INSIDERS. A good afternoon to you. The LA Kings practiced at Bell MTS Iceplex at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning in Winnipeg and aligned thusly:
–It’s pretty remarkable that there are those like Andrew Cogliano, Jay Bouwmeester and Henrik Sedin, who’ve even gotten into the conversation towards giving Doug Jarvis a run at his NHL-record 964 consecutive games played. (Keith Yandle is the league’s current active Iron Man, having played in 716 straight entering tonight.)
Anze Kopitar, for an awfully long time, led the Kings with 330 consecutive games played between March, 2007 and his broken ankle in March, 2011. The eminently durable Dustin Brown came relatively close several years ago, appearing in 207 consecutive games before suffering an upper-body injury that kept him out of games at Boston and Columbus in December, 2016.
But Kopitar’s record fell Tuesday night when Drew Doughty, who hasn’t missed any regular season games since being held out of the lineup for four games at the end of the 2013-14 season, played in his 331st consecutive game. It’s not a shiny scoring statistic, but it’s still one that carries weight for the all-world defenseman.
“I don’t play a soft game. I play a hard game. I’m pretty proud of that stat, in a way,” Doughty said. “Obviously without our trainers, our medical staff and our equipment staff, that would never happen. I owe so much to those guys for always keeping me healthy and doing all the right things to get me back on the ice. My trainer in the summer, that guy from day one, everyone was kind of, ‘you’re not strong enough, Drew, you’re not working out hard enough in the summers,’ but he always said, ‘I’m just trying to prolong your career and keep you healthy.’ I believed him from day one, and he’s helped me with that, too. I’m just lucky that I’ve been fortunate enough not to have too many injuries, and like I said, if it wasn’t for the medical staff and the equipment staff, it would have never happened.”
Given the shot blocking and constant battling around the goal and below the goal line, it’s not particularly easy for defensemen to reach consecutive games played milestones. Of the 10 longest consecutive games played streaks in the NHL, eight were recorded by forwards.
“You’ve got to play injured. You don’t want to miss games,” Doughty said. “Even if you have a concussion or something, you don’t want to miss the game at all. You know you have to because you want to live a long life after hockey. You’re playing through injuries all the time. There’s not a single guy that doesn’t have a bump or bruise on their body and they aren’t playing through it. It’s just part of the game. The will to compete and the will to go out there and try to help your team is what takes over.”
It was a shoulder injury that caused Doughty to miss his last regular season games, suffered when he attempted to make a hit on Tyler Kennedy in San Jose in April, 2014. He returned for the playoff series against the Sharks and appeared in all 26 games that spring, playing through continued shoulder discomfort, as he noted.
“I actually separated it again during the playoff run, too,” he said. “Both playoff runs I separated my shoulder twice in the playoffs.”
“In playoffs, you want to be out there, you need your guys out there. Recovery for that is usually the summer. You’re doing stuff for it the whole summer. Trying to strengthen it, trying to get the mobility back in it. To this day, there’s guys that have shoulder injuries six years ago and they’re still working on stuff with it. Just the way it goes. Part of the game. Probably a lot of us won’t be walking too well when we’re done, but it’s just the way it goes.”
–The Kings are still looking to improve their puck management. Can that challenge be worked out by repetitions in practice, or might a different mindset be helpful?
“Today we had a lot of touches out there, a lot of one-touches. Everyone got to feel the puck a lot. I think it’s kind of a mental thing,” Trevor Lewis said. “You’ve got to manage the puck. You’ve got to be smart with it and not create too many turnovers. We can work on it as much as we want in practice, but I think it’s a mental thing. We’ve just got to get going here.”
It’s tied in with the team’s desire to play faster. Los Angeles’ team speed has improved, but it doesn’t necessarily take elite individual speed to make quick decisions with the puck.
“You’ve got to think quick and you’ve got to be able to execute,” John Stevens said. “We’ve got to think quicker. Our execution has to get better. That’s the whole focus of today. The puck speed, let it be your friend. You can be slow and play fast. If you’re fast and play fast, you’ve got a really good thing going on. Just execution.”
—The possession numbers from Tuesday’s game indicated that the two forwards to spend the most time in the offensive zone were Tyler Toffoli (16 CF, 16 CA) and Tanner Pearson (16 CF, 19 CA). Jeff Carter also had several excellent looks in the third period. Was Tuesday’s game any sort of step forward for that familiar combination?
“They’ve set the standard pretty high,” Stevens said. “I don’t think we’ve even come close to that yet. We’ve got some work to do there. Exactly how it all falls out, I’m not sure yet, but we’ve seen that group perform at a very high level at the most critical time of the year, and we just haven’t seen enough of a 200-foot game with those three guys together. And it’s not just them – we’re looking for some balance in our lineup and it hasn’t gotten back to the level that we’d hoped it would, just not yet.”
Like several facets of the team’s game, it’s a work in progress. The Kings will get another kick at the can Thursday at Montreal (4:30 p.m. PT / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network).
-Lead photo via Mike Stobe/NHLI