Kings star Anze Kopitar happy to show off his skills during All-Star Game

He’s not exactly a household name when it comes to NHL stars across the league but Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings probably should start getting talked about a bit more. The Kings are a team on the rise in the league and Kopitar has been a cornerstone player for the franchise.

He leads the team in scoring this season, something he’s done the three seasons previous to this one. With 49 points at the All-Star break, Kopitar is tops on the Kings in scoring by ten points. When he broke out as a rookie in 2006-2007, he debuted in the NHL with 61 points, good for third on the team behind Mike Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov. Last season, the Kings made the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season and Kopitar was one of the leading reasons why they got there. With 34 goals and 47 assists, his 81 points was a career best.

So how come a guy who’s the best player on a team in the second biggest media market in the United States isn’t better known in the NHL? Go ahead and form your own theories why, but Kopitar was happy to be able to break free in the wide open All-Star Game in Raleigh and not have to worry so much about the things Kings coach Terry Murray stresses heavily.

“I don’t think backchecking was the first thing that came to mind in this game, but it was fun and that’s all that matters.”

Kopitar showed off his incredible talent scoring twice for Team Lidstrom in their 11-10 win over Team Staal including a highlight reel goal to beat Cam Ward in the first period to get his team on the board after starting off in a 4-0 hole. Kopitar was typically modest about his effort on the goal.

“I was just getting down there and reacting to what the situation was. I thought it was enough waiting for us and we were already down by four, might as well put us on the board first. I thought I made a pretty good move and it worked out.”

The big Slovenian center is a very humble player. His actions on or off the ice don’t demand that the spotlight be put on him but perhaps it’s time that our attention is turned on him a bit more. After all, undressing the hometown goalie in the All-Star Game certainly made us take notice.

Kopitar’s skills as both a set-up man and a goal scorer are solid and he’s been able to flourish under strict taskmaster Murray’s system in L.A. Imagine the kinds of numbers he’d put up with a bit more slack given to him offensively and with a consistent linemate on his left wing. Kopitar’s still put up the points despite seeing anyone from Ryan Smyth, Brad Richardson, Andrei Loktionov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Marco Sturm line up on his left side. It’s been that sort of year for the Kings as they fight in the deep Western Conference race for the playoffs. Despite all those obstacles, Kopitar keeps producing.

It may have been just a pair of goals in the All-Star Game, but Kopitar served notice that he is the real deal in Los Angeles. Now if only he could get noticed a bit more in and out of Los Angeles.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.