Though neither the Kings nor the Flames were particularly interested in revisiting the events of late last season while speaking with the media before the teams’ first 2017-18 meeting, the renewed hostilities between the former Smythe Division and current Pacific Division rivals were reawakened during several third period episodes that resulted in Drew Doughty standing in the penalty box, yelling at Matthew Tkachuk, who, during a fracas in front of the Kings goal, pulled Jonathan Quick’s mask off as the Los Angeles goalie attempted to take out the second-year forward’s leg with his stick. Chaos ensued.
Doughty would never be expected to share what was said in the penalty box – that’s for players (and, apparently, the off-ice officials) only, and media and fans do not need to be privy to such information exchanged in the heat of competition – but did acknowledge that it was the encounter with Quick that had set him off.
“I could see what he was doing to Quickie from the box, so that’s why I lost it on him,” he said. “…It’s a fun part of hockey – not liking other guys on a team, and them not liking me back. That’s one of the reasons I play the game. I love that stuff. I have fun when I’m doing it.”
Both players are identified on the lineup board before games. Doughty, a two-time Stanley Cup winner and two-time gold medalist, is understandably a target for the opposition as one of the most elite players at his position in the sport. Tkachuk, who backs up his agitating with confident and effective play as a power forward capable of scoring from close quarters and while on the rush, is a heck of a lot more than an irritant a few months shy of his 20th birthday.
While Doughty knows that he’ll be a focal point of the other team’s efforts to get him off his game, he believes he does have a target on his back when Los Angeles faces Calgary.
“Oh, 100%. I do when I play every team, really, but those guys really try,” he said. “I think they feel like if they get under my skin, it takes away from our team’s game, and I don’t know if that’s true, but when they’re trying to get under my skin like that, it makes me hungrier and want to play better. I like playing pissed off, so I’m happy with that. I’m fine with it.”
Well, what does his coach think? The Drew Doughty-John Stevens relationship sustained high notes over recent years after both had acknowledged that some maintenance was necessary shortly after Stevens joined Terry Murray’s staff as an assistant coach in 2010. But in concert with Doughty’s all-world ability, Stevens has had an influence on the defender’s evolution into the premier all-around defenseman in today’s game, just as he has had influences on plenty of Kings defensemen finding good balance in their game this decade. Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Derek Forbort and others have all developed into multifaceted defensemen under Stevens, a meshing of their own natural ability and the equilibrium necessary to maintain a high level of success over 82-plus games.
Asked whether Doughty plays better when he’s angry, Stevens responded affirmatively, “as long as that emotion is kept in check.”
“It’s like anything,” Stevens said. “If you want to cook something, you need to apply heat to it, but if you apply too much heat you’re going to burn it, and something that could be very good could turn out very bad. I think it’s the very same in sports. You want to turn the temperature up, but you want to be able to have the thermostat that can control it. Drew’s a passionate guy. I think that’s what makes him such a great player. The bigger the game, the bigger the challenge, the better he is, and if Drew Doughty didn’t have passion and emotion, I didn’t think he’d be near the player that he is. He’s got great passion for the game, he’s a great competitor, and I’m not surprised he gets fired up in games like that.”
And that’s something Doughty understands. Frustrated that the team could’ve put the game away by converting one of their several high-grade opportunities while holding a one-goal lead, the team had to settle for one point in a divisional game.
“We could’ve easily buried them and gone up 4-2 probably three or four times and that would’ve solidified the game,” he said, before adding, “I think the coaches kind of want my emotion down a little bit and not losing it, but when other players do those things to our teammates, I can’t really help it.”
And therein lies the balance. Galvanize teammates by sticking up for them, but do so in a manner that doesn’t catalyze opponents, lead to penalties or get star players off their game. There was no indication Doughty was negatively affected after that incident – he took one lengthy shift after exiting the penalty box, and one 35-second overtime shift before Sean Monahan ended the game – as part of a one-assist, four-shot, two-hit, two-block performance over a healthy 27 minutes and 40 seconds of ice time.By the time of the penalty box exchange, Doughty was already irritated by the lack of a call when Michael Frolik glided towards him in the corner seeing only his number, and planted an angled check on his side as Doughty turned to move the puck up-ice. Planted helmet-first towards the glass, Doughty was slow to get up as hostilities were reawakened in the neutral zone.
“I was vulnerable, I wasn’t able to brace myself,” he said. “I was throwing a puck, and the ref told me that I went down easy. For him to say that really ticked me off, because I don’t understand how I can brace myself when I’m throwing a puck in the air. I was pissed off about that. It sucked that we couldn’t come back and win that.”
In the end, it was part of a sturdy performance by a team that generated a consistent attack over the game’s final 30 minutes and limited rush chances against but did not result in two points.
“Yeah, just too many turnovers, that’s what hurt us last night,” Doughty said. “I think every goal was the result of a turnover against. I think every single one was, actually. We were happy with our offensive production, for sure, and we had three goals. We had great net presence basically on every goal, great tips by Brownie. Something we had been harping on a lot was our net presence, so he was leading the way with that. So we’re happy with the offense, but defense is our pride, and we messed up on that last night.”
-Lead photo via Harry How/Getty Images