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.”
“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.”
“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.