Anze Kopitar’s level of play for the Kings has been Olympic-worthy
In most other Olympic years in recent history, Anze Kopitar would be the face of the Slovenian hockey team.
Instead, he has kept up with his countrymen from afar, especially when they upset the U.S. and won again Saturday against Slovakia in the PyeongChang Games.
“I actually watched the first two periods and then fell asleep for the third period, and then woke up to about 30 text messages,” Kopitar said.
It eventually led to Twitter, of course. Kopitar used his account to needle former Kings teammate, Slovakian Marian Gaborik, and even got into a back-and-forth with the Kings’ mascot, Bailey.
“It’s all fair game,” Kopitar said.
Apart from Twitter spats, Kopitar happens to have put together a six-week run that’s been one of the most consistent facets of the Kings in 2018. He has points in 16 of 19 games in the calendar year. For the season, Kopitar’s longest point-less streak is three games, and that happened once, over the Christmas break. It’s that day-in, day-out quality that has become watercooler talk for the Kings’ brass.
“He’s become much more of a leader in that sense,” general manager Rob Blake said. “If the team’s not going, he is willing to shield that. He’s playing big minutes. He’s taking the draws. He shuts everybody down. He crosses off their best players, but then he’s able to get offense for us, too.”
Kopitar’s two-way value is such that he is utilized extensively on defensive faceoffs. He’s taken the third-most faceoffs in the NHL, with the third-most wins, through Saturday.
Kopitar also protects the puck as well as any forward, and it has fed his offense. With 25 goals, he’s on track for his first 30-goal season since 2009-10. Kopitar’s next point will be his 800th, and Monday will be his 899th game.
It’s enough to generate legitimate Hart Trophy consideration for most valuable player, an award perceived to be more elusive for players hidden on the West Coast. It’s also enough evidence to see a maturation of Kopitar in his second year of captaincy.
“I’ve always prided myself in producing and being one of the leaders on the team,” Kopitar said. “I don’t think this is really on my mind, to carry the team. We’ve always said it: You win with your best players and you lose with your best players.
“The best players, when they play good, they usually win games. When we’re not playing good, usually you lose games. Just try to be as consistent as I can and bring something to the table every night.”
Slovenian forward Jan Mursak told reporters that his team missed Kopitar. But “they seem to be doing just fine,” Kopitar said. “Maybe it’s probably for the better, because we’re only missing, I guess, one guy from the NHL. Everybody else is missing about 25. We’ll take it right now.”
When: Monday, 5:30 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: Chicago is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Goalie Corey Crawford has been out since December with a reported concussion. Patrick Kane is the fifth player to record 300 goals and 500 assists with the Blackhawks, behind Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard and Steve Larmer.
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