Pierre-Luc Dubois continues to answer the challenge coming out of the All-Star break

Coming out of the NHL All-Star break, following Jim Hiller’s first game and first victory as an NHL Head Coach, a quote from Pierre-Luc Dubois stood out.

He spoke about how the coaching staff, coming out of the break, challenged him.

They challenged him to be a “better player”. They challenged him to be a “difference maker”. Yeah, we want to see the goals and assists, but the majority of that challenge came via the things we don’t normally throw at the top of the stat sheet. Playing with intensity, drawing penalties, bringing physicality.

“All the things that maybe not everybody notices.”

It’s something he’s since doubled down on.

“When they laid it out the way they did, it gave me their plan for how they need me to play and how they want me to play,” Dubois said. “They laid it out straight forward, this is what you need to do, and the choice is mine after that.”

In the six games since, the Kings have posted a record of 5-1-0. In each of those six games, we’ve seen certain things from Dubois that have shown the choice he made.

Neither Dubois nor Hiller wanted to reveal the exact specifics of their conversation together. Nor should we want them to. In the games since, however, those areas that we might not always notice have been quite present in Dubois’ game. Since the Kings returned from the All-Star break, Dubois has drawn seven penalties, trailing only one player in the NHL in that time. In New Jersey directly, he drew three. You don’t draw that many without hard work and intensity.

“He drew three penalties and you don’t draw three penalties unless you’re involved,” Hiller said of Dubois after the win over New Jersey. “We know the size, the skating and he’s a hard guy to handle. He seems to be finding his groove a little bit, he’s made a big difference for us.”

The hits metric is deceptive, especially with the league seemingly changing the metric midseason. Since the Kings returned from the break, however, Dubois also leads the team with 17 hits. That’s an average of 2.83 per/game. Prior to the break, Dubois was averaging 0.96 hits per/game, with 46 from 48 games played. That’s just shy of four hits per/60, which has risen to 10.5 in the six games after. An uptick in physicality has led to a couple of penalties, including two minors on Sunday in Pittsburgh. Penalties have been an issue team-wide, but the added physicality has been welcomed and will continue to be welcomed. If the penalties can be limited alongside with it, he’ll have that desired balance.

Hiller used the term “physically engaged” to describe the Dubois he’s seen since taking over as the team’s head coach. He doubled down with “intensity” after last night’s win over Columbus. When Dubois has brought those things, he finds his legs, has the puck more regularly and has more opportunities to create offensively, stemming from that physical play he brings.

The Kings have also shown trust in Dubois in matching up against high-level opposition. Throughout the first game back, Dubois’ most regular opponent was Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl. In Pittsburgh, he played evenly against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Kings have utilized him in high-leverage situations, including on nearly every shift available coming off a successful penalty kill. Dubois isn’t on the PK unit, but Hiller has used him between Kevin Fiala and Quinton Byfield coming out of penalties. Just another opportunity to be involved in the game and an opportunity to play with some different players.

Whether you want to look at the work he’s put in to draw penalties – those are not by accident – or the physicality, or the trusted defensive play, Dubois has clearly taken to the challenge and begun to meet it. He appreciated how it was laid out for him and he’s taking to the areas that the coaching staff feels are necessary for him to meet them.

“They’ve been clear as day with me,” Dubois said of the expectations set. “It not [any specific stat], it’s just they gave me almost a point system of these are the five or six things that they want. Every night, we’ll look at it and the next day we’ll discuss it. Hits are a part of it, shots are a part of it, all of the things that go into helping the team win, not goals and assists. All of the other things that don’t show up always, those are the things they challenged me with.”

Now, while the focus is on the little things, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Dubois’ production has matched his level of play. Over the last six games, Dubois trails only Anze Kopitar in offense-generating plays. Dubois had a multi-assist game in the comeback win over Boston and a multi-goal game yesterday at home. He has six points (3-3-6) from his first six games played coming out of the break. That checks out.

Individually, he’s getting a little bit more for himself too. Six-game sample sizes are exactly that, but Dubois has seen an uptick in his individual shots on goal at 5-on-5, rising from 6.8 per/60 to 8.1. His goal versus Edmonton came on the power play, as he collected and released quickly for his team’s first goal coming out of the break, while he buried again at 5-on-4 last night and also found the back of the net at even strength. He should’ve scored in Buffalo as well, as he hit the post early in the game before it got out of control. Like the Kings as a group, there has been more of an intention of getting to the net. Think it’s fair to say Dubois is doing a better job of getting into those areas.

He’s also got three assists in that stretch and if you recall back, the passes he’s made could have led to a couple more as well. With Dubois on the ice, the Kings have controlled 58.3 percent of shot attempts, up from 52.6 percent prior to the break. Shows he’s spending more time in the offensive zone. Dubois has also led the Kings in loose puck retrievals in the offensive zone, which has helped keep more plays alive. Perhaps that’s led to the uptick in scoring chances, as Dubois is over 60 percent of on-ice scoring chances per/60 since the break. Not only is he playing in the offensive zone, but the Kings are turning that possession into good opportunities.

What’s been perhaps even more interesting is that Dubois has done what he’s done with a variety of different line combinations. He skated between Alex Laferriere and Jaret Anderson-Dolan against Edmonton and Buffalo, before Adrian Kempe moved to his line with Laferriere against New Jersey. In Boston, it was Laferriere and Byfield on his wings, a line that stayed intact throughout the wins over Pittsburgh and Columbus.

Adding Byfield to that unit appeared to be something Hiller was interested in seeing. It gives Dubois another player with the size to match his game and the speed to match Laferriere’s. The goal that line scored in Boston was the perfect example, as Dubois drove the net to get the original attempt, with his wingers crashing the blue paint and working the puck into the net to tie the game early in the third period.

“I like the line, there’s a lot of speed on the line and a lot of length with PL and Q, that’s a handful” Hiller said. “We’ll see as we go, we’ve changed the line quite a few times already since I’ve been here, we’ll see where things go, we’re experimenting a little bit, but that line was good. They were good.”

Regardless of who he plays with, regardless of those other factors, Dubois seems to be eager to continue to meet the challenge he’s been given.

While he admitted it was difficult to hear it, he knew from that first meeting that he had more to give this team. Over the last five games, we’ve seen more of what that looks like. With fewer than 30 games to go for this club this season, Dubois remains a big piece to the puzzle.

“It makes it a fun challenge,” Dubois added. “I’ve played for coaches in the past that have challenged me, it’s not always easy to be challenged but it’s good when you accomplish it. It’s good when you do it.”

An important challenge for Dubois and the Kings to continue to meet as they progress down the stretch.

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