Milan Lucic and Anze Kopitar, thought to be oil and water when they were aligned together immediately before the Christmas break, have been playing very good hockey together since.
At the moment this should be taken with a small sample size warning, considering only seven games have elapsed and both players are sporting PDOs (What is PDO?) in the unsustainable 106-110 range, but in the games since Jeff Carter was felled by injury against Arizona, Anze Kopitar’s Corsi-for rating is 58.7% (+4.0 Corsi-rel), and Lucic’s is 59.3 (+4.8 Corsi-rel). With 3.5 points per 60 minutes over that span, Kopitar’s play has particularly blossomed. He’s got two goals and 11 points in the last eight games to move into a tie with Tyler Toffoli for the team lead with 31 points (11-20=31).
“After the Christmas break he definitely … has taken it up a few notches and showing why he’s one of the best centermen in the league,” Lucic said. “You see when he has the puck, it’s almost like he’s in the zone where you feel like he’s more of a threat … that he’s going to make something happen, and that’s been the way it’s been for him since that Christmas break. It seems like he’s having a lot of fun playing the way he has lately, and it’s just nice to be on his line and see him doing his thing.”
Because the sample size has increased somewhat, Lucic and Kopitar’s numbers playing together have begun to round into figures that don’t come with as much of a caveat. Whereas Lucic’s GA/60 while on the ice with Kopitar was 5.47 prior to the Christmas break – a completely unsustainable figure – their on-ice goal rates since then have been superb, with Kopitar having been on the ice for one even strength goal against since the break (Mark Giordano’s goal in Calgary) and Lucic for two (Tyson Barrie’s even strength goal in Colorado and Giordano’s). This has helped reduce the on-ice goal rates while both players have been on the ice together to 3.36 GF/60 and 3.06 GA/60. Those are still elevated numbers, but as the sample size has grown, their numbers have clearly improved, which was what was argued during the Waking up with the Kings column on December 23.
The presence of Tyler Toffoli, who has five goals and six points since he was moved primarily to the right of Lucic and Kopitar, also significantly weighs into the line’s improved goal and possession rates. Also, considering the Kings are 5-1-1 in this seven-game stretch, any closer look at the metrics will depict a rosy picture.
But with an assist on Kopitar’s goal in the 2-1 shootout loss to St. Louis on Saturday, Lucic said that he felt that his chemistry with Kopitar had reached one of the season’s high points.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “We spent a lot of time in the O-zone and we were protecting the puck and finding each other and creating scoring chances, so hopefully we can build off that. He scored a really nice goal from just good down low play. He made a pretty backhand right underneath the bar there, so like I said, just build off it from that standpoint.”
Milan Lucic, on the amount of “fun” that he has had this season:
It’s obviously been a lot of fun, and so far, looking at the halfway mark, right now, after 41 games played, obviously looking at the standings as a team, we’re where we want to be – first in the division. When you’re winning, everything seems to be more fun and things are looser. Coming to the rink is more enjoyable and stuff like that, so we’re having a lot of fun going out there and playing our game and doing what we need to do. Looking at it from a halfway standpoint now, it’s been a lot of fun for me coming here and being a part of this team, and hopefully we can have the same kind of success in the second half of the season.
Lucic, on how he feels he has fit in with his new team:
It’s gone pretty well. Like I said, im having a lot of fun and trying to do whatever I can to contribute. As of late, you look at the last however, 10-15 games, probably the numbers on the scoresheet haven’t really been there like they were before that, but you’re still playing solid and doing what you can to contribute by being physical and things like that. Like I sid, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s nice to come to a team with a lot of guys who want to win, and hopefully from a personal standpoint and a team standpoint, you continue having success.
Lucic, on whether anything about Anze Kopitar’s play has surprised him:
It’s hard to say because he was such an elite player before you come here. Being a big part of two championship teams and being a part of a bunch of All-Star Games that he was a part of, so you kind of expect him to be at that really, really high level. When I did get traded here, he was definitely one of the guys that you get excited to play with and be teammates with. But just his everyday wanting to be that best player on the ice is something that you like to see from your top player, and I think it’s one of this top attributes.