Drew Doughty’s quiet climb back to stardom

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What happened to Drew Doughty?

For a hearty chunk of the 2011-12 season, it was an unavoidable question that followed the Los Angeles Kings defenseman. After a protracted contract negotiation that essentially robbed him of training camp, Doughty sputtered. In his first 19 games (through October and November), Doughty managed just two goals and seven points. Worse yet, he just didn’t seem to carry that “dynamic” air that forced the Kings to hand him an eight-year, $56 million deal before he turned 22.

A different kind of Phaneuf’d

Considering his (relatively) modest 40-point contract year last season, it was tough to shake the feeling that he was going down Dion Phaneuf’s path. While Phaneuf isn’t a “bust” by any means, most would admit that he’s fallen well short of the next Chris Pronger/Scott Stevens-type hype he initially generated. To some degree, it seemed like Doughty was regressing in a similar fashion.

The playoffs’ best blueliner

Maybe Darryl Sutter steered Doughty back in the right direction or everything simply began falling into place. Whatever the case may be, if the NHL handed out a “Norris Trophy” in the playoffs, Doughty would be a no-brainer (all apologies to Bryce Salvador and perhaps Dan Girardi). Doughty is tied with Salvador for second in playoff scoring among defensemen with 11 points (one behind Girardi) but he’s done so in 15 games compared to 19 for Salvador and 20 for Girardi. Doughty is averaging 26+ minutes per game as he gets surprisingly little credit for the Kings’ stingy ways.

While plus/minus is a faulty stat, it’s worth noting that Doughty is a +12 and is another bullet point in the argument that Doughty is just as – or at least almost – as big a reason for the Kings’ dominance as headline-hogging forwards Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar.

Slipping under the radar

Doughty’s brilliant turnaround has been overshadowed by a few factors. I’d guess that his two-season mini-slump dropped him a bit lower on peoples’ radars, for one. Also, with Brown/Kopitar and Jonathan Quick producing more highlight-friendly banter, Doughty’s dangerous point shots, playmaking savvy and underrated work in his own zone gets knocked off the marquee.

It’s also true that there isn’t the falling-off-cliff drop between Doughty and other Kings defensemen. Willie Mitchell is the only guy who approaches his time on ice totals, yet the defense corps is well-stocked with defense-first (Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene) guys and rising offensive blueliners (Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez). The fall from Doughty to, say, Voynov isn’t as severe as Zdeno Chara to (pick an unfortunate Bruins defenseman for comparison, really) because the team is so well-balanced. Everyone seems slotted in the Kings’ system well enough that it isn’t quite as obvious how important Doughty has been.

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Doughty’s rebound hasn’t been instantaneous, yet it feels necessary to highlight his work admit all the praise for the Kings’ other stars. It seems clear that we can truly call Doughty an “elite” defenseman again, which is great news for GM Dean Lombardi and a discouraging development for the rest of the NHL.

(And we might just have to celebrate that fact by handing him the Conn Smythe Trophy by the time this is all over.)

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?