Anze Kopitar

NHL on NBCSN: Kings offense looks to keep rolling against Canucks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Last season, only the Anaheim Ducks (199) scored fewer goals than the Los Angeles Kings (202). The Kings had one player hit the 60-point mark (Anze Kopitar) and their leading goal scorers were Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who both finished with 22 tallies in 2018-19. Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page.

Los Angeles didn’t really make any big changes to their roster over the summer, so expectations were fairly low coming into this campaign. How could the offense get better if they didn’t add a scoring forward? How could the team go from the lottery to the playoffs in just one offseason? It’s still early, but head coach Todd McLellan has found a way to extract from offense from this group.

They have a 1-1-0 record through two games, but they’ve managed to find the back of the net nine times so far. Can they keep up that?

“Well, the start was growth. We were able to put a team on its heels,” McLellan said after last night’s overtime win over the Calgary Flames, per LA Kings Insider. “Being resilient later on in the game was important. Scoring on the power play, we count on the power play to get us something and we executed something we’ve worked on very well. There are other areas – there’s individual growth, better board work, better around our net, so there were a lot of areas that we improved on (Tuesday).”

The Kings have scored power play goals in each of their games and they both came off the stick of Drew Doughty. McLellan is correct when he says he needs to be able to rely on his power play more because they were ranked 27th in that category last year.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Is this sustainable? It’s way too early to tell. But they’re definitely off to an encouraging start.

One way they could continue to fill the net, is if they get a boost in production from Ilya Kovalchuk. The veteran winger has a goal and four points through two games and his line was even double-shifted at times during last night’s game. The 36-year-old had a tough year last year, as he managed to score just 16 goals and 34 points in 64 games. Nobody expects him to be a point-per-game player at this stage of his career, but him contributing with more regularity would be a welcome bonus for a squad that doesn’t typically score much.

“The three of them were challenged – (Kovalchuk), (Jeff Carter) and (Adrian) Kempe after the Edmonton game,” McLellan said. “I don’t think they were particularly pleased with their group’s play or maybe individual play, and we challenged ‘em, we gave ‘em another opportunity and they took advantage of it. So, we quickly recognized they were in the game and got them a lot of ice time. They earned it.”

We’ll find out if the trio can keep that going against an 0-2-0 Canucks squad.

Alex Faust and Ray Ferraro will have the call of Kings-Canucks from Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Variety of champs shows there’s no one Stanley Cup blueprint

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Had the night of June 12 gone differently, maybe NHL rivals would be looking to the Boston Bruins as the model to follow to win the Stanley Cup.

”We were one game away to change the narrative of how teams should be structured,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said.

The Bruins lost Game 7 of the final to the big, heavy St. Louis Blues, who bruised and battered their way to the Cup. In recent years, that might have led teams around the league to bulk up and try to follow the Blues’ lead – but that is unlikely.

The differences in recent champions – from fast and skilled to physical and punishing – illustrate how many different blueprints there are to win a championship in today’s NHL. They also show the importance of tailoring style of play to personnel and perfecting team chemistry.

”There’s so many different ways,” Blues playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Most of the players in the league, you’re not going to change. You change little things and make adjustments, but you’re not going to change the players that they are. So it’s finding your group of players and getting them to play the most effective way.”

Over the past decade, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins won it all with speed, skill and talent. The Los Angeles Kings, Washington Capitals and Blues had plenty of skill, sure, but also used size to wear down opponents.

In a sport where whoever lifts the Cup tends to swing the pendulum on how to build a winner, it’s become more of a race to see which team can impose its will come playoff time.

”Every year is different,” said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who started in two finals and was the backup when Boston won the Cup in 2011. ”The way you build your team, everybody needs to be comfortable with that. You can win many different ways as long as your team’s comfortable playing that style of game.”

The Blues under coach Craig Berube got comfortable playing a defense-first style predicated on taking the body and winning series by attrition. O’Reilly concedes a lot has to go right to play that way.

The 2016 and 2017 Penguins battled attrition and overcame injuries to win the Cup. They weren’t the biggest team by any means but had the ingredients to go toe to toe with anyone when it mattered most.

”Playoffs is a whole different beast, and obviously there’s more hitting,” Chicago winger Alex DeBrincat said. ”Even if you’re a skilled team, you’re going to hit more.”

Jonathan Marchessault, whose Vegas Golden Knights lost to the Capitals in the 2018 final, said it’s important to ”stay true to the identity of your team” – whatever that is. Yet there remains a notion that when the regular season ends and the playoffs begin, the NHL trend toward speed and skill ruling the ice is no longer the case.

”It’s different hockey,” said Anze Kopitar, who won with the Kings in 2012 and 2014. ”In order to get into the playoffs, you’ve got to be fast and skilled and everything. Playoffs is a little bit different. You’ve got to wear teams down, and that’s what it is. It’s not as high-scoring as it is during the regular season. You still obviously have to have some grit and some hard-nosed guys that are willing to do that.”

Players talk about feeling like there’s less room to maneuver in the playoffs, like the surface shrinks and each decision must be made a half-second quicker. That does put a premium on turning up the toughness level.

”Even if the game is going skill and finesse, generally speaking, speed, skill, if you ask anyone around the league, going into a rink where you know it’s going to be a heavy style, there’s an intimidation factor there,” said Tom Wilson, who recorded 15 points, blocked 12 shots and dished out 100 hits during the Capitals’ Cup run. ”That’s why hockey’s great. That’s why it’s a physical sport. When you’re playing a team and you know they’re going to finish their checks, you know they’re going to be heavy on the puck, you know they’re going to battle, that’s important.”

Battling isn’t just about the Kings, Capitals or Blues finishing thundering checks and separating opposing players from the puck. It’s about gutting through injuries, winning races to the puck and dictating the tempo of the game to suit a certain style.

”You always have to stick to what gives you success throughout a regular season,” Krug said. ”We play a certain way where we can match up against any style. If you want to play fast, we’ll do it. You want to play heavy and in your face, we have the players that can do that as well, and we won’t shy away from it.”

The Blues’ blueprint could help a team like Winnipeg lift the Cup. Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning can take a page from the Penguins’ playbook. Or perhaps the San Jose Sharks win with the depth on defense that earned the Blackhawks three championships in six years.

Based on the variety of champions and the parity of the NHL , which will be the last team standing and how they do it is anyone’s guess.

”The fun part about the year we won and this year is that anyone can win,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. ”Everyone can win, which is great.”

LA Kings looking at long rebuild with McLellan as coach

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LOS ANGELES — Todd McLellan wants to make the Los Angeles Kings playoff contenders again. He faces an uphill climb in trying to make that happen.

McLellan, who was named coach on April 15, inherited a roster with five players age 32 or older that had the fewest points in the Western Conference last season, scored the second-fewest goals in the league and was 29th out of 31 teams in penalty killing.

That’s why McLellan has modest expectations for what will be considered a success this season.

”Growth. Everyone has to improve in every facet of the game,” McLellan said early in training camp. ”I think I’ve said this before. Old dogs have to learn new tricks, and the new dogs have to be prepared and open to absorb and be professional.”

McLellan spent most of training camp trying to get all his players on the same page. They have spent as much time in front of the white board as they have skating.

McLellan, who had previous stints with Pacific Division rivals San Jose and Edmonton, wants the Kings to be more aggressive on the forecheck and also to be quicker to the puck. Whether that can work with one of the league’s oldest lineups, remains to be seen.

Early reviews by players about McLellan have been positive. Ilya Kovalchuk said the Kings are hoping to exceed expectations even though many think LA’s best days are behind it.

”I believe we still got it. In this league you never know,” he said. ”You see the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, they were the last team in the whole league by Jan. 6 or something. So you just have to work hard and together as a team cause you can’t just be bunch of individuals. We have some new guys coming, but we have a core that knows how to win and that’s most important.”

WHO’S HERE: Defenseman Ben Hutton was signed Sept. 18 with Derek Forbort (back) and Paul LaDue (knee) likely not ready for the start of the regular season. Hutton spent four seasons with Vancouver. He had 20 points in 69 games last season but also posted a career-worst minus-23 rating, which is why he wasn’t extended a qualifying offer. Fellow defenseman Joakim Ryan, who spent his entire career with San Jose, also provides some experience. The Kings also added forwards Mario Kempe and Martin Frk, but they might have a tough time breaking into the lineup.

WHO’S NOT: The Kings bought out veteran defenseman Dion Phaneuf while forward Brendan Leipsic signed with Washington. LA dealt some prospects near the trade deadline for draft picks.

KEY PLAYERS: F Anze Kopitar scored 60 points last season, which was a 32-point decrease from 2017-18. He is expected to bounce back and have increased production this season, but probably not on the level of two years ago.

Kovalchuk had a nightmare return to the NHL last year, with just 34 points and at one point being demoted to the fourth line. McLellan has lauded the Russian during training camp, saying he is more engaged and buying into the new system.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick was hampered by injuries and was in net for only 46 games. This could be the year he is traded after Jack Campbell was signed to a two-year extension prior to the start of training camp

OUTLOOK: Los Angeles is looking to avoid missing the playoffs in multiple seasons for the first time since 2008-09 but has an aging roster with large contracts, which doesn’t give the Kings much salary cap flexibility.

Veteran defenseman Drew Doughty knows the team is in a rebuilding phase. ”It’s just what we got to do,” he said. ”We’re a new team, we’re rebuilding, we’re going to be younger. We shouldn’t be surprised if we make trades this year. We just got to be better.”

PREDICTION: The Kings should improve on last season’s point total but are expected to miss the playoffs and be near the bottom of the Western Conference. The most interesting month of the season figures to be February as they’re likely to be in the trade market again and making the slow steps necessary to rebuild the roster.

Previewing the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: A lot of things went wrong for the Kings a year ago, and it wasn’t just a lack of talent around the top players. The top players also had their own issues. Drew Doughty was awful. Jonathan Quick was one of the worst goalies in the league. Even the always dependable Anze Kopitar had one of his worst seasons in the league. Put it all together and it was a miserable season for the Kings. Bounce-backs from that trio alone should be worth a few extra wins, especially when it comes to Quick. Will that be enough to make a dent in the playoff race? Probably not, but they should be a little better just because it may not be possible to be any worse.

Strengths: If the big three of Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick can rebound the Kings still have two top-tier players (Kopitar and Doughty) and a pretty good goalie. They may not be what they were during their peak in the Stanley Cup years, but they can still make an impact. While the Kings’ front office has not really taken drastic steps to accelerate the rebuild by trading many veterans, they still have still managed to put together an impressive farm system that was only strengthened this offseason with the additions of Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev.

Weaknesses: While they have a promising farm system, a lot of the prospects are still a year or two away from making a noticeable impact in the NHL. So for the short-term the team is simply lacking talent at the NHL level, while the players they will be counting on the most are closer to the end of their careers than their peak. Kopitar, Quick, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Ilya Kovalchuk are all over the age of 32; Doughty turns 30 this season. Offensively, the Kings have been a stale, dull team that has significantly fallen behind the rest of the league for a few years now. Even in their most recent playoff appearance they seemed to be playing a different sport than the Vegas team that shut them down. The young players coming through the pipeline might help change that in future, but it will not be this season.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | X-factor Under Pressure | Three Questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Todd McLellan takes over behind the bench, and while it would not be unheard of for a coach to get fired after just one year, it would take a pretty spectacular failure this season for him to not get at least a couple of years. So we will put his rating at a 2 out of 10.

Three most fascinating players: Kovalchuk, Quick, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan.

Kovalchuk is worth watching just to see if he still has anything left at the NHL level. His return to the league after a five-year run in the KHL was a disappointment, and he never seemed to fit in with the Kings’ previous coaching staff. Will a fresh start under McLellan help? Can he still be a 25-30 goal threat? The Kings need anything they can get offensively.

Quick has always been fascinating because his reputation across the league has always exceeded his actual performance. That reputation comes from his postseason play between 2012 and 2014 when the Kings were always playing for the Stanley Cup. To be fair, he was legitimately great in those postseasons. But if you look at his career as a whole his yearly performance hasn’t always matched that. He’s been a consistently good, but not always great starter. And that’s fine. You can win with that. You can not win with what the Kings received from Quick a year ago, which was one of the worst performances in the league.

Anderson-Dolan might be one of the young players in the organization that gets a chance to make an impact this season. The 2017 second-round pick had a five-game cup of coffee at the start of the 2018-19 season before being sent back to his junior team (where he excelled). His goal is to play the entire season in the NHL, and he just might get a chance to do that on a team that really needs some playmaking and talent down the middle.

Playoffs or lottery: The Kings might be a little better, but unless Quick and Jack Campbell play out of their mind in goal for 82 games the playoffs seem to be a real long shot for this team. That means it is back to the lottery.

MORE:
Kopitar on Kings’ season to forget, playing for McLellan
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Anze Kopitar on Kings’ season to forget, playing for Todd McLellan

It was a forgettable season for the Los Angeles Kings. They finished last in the Western Conference, saw a third playoff-less season in five years, posted their lowest point total over an 82-game season since 2007-08, and had a coaching change that failed to lead to improvement.

General manager Rob Blake began the slow process of turning around the franchise’s fortunes in the summer by drafting Alex Turcotte fifth overall, buying out Dion Phaneuf’s contract, and hiring Todd McLellan as head coach.

Anze Kopitar was one of a number of Kings who experienced a down year offensively. Coming off a 2017-18 season where he won the Selke Trophy and was a Hart Trophy finalist, the captain saw his goal total drop from 35 to 22 and points from 92 to 60. The sooner the season could end so they could turn the page and move forward, the better.

We spoke with Kopitar at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week about the Kings’ down year, working with McLellan and more.

Enjoy.

Q. Why did last season go so poorly for the team?

KOPITAR: “Everything went wrong, pretty much. We were battling some injuries early on — not that that’s an excuse but it certainly doesn’t help. Then we just had a poor start and we couldn’t pick ourselves up, really. The coaching change… the change didn’t do what we kind of needed and wanted. It was a rough season, for sure. I think in the end everybody was glad that it was over so we could step away a little bit and recharge and get ready for this year.”

Q. It was a down year for you offensively. What can you attribute that to?

KOPITAR: “Just a combination of everything. There’s no secret that I have to be and can be a lot better than I was last year. I will be better this year, for sure. Wearing the ‘C’ and being the captain of the team, a lot of it falls on me and I’ll take the responsibility, too. My game was not where it needed to be, but this is in the past now, we’re looking ahead and looking to see what we can do better.”

Q. This will be your 14th season. What do you see when you look back at where the league is right now compared to when you came in?

KOPITAR: “It’s been a little bit since my first game. The league has changed a little bit, definitely has gotten smaller and faster. I’m just trying to keep up as an older player now. The league is still very fun and being out in LA we still think we have the pieces to get back to where we want to be.”

Q. What do you know about Todd McLellan that excites you for the future?

KOPITAR: “Todd’s a very upbeat guy from what I’ve experience so far with him. We were on the phone quite a bit and met a couple of times. He’s got this energy about him that he brings in the room and makes his presence felt, which is what we need. That can translates onto the ice for us.”

Q. When you meet with a new head coach before the season what kind of messages do you want to convey to him about what the team is all about?

KOPITAR: “I think first and foremost it’s building the relationship. Me being one of the leaders, he’s probably going to talk to me quite a bit and I’ll try to talk to him as much as I can, too. It’s just building the relationship and pointing out the stuff that was done good and pointing out the stuff that needed to be a lot better. It’s a two-way street in the dialogue. At the end of the day we’re all just trying to get better and that’s where we’re pointing everything towards.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.