Is this the year that Kings center Anze Kopitar solidifies his lofty position in the NHL in the view of people … outside of L.A.?
That might sound a bit odd when talking about someone who led the NHL in playoff scoring in 2012 when the Kings won the Stanley Cup, but it has taken this long for Kopitar's two-way excellence to get him into the Selke Trophy conversation. Perhaps voters were staying up later on the East Coast to watch Kings games during the regular season.
Kopitar was honored by the Selke nomination, given to the league's top defensive forward. But his response about individual accomplishments has been remarkably consistent through the years. In fact, he almost gets embarrassed by over-the-top praise.
"I don't care about that," he said. "It doesn't matter. I've said it all along. It doesn't matter what you do on the ice, scoring goals, making big plays. That's what it comes down to in the playoffs. Gabby [Marian Gaborik] has scored a couple of huge goals in this series now.
"For example, Schultzie [Jeff Schultz] came in last night. He made an impact on the game. And sometimes blocking a shot is bigger than scoring a goal as we saw with Marty [Alec Martinez] in OT [in Game 1]."
Kopitar is leading the NHL in playoff scoring with 14 points and was nominated for the Selke along with two former winners, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. It is the first time a player from the Kings organization has been nominated.
The Kings lead the Ducks, 2-0, in a Western Conference semifinal series, and Kopitar has had at least one point in each of the Kings' nine playoff game. He is the second player in the last 15 years to accomplish that, joining Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings, who did it in 2010, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"He has been doing this for a while," Kings center Mike Richards said about Kopitar on Tuesday, a day after beating the Ducks, 3-1, in Game 2 at Honda Center. "This might be as good as I've ever seen him play."
Richards noted that the Selke nomination has brought more attention to Kopitar. Arguably, a platform on the world stage in Sochi, Russia, served as a factor too, as Kopitar sparked his native Slovenia to historic levels, reaching the quarterfinal round in its first Olympic appearance.
"Obviously, he's doing really well with putting up the points, but it's not just the points," Richards said. "He blocks shots, he kills penalties, he takes every big faceoff, he plays at the end of games. He's been doing this stuff for probably the past five years, but this is probably the best I've ever seen him play."
Kopitar's contributions go well beyond the raw numbers. He assisted on all three Kings goals in Game 1, set up linemate Gaborik's goal in the opening 34 seconds of Game 2 and forced Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau to make some in-game adjustments. Boudreau had been putting his No. 1 line of Matt Beleskey-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry against the Kings' top unit of Gaborik-Kopitar-Dustin Brown.
After Monday's game, Boudreau explained why he changed the Getzlaf-versus-Kopitar matchup.
"Well, I did because Kopitar's line was dominating them," Boudreau said. "I could be stubborn and leave them out there all day, but we had to move something around to get away from it, and maybe [the Getzlaf] line could get something accomplished."
Said Kopitar: "I don't know about dominating them. I think they were playing good and they hemmed us in our zone for a little bit too."
Those modest words will surely please Kings Coach Darryl Sutter.
In March 2013, Sutter essentially kicked off a Selke campaign for Kopitar, saying he was the best all-around center he had coached, and talked for an extended period about Kopitar's various strengths.
Tuesday? Sutter was his contrarian best, not buying into the observation that this current stretch featured the best of Kopitar.
"The year the Kings won the Stanley Cup, he led the scoring race," Sutter said. "He led this team in scoring this year, led it in goals, assists, points, plus-minus. Is this the best he's played? Last night? No. Go ask him."
This was Sutter getting into coach mode for Game 3.
"… That's not my job to suggest. If anybody else wants to, that's good," Sutter said. "I'm really not interested in that. I'm trying to get him to be an ace on Thursday."