Alec Martinez will get asked to do even more for Kings’ banged-up defense unit
Alec Martinez has an interesting theory when it comes to his prolific shot blocking this season.
“I’m playing more minutes, so I have more opportunity to get hit by a shot,” Martinez said.
His deadpan delivery made it sound like a joke, but there is truth to it, especially with the state of the Kings’ banged-up defense. They are without Jake Muzzin and Derek Forbort, the latter apparently long term after coach John Stevens said Wednesday that Forbort’s status is week-to-week. He was seen on crutches at their practice facility because of a lower-body injury.
That places more responsibility on defenseman such as Martinez, who played a career-high 32 minutes 11 seconds on Monday. It made Drew Doughty’s near 29-minute game seem like a slow night. Christian Folin played more than 20 minutes, his most since Jan.24.
The Kings’ defensive depth is being tested at the most critical time. They clinched a playoff berth Wednesday with the St. Louis Blues’ loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, but are jostling for position in the skin-tight Pacific Division chase as they go into Thursday’s penultimate regular-season game against the Minnesota Wild. Stevens said clinching wouldn’t change his approach to the finish line.
“We still look at these games as important for two ways: One, we want to get as high as we can and, two, we want to get our team game in order,” Stevens said. “We’re not 65-0 right now and in position to start resting guys.”
They don’t have much choice Thursday. Kevin Gravel likely will return to the lineup after he practiced as Doughty’s partner, while Paul LaDue again was with Dion Phaneuf. But the big minutes will fall on Doughty and Martinez, who is ranked second in the NHL in blocked shots with 203.
Martinez learned early in his career that getting in front of 90-mph pucks was his ticket to staying in the NHL and watched such former teammates as Matt Greene set the example. While the drumbeat for Doughty as a Norris Trophy candidate is loud, Martinez has quietly taken on a bigger role. He’s averaging nearly 23 minutes a game, the most in his career, plus a few more ice packs postgame.
“I think it’s something that if it helps a team win, then I’m down for doing it,” Martinez said. “I’ve said it before, I just wish I was good at something that didn’t hurt as much, like scoring goals. But we all can’t be Anze Kopitar and we’ve got to figure out ways to help the team win.”
The retirement announcement by Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks got the attention of Adrian Kempe. He grew up 30 minutes from the Sedins’ hometown of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, and first met them when he was a kid. Kempe also has the same agent as the Sedins and was grateful to have crossed paths with them in the NHL.
“It was awesome to get to know them and play against them and [see what] good guys they are, especially off the ice as well,” Kempe said. “They’re such nice guys. I’m just happy that I got to play against them.”
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. PDT.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: Alex Iafallo (upper-body injury) did not practice and Stevens said he doesn’t have a timetable on him but “I don’t expect him to be long term.” The Kings will try to sweep the season series with Minnesota. The Wild are without defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon but rank in the league’s top third in goals against. Doughty has six assists in two games against Minnesota this season.
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