Kopitar Seeing It Two Ways
But what about on the other end? It's not a huge stretch to say that Kopitar's effort on defense has been just as valuable as his offensive production, a point illustrated by the Kings' success against Detroit's top players in four games this season.
Kopitar's line, largely, was matched up against top Red Wings forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. In the four-game series, Kopitar had four goals and three assists. Datsyuk had one goal and one assist. Zetterberg had zero goals and two assists.
|Anze Kopitar battles for a puck with Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings in December. Kopitar limited Detroit's star forward to two assists in four games this season.
Progressively during his five-year NHL career, and particularly in the last three seasons under coach Terry Murray, Kopitar's defensive skills have improved.
In the past, the Kings would try to get the line centered by Michal Handzus matched up against the opponents' top line as much as possible. In some cases, that's still the preferred option, as Handzus has been an excellent defensive center, but Murray is not nervous about having Kopitar matched up against skilled forwards.
``Kopi, he's a player that responds to a challenge against premier players in the game,'' Murray said. ``I think, from where he has come from two years ago, in his checking game, he's right there with any of the top players in the game in that kind of a responsibility. He's big, he's strong, he's very heavy. He uses his stick extremely well, and that's guy against players who have the puck on their stick a lot, like Datsyuk and Zetterberg.''
|Goalie Jonathan Bernier makes a stop against Dallas earlier this season. He will start in net tomorrow in Columbus.|
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal for the Kings tomorrow night at Columbus, Murray said after Thursday's practice. Murray had previously declared his intention to play both goalies during the four-game road trip, and stayed with his strategy.
``That was my plan coming in,'' Murray said. ``Plan your work and work your plan, that kind of thing. Both have played well. So I'm going to go with Bernier tomorrow, and then make a decision over the next few days as to how it goes from there.''
Murray also said that he's contemplating returning winger Kevin Westgarth to the lineup. Westgarth would likely play in place of fourth-line Brad Richardson if Murray determines that Westgarth's presence as a ``heavyweight'' enforcer is needed against Columbus.
Tomorrow's game will be televised on Prime Ticket on tape delay at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time.
DOUGHTY RELIEVED AFTER HIT
Despite a sore nose, watery eyes and a moment of concern, Drew Doughty was relieved after escaping from a Todd Bertuzzi elbow with relatively little damage.
|Todd Bertuzzi reacts after elbowing Drew Doughty in the face last night. Initially startled, Doughty quickly recovered and did not miss a shift.|
Doughty fell down and, looking a bit dazed, went to the locker room after he returned to the bench, but was back on the ice just a couple minutes later.
``It's just that when your nose gets hit, your eyes start to water and stuff like that,'' Doughty said. ``I don't even think I missed a shift, so I'm obviously fine. Luckily, it wasn't anything bad.''
Doughty missed six games in late October because of concussion symptoms, and fears might have been raised when he looked a little unsteady skating back to the bench after Bertuzzi's elbow. Doughty admitted to a nervous moment as well.
``I definitely thought (about) that too,'' Doughty said, ``because I fell right after the hit, and that's kind of something that guys do when they get a concussion. They try to get up and they fall, and that's what I did. So at first, I was obviously worried, but once I got to the room I just regrouped and felt good again. The nose is a little banged up, but it's nothing I can't handle.''
GOING FOURTH WITH STRONG PLAY
Murray had high praise for the play of fourth-line rookie forwards Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis in Wednesday's game against the Red Wings.
``Trevor Lewis showed me a few things last night,'' Murray said. ``He stepped up again, to another level, in my mind. He played outstanding. Battling, competing, strong on the puck. He made a couple plays, he rounded the net and found Doughty coming in on the weak side. I think it was the 4-on-4, actually. He and Simmonds were out on the 4-on-4, and he found Doughty coming in off that back post. He was under pressure.
``That's a high-level play. And he gets cut, for four stitches, while coming back and tracking, and he doesn't miss a stride. He just digs in and comes back. He's wiping the blood off his face at the same time, but he never stopped playing the game. And you can't. That's the way it is. You've got to keep going.
``Clifford, I can't say enough about him last night. Against a premier team, taking pucks off the boards and making plays with composure, going to the net. Man, this kid is improving each day. It's good stuff. Important fourth line.''