As the Kings strive for consistency, Drew Doughty continues to be the “backbone” of the team on the blueline

Starting to see more and more graphics from the NHL with Drew Doughty’s face on them.

Earlier this season, it was goals off of slapshots, as Doughty had more of those than any other player in the NHL this season. A couple days ago, it was goals from the center point, with Doughty again leading the way.

Skating in his 16th professional season, Doughty is approaching a new career high in goals. He enters the final 16 games of the regular season with 14 to his name, two shy of the 16 he buried back in 2009-10, his second season in the NHL. It’s already tied for the second-most he’s buried in a single season and tied for sixth most in the NHL this season.

Doughty doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s doing anything different out there, but he’s certainly happy to find the slap shot from the point hitting the back of the net as regularly as it has.

“Just got the one timer back, I’ve always had it, but guys are making good passes to me and then always guys screening in front of the net,” Doughty said of his uptick in goals this season. “When I have that, just as long as I can get the puck up, a lot of times it’s going to go in and they’ve been going in for me this year. I’m pretty proud about.”

He admitted that, even as he hits his mid-30’s, he’s still improving in that area. It was a focal point of his over the summer and clearly we’re seeing the results in action this season.

For Doughty, though, if he’s cheating the game for offense, he’s not living up to the standards he’s set for himself. While the 14 goals are a number he’s proud of, he takes just as much pride in the defensive matchups he gets on a nightly basis. As the NHL’s leader in icetime this season, many of those minutes come against first-line opposition. Despite it, Doughty is rarely tagged for a goal against. At 2.08 goals against per/60 minutes, Doughty is currently at the fourth-lowest rate of his NHL career in all situations.

He’s taking care of business offensively with the goals, but he’s doing what he does defensively, at simmilar rates as he did when he was nominated for, and winning, the Norris Trophy.

“I’m feeling really good out there, happy with the goals and my production, it’s been a while since I’ve had this many goals, so I’m pretty proud of that, but I’m never going to let my defensive game slide and I take a lot of pride in that,” Doughty said. “[I’ve got a] great partner in Mikey and it’s still our job to shut down the other team’s best line every single night and keeping them off the scoresheet is more important to us than scoring a goal. It’s just the way I’ve always looked at the game and how I learned how to win back in the day.”

Doughty mentions Mikey Anderson there and they’ve continued to form a reliable and successful defensive pairing.

Anderson missed some time earlier this season, however, and Doughty was tasked with a role we haven’t seen since Anderson entered the league. He was partnered with a pair of inexperienced defensemen in Jacob Moverare and Brandt Clarke, who have a combined 61 career NHL games between them. During that stretch without Anderson, the Kings regularly rolled with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, which essentially split time between Moverare and Clarke as Doughty’s partner. Without one of their top-four guys, Doughty excelled, playing some of his best hockey of the season in the eyes of his head coach.

“I think with Mikey out, I thought Drew probably had his best stretch of hockey when Mikey went out, so credit to him,” Jim Hiller said. “New partner, had to play maybe the game a little simpler than he does typically with Mikey, but a really good job. You know he’s definitely the backbone back there.”

That word backbone is a good one to describe what Doughty brings to that group. It’s also why he makes a good partner for a younger, up-and-coming player.

The opportunity to mentor and guide along a younger player is not necessarily foreign to Doughty, but since Anderson has established himself in the NHL as a top-four guy, the two have generally been attached at the hip when both have been healthy.

In Moverare and Clarke, Doughty was presented with two very different skillsets and two vastly different players. He’s an alternate captain on this club and he’s a natural leader of the group of defensemen on the backend. He saw that as an opportunity for himself to lead with those two and help guide them along as they become more and more comfortable in the NHL.

He said that he “really, really enjoyed” playing with Moverare and Clarke, adding that he loves playing the role of mentor. In that situation, he prioritized communication and believes it’s an understated asset for a player to have on the ice.

“The way I help guys the most is how much I talk on the ice,” Doughty said. “I’m sure you guys can hear me even up in the press box, I’m literally talking, coaching them through the game, letting them know when they have time, where they need to make the next play. I think a lot of guys underestimate how important talking to each other is, I don’t think we have enough guys on our team that talk to each other, tell us what to do with the puck. When you’re a young guy and you have a guy talking to you and telling you what options you have with the puck, it makes the game way easier. I loved playing with those two guys.”

Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The communication element of Doughty’s game is something that Hiller has seen as well.

For a guy like Moverare, he’s earned the minutes he’s gotten and he’s earned his trust, but having Doughty alongside him only adds to the level of trust. Hiller recognizes the importance of communication on and off the ice, as Doughty does, and talked about it as a big reason for why that pairing was able to work as it did when Anderson was unavailable.

“There’s always a bit of an adjustment when you’ve had a partner as long as Drew and Mikey, they read off each other,” Hiller added. “When you’re coming in, you talk about Moverare out of the minors, coming in, playing top-pairing minutes with Drew, the adjustment probably is more so for Moverare, but I know Drew talks to him a lot and makes him feel comfortable. That’s leadership right there. Your partner has to feel comfortable with your game in that regard.”

For Moverare’s part, he credited Doughty with doing exactly that – making him feel comfortable playing his game.

It’s not every day a player comes up from the AHL and slides onto the team’s top defensive pairing alongside a guy like Doughty. Would say it rarely happens that way. Moverare is comfortable in who he is as a player and credited Doughty for allowing him to simply play his game, without feeling like he needed to do more than that.

“He takes a lot of the attention, he makes it simple and easy and sometimes I even get some opportunities, just because he gets so much coverage,” Moverare said. “He’s an awesome player, always crisp passes and he plays really hard on defense. Just a good overall game, he means so much to the team and he cares, so I just try to take a little.”

As Doughty and the Kings look ahead, his primary focus is on the team and the collective.

He lives to play in Game 83 and beyond and he’s focused on helping the Kings reach that point. He believes the Kings have gotten over the hump they were climbing up heading into the All-Star break and though they haven’t been perfect, or perhaps as consistent as they’ve needed to be, Doughty believes they’ve found their style at times. When they execute that, they find success.

With 16 games remaining, and Doughty’s continued contributions a big driving factor as to why, that’s what he and the Kings will continue to aspire towards down the stretch. If Doughty keeps doing what he’s doing, it’ll go a long way towards getting the Kings to where they want to get to. At the end of the day, that’s all number 8 really wants.

Photo by Andreea Cardani/NHLI via Getty Images

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