Anze Kopitar

Los Angeles Kings must keep winning without Anze Kopitar

Underrated is a relative term.

Some might scoff at the idea of Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar being underrated, considering the fact that he played in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. Others might be quick to list him as such, though, based on the fact that his Kings often play beyond many media members’ bed times so his efforts go largely unheralded. He also plays more of a two-way game, so even if he reaches nice point totals, he doesn’t – and might not ever – push his way toward the 100-point totals that generate Hart Trophy attention.

Yet however one might frame Kopitar’s talents relative to other elite players, few would question the notion that he is an enormously important skater for the Kings. Aside from stud defenseman Drew Doughty and steady goalie Jonathan Quick, Kopitar stands high above the other players on this roster. Some might say he’s even more valuable than Doughty, especially in a 2010-11 season that featured some tough moments for the outstanding young blueliner.

Either way, the Kings must find a way to compete without Kopitar. Los Angeles continued its disturbing tradition of stars suffering catastrophic injuries Saturday night, as Kopitar broke his ankle during a fairly routine board play that went terribly wrong.

This comes on the heels of Justin Williams’ latest unnerving injury, but the difference is that Kopitar doesn’t have a track record of getting hurt often. In fact, Helene Elliott mentions the fact that his 330 consecutive games played streak is a club record that will sadly stop at 330 when the Kings play the Oilers on Tuesday.

Elliott caught up with Kings captain Dustin Brown and head coach Terry Murray, who discussed how they will react to playing without Kopitar.

“He’s our best player. We’ve got to find a way either way,” team captain Dustin Brown said. “Injuries happen during the year. You don’t want to have your best player go down, but if that’s the case we’ve got to shoulder the responsibility collectively and find a way because no other team is going to feel sorry for us.”

(snip)

“I’ve been through these kinds of things before, with top guys being out with injuries and it’s an opportunity,” Murray said. “Other guys step up. The character of the team needs to step up.

“Everybody has to do the right things. You’ve got to trust your structure and your system and give it the best opportunity you can now as a group to finish things off and play the right way.”

(snip)

“We have to move on. We have games to play,” Murray said. “And we have games to win.”

Winning those games won’t be easy, but the Kings have a good chance of holding onto a playoff spot, even if they might sink from fifth place to a lower seed without Kopitar. They currently have 92 standings points with seven games remaining, giving them six more points than the ninth-ranked Dallas Stars, who have 86 points with eight games left.

Of course, there’s a big difference between making the playoffs and making an impact once you get there. If that is going to happen, it will require leaders like Brown and Doughty to step up while quiet role players such as Ryan Smyth will need to raise their games.

It won’t be easy, but we might find out a lot about these Kings without Kopitar.

Simmonds tells AV ‘I’m not a dirty player,’ says he had ‘no intention of hurting’ McDonagh with punch

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers
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Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has taken exception to criticisms from Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, in the wake of Simmonds concussing Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh with a punch over the weekend.

“Vigneault can say whatever he wants. He’s the coach, that’s his opinion,” Simmonds said, per CSN Philly. “I don’t really care. I’m protecting myself; guy comes to cross check you in the head. I didn’t know what he expected. I had no intention of hurting him and I feel bad about that. That’s not what I want.

“I may play physical and I like to take the body. I fight occasionally. But by no means am I a dirty player, trying to run around and injure guys.”

Simmonds was tossed from Saturday’s game after punching McDonagh, but wasn’t suspended by the league. McDonagh missed New York’s next game — Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils — and the lack of supplemental discipline incident irked Vigneault, who had words for both the officials and Simmonds.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said following the Flyers game, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences?”

At this point, it’s probably worth noting the Flyers and Rangers play each other on Sunday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Worth circling that one on the ol’ calendar, methinks.

Goalie nods: ‘The losses have gotten to’ Dubnyk, so Wild turn to Kuemper

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Devan Dubnyk has started Minnesota’s last four games — all of them losses — so in an effort to try and right the ship, head coach Mike Yeo is going with Darcy Kuemper against Dallas this evening.

“This has definitely not been Dubnyk’s fault,” Yeo said of the Wild’s losing skid, per the Pioneer Press. “Even watching his game and evaluating it closely afterwards, I’m not going to say he’s playing badly. He’s not. But you can tell he’s grinding right now like everybody. The losses have gotten to him.

“Kuemper has been part of this, but not to that level, so he’s probably got a little bit of a different mindset and a little bit of a fresher mind coming into the game.”

Kuemper has been pretty solid this year, going 5-2-4 with a .928 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. That said, he’s only made four appearances in 2016 and his last was a brief one, playing just over 11 minutes in relief against the Isles.

For Dallas, Kari Lehtonen is likely to get the start.

Elsewhere…

— No definitive announcements out of Boston, but Tuukka Rask is likely for the Bruins, and Jonathan Quick is likely for the Kings.

— It’s Roberto Luongo for the Panthers in Buffalo. Sabres are going with Robin Lehner.

Cory Schneider‘s going back-to-back for the Devils after stopping 35 shots in a loss to the Rangers on Monday. Cam Talbot starts for the Oilers.

John Gibson is not going back-to-back after getting shelled by Pittsburgh last night. Frederik Andersen starts in Philly, Steve Mason for the Flyers.

— Columbus will keep rolling with Joonas Korpisalo as it hosts the Islanders. Jaroslav Halak gets the nod after getting hooked against the Red Wings over the weekend.

Ben Scrivens will look to win his third game in a row when the Habs host the Bolts. Ben Bishop‘s in for Tampa Bay.

— Barry Trotz heads back to Nashville and will continue rolling with Braden Holtby in goal. Trotz’s former workhorse, Pekka Rinne, starts for the Preds.

— It’s Connor Hellebuyck versus Brian Elliott as the Blues host the Jets in St. Louis.

— Good matchup in Chicago tonight, as the in-form Corey Crawford starts for the ‘Hawks. The Sharks will counter with Martin Jones.

— After Ryan Miller started the last four, Jacob Markstrom goes for the Canucks in Colorado. The Avs are starting Semyon Varlamov.

— Fresh off today’s blockbuster Dion Phaneuf trade, the undermanned Leafs are going with James Reimer in goal in Calgary. The Flames will give Jonas Hiller another start after he beat Vancouver on Saturday night.

Here’s what TCF Bank Stadium will look like for Minnesota’s outdoor game

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What you’re looking at is an architectural rendering of TCF Bank Stadium for the upcoming outdoor game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Feb. 21.

The current forecast for that day in Minneapolis is a high of 27° F and a low of 19° F, with only a 20 percent possibility of precipitation, i.e. snow.

Which is to say, that guy in the Toews jersey is gonna be cold. At least roll up your sleeves, man. Don’t be a hero. 

The game, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, will be broadcast live on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America, while Hockey Night In Canada and TVA Sports will have the action for the folks up north.

50 years ago today, the NHL’s ‘great expansion’ begins

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers fight during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 8-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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“This is the year of the great expansion. For the first time, the league will be composed of twelve teams.”

Those were the words of former NHL president Clarence Campbell as he ushered in six new franchises to join the Original Six for the 1967-68 season.

We only mention this because it was 50 years ago today, in 1966, that the league awarded conditional teams to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis.

(To read more, click NHL.com’s anniversary piece. The Los Angeles Times also has a story on the birth of the Kings, while CSN Philly remembers the Flyers’ beginnings.)

For all you youngsters out there, San Francisco’s team, originally named the California Seals, ended up playing in Oakland, but not for long due to attendance issues. The franchise would move to Cleveland in 1976, where in 1978 it ceased operations and merged with the North Stars.

The North Stars also eventually relocated, though that didn’t happen until 1993 when they moved to Dallas. The expansion Wild were born a few years later.

Of the five surviving franchises of the “great expansion,” only the Blues have never won the Stanley Cup.

The Flyers were the first expansion team to hoist the Cup. They did it in 1974.

Related: Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas