yeah, it was solid. PK especially, giving ourselves a chance. Shutting down a lot of big guys and not giving them any opportunities was big and again tonight, you’ve got some high power on the other team as well, so it’s going to be a big test.