Every point collected by Anze Kopitar is immediately pitted against points that don’t exist.
That is what happens when star players hovers below their expected statistics. They are asked if it was “good to get one” or if the pressure is boiling over. Their coach, such as the Kings’ Darryl Sutter was Tuesday night, is asked if it was “good to get him going?”
The answer to that is yes, always yes. But it is also not so simple.
“You know, other than the goal scoring, I’ve got no problem with his game,” Sutter said after Kopitar scored in a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. “He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s on that level with [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrice] Bergeron, guys like that. We’re just trying to get his shots up and his percentages up.”
Kopitar has five goals in 42 games — he missed six games with an upper-body injury — which puts him far off pace for the 25 he scored last season. He has yet to net a game-winner after scoring eight last year. He also is converting just 6% of his shot attempts; he never finished lower than 10% in the first 10 years of his career.
It has, by almost ever scoring metric, been a down season. But Kopitar is, in may other ways, still Anze Kopitar. His defensive prowess has helped the Kings rank fifth in the NHL in goals allowed per game. He is a key cog on a penalty kill that’s shut down all seven advantages in the Kings’ last two games. He leads the Kings with 21 assists and his production is growing steadily. After posting seven points in December, the Kings’ captain has nine in his last nine games.
Kopitar and the Kings surely wouldn’t mind if he started to score more, and he needs to generate scoring opportunities on a more consistent basis, but they also know his importance can be calculated in many ways.
That formula includes Kopitar’s goal total, however big or small. It also includes the way he creates space for teammates, his ability to fit into any line and his play on both ends of the ice. Those things also have a way of affecting a game.
“Other than his goals being off, he’s an awesome player,” Sutter said. “I’ve got no problem with him ever.”
KINGS NEXT UP
When: Thursday, 4 p.m. PST.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: The Kings (23-21-4) and Hurricanes (21-19-7) met in Los Angeles on Dec. 8. The Hurricanes won that game, 3-1, but are now on a four-game losing streak after winning four straight. The Kings have been without forward Nic Dowd (lower-body injury) and defenseman Matt Greene (lingering back and groin injuries) for two games, and the status of the two will become clearer close to game time. Both teams are currently out of a playoff spot.
Follow Jesse Dougherty on Twitter @dougherty_jesse