So, did Drew Doughty string together a stretch of standout games prior to the Christmas break, or was he simply just playing up to his regular capability?
“It looks the same to me as it does to you every night when he plays half the game, plays every situation,” Darryl Sutter said.
Yes, and he flourished in those situations, as he does most nights. But wasn’t there a stretch of play in the first, oh, 25 games of the season where he, like many who returned from the World Cup of Hockey, wasn’t at his absolute best? If there was, it’s news to some.
“He’s a great player. These guys don’t have much ebb-and-flow in their game,” Sutter said. “They’re pretty consistent. That’s why they are.”
Asking hockey operations about whether there had been a dip in his game nearly elicited laughs. There are those in the front office who view Doughty as the best player in the entire sport.
Speaking with the defenseman himself, he said that he’s “felt good for a little while now” – keep in mind he was a bit dinged up prior to the team’s most recent trip – and focuses on playing better defense while helping “everyone become better on the ice and play hard,” as he stated following the team’s morning skate.
But when his game is at its zenith, what are the indications he receives that things are really going well?
“I’m not afraid to make any plays, my hands feel good, I’m playing defensively, positionally I’m in the right spot. I don’t have to do as much work because when you’re in the right spot you’re not having to work as hard,” he answered. “So that, playing physical, moving pucks up the floor, and trying to get involved in offense which has probably been the worst part of my game so far. I’m not putting up many points, but if I’m playing good defense I’m happy.”
For what it’s worth, he’s on pace for 10 goals and 41 points. That’s hardly concerning, but it is 10 points off last season’s Norris Trophy campaign and five points off his 2014-15 pace. He’ll play his 199th consecutive game tonight and with one more assist will surpass Mark Hardy for second place all-time among Los Angeles defensemen.
Maybe it’s linked, and maybe it isn’t, but Doughty’s play on the road trip appeared to be a factor in Los Angeles managing to pull points from five of the first seven games away from Staples Center.
“We seemed to be really hungry on that road trip,” Doughty said. “We were kind of sick of winning three games and losing three games. We were sick of that. We knew we had to become more consistent and we put a lot of focus on that and we were determined to win every single game. Obviously we didn’t, but like you said we got points, so we can’t be too upset about that.”