In the two games since he was activated, Marian Gaborik logged 11:49 in Saturday’s win over Chicago, and, in a seemingly more comfortable performance, recorded an assist as part of 14:19 of ice time in Wednesday’s loss to San Jose. By the third period, Gaborik had moved up the lineup and saw shifts as part of both Nic Dowd and Anze Kopitar’s lines after having opened the game alongside Nick Shore and Jordan Nolan.
The Kings have been waiting for Gaborik to get back up to speed before aligning him more regularly with Kopitar, a decision that Darryl Sutter articulated Wednesday morning as part of an interesting look at how he structures his lineup. How are those decisions made? What is taken into consideration when deciding where to slot Gaborik? How has Kopitar’s game trended since he also returned from injury?
“You know what? As we go forward and Gabby, we see some improvement, then we’re going to give him an opportunity to play with Kopi. I think that he’s going to have to score to be able to do that, and he’s going to have to check,” Sutter said. “Gabby’s played now two games that are important in eight months. He came back in the playoffs last year and he was probably 75%, he played because he wanted to and his heart and we trusted him, but he was never up to where he wanted to be or where we expected him to be, and he had a tough regular season already as part of that. He played the other night and then he played last night, so he’s got two games under his belt. He is going to affect the changes in the lineup more than anybody else, talking about players that were injured or not injured. We’ve got lots of guys who can play on the fourth line. You know what? That depends on our opponent. We have five or six guys that are going to go in and out of the lineup and play on our fourth line. That’s something based on how much they contribute in terms of scoring and things like that … hey, those guys who’ve played nine or 10 games and want more, if they want to contribute, they’re not a shoo-in, they’re a game-time decision. Hey, I’d rather stick with Jeff’s line. I’d rather, but at the same time, the wingers on that line have got to produce, otherwise [they won’t play together]. It’s not that hard to figure out. A lot of it’s opponent or how they’re playing. Heck, we need to get Kopi up to speed.”
Sutter was then asked about Kopitar’s recent performance in light of that final comment.
“I think he was better last night,” he answered. “He’s been really good early in games. I think his ability to sustain a high level, which we expect out of him for the course of the game is something he’s got to work on, and I think the Dowd line, quite honest, is on the ice for too many goals against. You can’t just be on the ice and be a minus-player. They’ve got to be a better line for us, or else it’s not a line.”
Anze Kopitar, on whether he noticed any difference in Gaborik’s play between game one and two:
Well to be quite honest I wasn’t really paying attention a whole lot but it seems like he had the jump yesterday. He had a couple of good chances in the first and he was around the puck so that’s always good for him and for us.
Kopitar, on what jumps out Wednesday’s first period:
Yeah I just think, last night obviously the out of three goals were the odd-man rushes and that’s the kind of stuff we want to eliminate and it came off our mistakes, too. They didn’t make a spectacular play where we get a 2-on-1 rush, it was just our turnovers and it ended up costing us so we’ve got to eliminate those.
Kopitar, on how to counter an Arizona team that loads up the blue line:
Yeah, obviously just making good decisions at the blue line to begin with. You don’t want to turn the pucks over. Putting the pucks in, we’ve got to be smart about because Smith plays the puck really well, so we’ve got to keep it away from him as much as we can. But yeah, just coming together through the neutral zone, making the right decision and making good plays.
Kopitar, on whether there’s any “let-down” between playing the Sharks and then the Coyotes:
Well that shouldn’t be the case at all. We lost last night so if anything we’ve got to come out and we’ve got to come out swinging. If you look at their last few games they’ve played within the division they won a bunch of games so definitely can’t take them lightly and again, we’ve got to come out, look at ourselves, play hard and get it going.