It’s Game 8 of the regular season.
The LA Kings trailed 3-2 late in the game after a Mark Stone goal, a goal that had the emotion of a game much later in the season, or perhaps even the postseason. With less than two minutes on the clock, the Kings needed someone to step up under the bright lights. For the second straight night, enter defenseman Drew Doughty.
Doughty tied the game with a bomb of a shot from the point, the second night in a row that he scored a game-tying or game-winning goal in the final two minutes of regulation. On both occasions, Doughty let out a roar of passion as the puck tickled the twine.
“To score late like that, there’s a lot of emotion and I think when Drew plays with that, he plays better, he plays on his toes a little bit more,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “When he’s that way, it’s infectious throughout the group.”
📂 LA Kings Photos that Go Hard pic.twitter.com/126OQQGBII
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 28, 2023
Sometimes a picture says 1,000 words and even though there are about two pictures worth of words to follow, the two pictures above put it all into context.
For Doughty, there’s still that drive, still that emotion of scoring a big goal for his team. Even early in the season, he’s already got four of them to his name, tied for the most in the NHL by a defenseman.
“He’s stepping up, he’s figured out some things and you can just see the fire in his eyes, he’s back and we need him big time like that,” forward Phillip Danault said after the win over Vegas. “He’s scored some big goals and he’s gotten some huge points. Every game counts and he’s been present every game.”
When Doughty is at that level, it pushes the entire group to another level of emotion. When one of your longest-tenured leaders is bringing that type of fire and passion on the ice, it’s something that the rest of the group not only can build off, but is almost unable NOT to build off.
“He’s a big energy guy, he brings people up and that’s why he’s one of the greats, because he wants to be the difference maker,” defenseman Jordan Spence said. “He’s very emotional on the ice, he just wants to be the best player on the ice and you can tell by just how fired up and how emotional he was after he scored that goal. We’re really happy just to have him here and for him to keep doing this thing.”
Anyone who has watched Doughty play knows he’s put in a number of those masterclass performances over the years. You know it when you see it. Teammates, both old and new, are well aware of what Doughty can do when he takes over a game.
Take new Kings netminder Cam Talbot, who has played nearly 500 games in the NHL throughout his career, including several in the net opposite the Kings. Talbot has faced Doughty as an opponent countless times and he’s seen that elite level from a first-person vantage point. On Friday in Arizona, Talbot saw Doughty take over a game in front of him, as opposed to behind him, which was certainly a more welcomed sight.
“I’ve been on the other end of that, I’ve seen him do it multiple times,” Talbot said. “He’s a world-class defenseman and everyone’s known that for a very long time. To be able to play behind him and be on the right side of these victories is a lot more fun.”
Perhaps what’s most led to the current state of Doughty’s play has been pride.
After the game against Arizona on Friday, a game where Doughty dominated in the second and third periods, he was upset with himself for getting beat wide by former teammate Sean Durzi, leading to a goal against that put his team down 4-1. It’s not often that Doughty gets beat 1-on-1. When it happened on Friday, he wasn’t going to let it happen again and he was determined not to let his mistake hurt the team. It’s something that’s shown up consistently throughout his career.
“It’s pride,” Kings assistant coach Trent Yawney said. “He was somewhat embarrassed, because he usually doesn’t get beat like that, since I’ve been here I haven’t seen that very often. Then, he flips the switch and he’s been on a bit of a roll since. I think most of that comes from his defensive play and that’s something where I hold him to a high level, it has to be there.”
In these first eight games, we’re talking about the goals, because it’s been the offensive side of the game that has been the most noticeable. In Kings franchise history, only five defensemen, including Doughty, have scored four goals in their first eight games. The last guy to do it is the guy who Doughty’s number will stand beside in the rafters one day – Rob Blake.
Whenever Doughty is on the ice, he’s got the sign from the third base coach to swing away. In speaking with both Yawney and McLellan, they’ve seen the caliber of shot Doughty has and will always encourage him to use it. It’s not anything new, the shot has always been there for Doughty and he can one-time the puck with the best of them on the Kings, even if you don’t always see it from a player who mans the right point at even strength and the center point at the top of the umbrella on the man advantage. We’re just seeing him use it more this season.
While it’s early days, Doughty is currently averaging 11.7 shot attempts per/60 minutes at all strengths this season. Eight games won’t always forecast out to 82, but that would serve as his highest total since the 2014-15 season on a per/60 basis, should it continue. As a result, the Kings shot attempts for with Doughty on the ice are currently at the highest total of his career, without sacrificing anything the other way.
“He’s got a shot and he has the green light to take it anytime,” McLellan said. “There’s never any [teammates] that are looking at him going ‘what are you doing’, take it. I think he’s feeling it now, he’s almost giving himself permission to use it a little bit more. Back to back nights when he’s been able to put a few in, that’s good for his confidence.”
If you look at the way Doughty plays and approaches the game though, it’s always been about a lot more than the points and the offensive game though.
He’s said numerous times over the years that he feels that he’s left points and perhaps individual accolades on the table to contribute at the high level he’s always brought defensively. For so long, it was how the Kings found success, winning games 2-1 by suppressing better than anyone else. That’s still in the DNA of this team, but there’s the offensive element of today’s game that has evolved that style of play.
Over the last two seasons, Doughty’s point totals have risen alongside the Kings’ improved ability to put the puck in the net, resulting in two of the top four offensive seasons of Doughty’s career on a points/60 level.
While he believes it’s impacted his defensive play at times, Doughty has never been one to cheat the game in search of numbers. He’s been able to produce at a high level offensively while taking on more ice time than any defenseman in the NHL, skating against the opposition’s top players on a game-to-game basis. A lot of that comes down to patience with the puck. Doughty won’t force a play he doesn’t see, in the hopes of creating offense.
“He’s patient with the puck, he thinks the game well,” defenseman Matt Roy said of Doughty. “With the puck, if he doesn’t see a play, he doesn’t just get rid of the puck and give it away, he’ll try to find something and most the time he doesn’t turn it over. He’s just really good at reading their defense and making plays.”
That patience applies both offensively and defensively too and it’s in the latter area that many of his teammates value and appreciate in his game.
What they all drew back to, pun always intended, is Doughty’s mental understanding of the game and how he thinks things at such a high level. Doughty’s instincts have always been elite and he’s someone who can play at a high level by thriving on his instinctual reads.
“He’s as competitive as anyone, but the way that he thinks and sees it [is what sets him apart],” defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “I always try and describe it, the way he talks about a play might make no sense, he can’t really describe half the stuff he does, he just kind of does it. I think a lot of it comes naturally to him, which is pretty impressive.”
In speaking about how his approach towards coaching Doughty, Yawney echoed Anderson’s thoughts.
In the veteran coach’s eyes, Doughty isn’t the type of player who requires a ton of video work to improve, because he can recall the plays he made without needing the clips. If Yawney references a specific shift in the second period, Doughty can recall that play in his mind without a ton of descriptors and know how it went down, for better or for worse.
Doughty is a player who plays off his instincts and sometimes it’s better to let those guys be themselves. That’s a part of why Doughty has continually thrived.
“He almost has a photographic memory of what happened, so you don’t have to compound it sometimes by putting it in his face again,” Yawney said. “He’s not a program guy. When he broke into the league, it was different. Now, players to a certain degree are programmed that if they do this, you do this, but Drew is more instinctive.”
Those instincts are on display, game in and game out in the defensive zone, as Doughty continues to match up against the best players in the world on a nightly basis.
Alongside him for that ride has been Anderson, who has partnered regularly with Doughty over the last four seasons. Last season, they played nearly 93 percent of their 5-on-5 minutes together when both in the lineup. Doughty played 25+ minutes 62 times last season, more than any player in the league, and he does it against the difficult matchips. In being able to defend in those situations, it’s Doughty’s defensive anticipation that sets him apart in
“He’s got a really good stick, but I think the way he thinks, he anticipates plays super well,” Anderson said. “He might not be the most technical skater or player in everything he does, but I think he can think a step or two ahead of what most guys are doing. More often than not, it’s going to work out, but the times it doesn’t, he makes up for it with a stick or a good play to correct it. More often than not, though, he’s making the good play.”
It’s those defensive reads, the instincts, the stick-work that Yawney has long admired Doughty for.
Even when he coached in other organizations, Yawney said he used to show clips of the way Doughty defended from the tops of the circles to the net to teach younger defensemen who might not have the size or the reach of some of the bigger players in the league. It was in that area that Yawney always felt Doughty was elite. Even when there’s an area that falls off, with Yawney highlighting one area even early this season, Doughty is quick to recognize and correct it.
“When I wasn’t with the organization, and I’ve told him this, I used to think, from the tops of the circles to the net, he was amongst the top five in the league,” Yawney said. “When his game slips a little bit, that probably slips first, and we just remind him about it and it usually gets fixed.”
As he’s gotten older, Doughty has adapted and adjusted his game to fit a bit more into the modern-day NHL.
He’s still the same player at his core, but he’s embraced the way the game has changed. Yawney said that Doughty has adopted the “quick-up” plays more, understanding that forwards are pressuring faster today than they were 10 years ago. Doughty has put more work in during the summers, he’s doing the right things after games and he’s excelling on the ice by the work he’s put in off of it.
To remain at that high level deep into his 30’s, that will all have to continue and Yawney has no doubt that it will.
“He’s not 25 anymore, he can still can play the minutes, but his game is going to have to adjust, because they all do,” Yawney added. “I don’t remember when Lidstrom won his last Norris, I think he was [in his] 40’s, Duncan Keith was in his 30s when he won his second one, but they had to adjust their games a little bit. The game’s evolving all the time, it’s getting faster and every year it gets a little bit quicker. I think he’s gotten better with that……you tie that into his standard, his pride, he’s pretty good at making those adjustments on his own, but it’s definitely something that has been talked about. As he moves forward at his age, he’s probably going to have to add some of those. I know the training, the taking care of self post game has changed for him and in a positive way and some of this other stuff will keep himself in that elite category.”
As with most challenges he’s taken on throughout a career that’s already spanned more than 1,100 games, expect Doughty to embrace that one at an elite level too. Because that’s what Doughty does and will continue to do.