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Hockey

After hot start turns into a three-game skid, Anze Kopitar says Kings aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore

Tyler Toffoli, Anze Kopitar
Kings center Tyler Toffoli (73) is congratulated by center Anze Kopitar after scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period Nov. 9.
(Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

Anze Kopitar knows there are no more secrets by this time of year.

Even though it’s November, the book on teams is out and the targets on their backs are clear. The one on the Kings’ has grown to full size, in his assessment.

“Before the season, we were the L.A. Kings who missed the playoffs two out of the three years,” Kopitar said. “But at one point we were [9]-1-1. You’re not sneaking up on teams anymore. They’re ready for you.”

The Kings’ three-game losing streak has hit that home. Opponents have exploited the Kings’ inability to get out of their zone, and that’s the central theme to their first crisis of a season that began 11-2-2.

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“It’s something we really need to work on,” defenseman Christian Folin said. “It hasn’t been as clean as we want, and it hasn’t been as clean as when we started the season. As a group, we need to do a better job coming back together and breaking the puck out. When we do that, we’re really successful.”

It so happens the Kings will next face one of the best forechecking teams in the NHL, the Boston Bruins, with four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron.

Kopitar won that award for best defensive forward in 2016, and not much more could be asked from him this season. He’s averaging 22:31 per game — almost two minutes more than last season — in addition to carrying his career-best nine-game point streak.

The Kings will continue to look to Kopitar more in the wake of a long-term leg injury to Jeff Carter. General manager Rob Blake confirmed as much when asked if it’s been a big enough sample size — 12 games — to judge how they’ve fared without Carter.

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“No, and unfortunately we’re going to have a large sample size by the end of it, by the time he’s coming back,” Blake said.

As captain, it’s on Kopitar to steer the Kings out of their first rough waters, during a schedule that has them playing 14 games in November. It’s beneficial that Kopitar went into this season without fatigue from the World Cup and at a lighter weight, as suggested by the Kings staff.

“Really, the message with Kopi was that if he can just get just a little bit quicker — even if it’s a quarter step in his game — it’s going to help him,” coach John Stevens said. “Try and come in just a little bit lighter because he plays big minutes, and I think it would make a difference. To his credit, he’s done all that.”

Stevens said Kopitar is playing more minutes than they’d like, but they’ve minimized wear by starting Kopitar in the offensive zone more. Kopitar said he feels fine. His thoughts are more about re-establishing their forecheck and managing that bull’s-eye.

“We brought that on ourselves with good play,” Kopitar said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re ready … that’s about the grind that we talk about. It’s sustaining that for 82 games. It’s impossible, but you’ve got to do the best you can.”

KINGS NEXT UP

VS. BOSTON

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday

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On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790

Update: Jussi Jokinen was expected to arrive to the Kings late Wednesday, following a trade from the Edmonton Oilers for Michael Cammalleri. Boston could start backup goalie Anton Khudobin on the back end of consecutive games. Tyler Toffoli’s goal with 0.4 seconds remaining gave the Kings a 2-1 win at Boston on Oct. 28.

curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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