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Hockey

Resurgent Dustin Brown has rediscovered his home on the Kings’ first line

Dustin Brown, Matt Bartkowski, Mike Smith
Kings right wing Dustin Brown, right, celebrates a goal by center Anze Kopitar as Calgary Flames defenseman Matt Bartkowski, upper left, and goalie Mike Smith look on during the second period on Oct. 11.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

When he came home from the rink, Dustin Brown noticed it the most.

He could see it when he sat down to play with his children — three boys and a girl, ages 4-9. It was the accumulation of losing and wondering where his career was headed that he carried through the front door, whereas normally he left it at the arena.

Brown was in a bad place last season, demoted to the fourth line at one point and part of another playoff-less Kings team under former coach Darryl Sutter. He had his captaincy taken away, then vented his frustration about it on a conference call with reporters.

Brown tried to shelve that when it was time to be a dad, but he knew.

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“That brings awareness to when you are bringing it home,” Brown said. “You come to the rink, you do your job and you come home, you’re not present. You start to realize. When I was bringing the game home too much, I could see it. You sit back, and see how you’re at, home with your kids. … It was a good reminder.”

That realization sparked Brown’s career rebirth. He’s off to a flying start with seven points in five games, with a plus-six rating. His ice time — nearly 20 minutes a game — is his most since the 2012-13 season.

More important is that he resembles the wrecking ball forward from earlier in the decade, a force on the power play, short-handed and even strength. Hockey is fun again.

“You can see the excitement,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said.

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There are more tangible factors too. Brown knows his role, as opposed to being shuffled under Sutter. Brown’s sagging play facilitated that, but first-year coach John Stevens has regularly put Brown with longtime linemate Anze Kopitar, including on the No.1 power-play unit.

“I’m playing with Kopi consistently,” Brown said. “It’s not a question. I started with Kopi last year and I played one game with him and that was it. So it’s just knowing that [helps].”

Brown also is playing heavier, at 215 pounds, 10 pounds more than his normal weight to start the season. He’s thrown that around the goal-mouth and been the bothersome presence there that he was known for back when he was once a 33-goal scorer.

Kopitar sees it coming together for Brown, the longest-tenured Kings player.

“Well he’s, for sure, refreshed,” Kopitar said. “The last few years have not been good for him at all. I think he’s got a clear head now and he just goes out and plays. He was a 30-goal scorer, so I really don’t see a reason why he can’t get back there again. He’s going to the net like we’re used to him going to the net, you know?”

Kopitar inherited the captaincy from Brown two summers ago in a move that seen equally as an indictment of Brown and an endorsement of Kopitar. Kopitar said he consulted with Brown about how to handle the captaincy, and Brown was as mature as could be.

“He was always really good to me, obviously,” Kopitar said. “We’ve been friends for a long time. Maybe the first interaction, I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. But he made it clear, that’s not going to come between us. He helped me out a ton last year.”

At the time, Brown laid it bare and said he didn’t agree with the captaincy change. In hindsight, it forced him to solely focus on hockey and compartmentalize off the ice.

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“I don’t know if it was like a pressure thing, but it probably helped with the detachment of the games,” Brown said. “I don’t know the reason why I brought the game home with me. The team wouldn’t perform well. I wouldn’t perform well. I would think about it — a lot.”

Blake sees both aspects of Brown often because their sons play in the same youth hockey league. It’s a time-lapse moment for both after they were Kings teammates toward the end of Blake’s career.

“It’s funny to see,” Blake said. “It comes full circle. You see the athlete in the morning and the parent at night.”

Blake said he relies on both Kopitar and Brown to take the temperature of the Kings’ dressing room. It’s been all smiles so far, with Kopitar and Brown leading the way in a reprise of their championship era.

Brown took a zig-zagged path to reach this point, but his fresh start is representative of the Kings’ fresh start. “Fun” is the word thrown around the Kings’ room these days.

“Guys are enjoying being at the rink,” Brown said. “They’re enjoying going out and practicing and getting better. I think that’s something we lost over the last couple of years — the fun of it.”

KINGS NEXT UP

VS. MONTREAL

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When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790

Update: The Kings recalled forward Justin Auger and he skated on a line with Michael Cammalleri and Adrian Kempe in practice. The 6-foot-6 Auger had a strong training camp and was anxious at the possibility of his NHL debut after 202 minor league games. “Just exciting,” Auger said. “I got a couple of texts [saying], ‘Take advantage of the opportunity and show why you’re here.’ ” … The Canadiens played goalie Carey Price on Tuesday night, so the Kings could see backup Al Montoya. … Kings forward Jonny Brodzinski was reassigned.

curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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