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Kings' Anze Kopitar is finally showing signs of playing to his high standards

Kings' Anze Kopitar is finally showing signs of playing to his high standards
Anze Kopitar of the Kings scores an empty-net goal against the St. Louis Blues on Monday in St. Louis. The Kings won 2-0. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Anze Kopitar banked points so consistently last season he was a scoring version of a slow-drip coffee maker. Only once did he go more than two games without a point, a metronome-like tick that led to MVP finalist honors.

But this season, the brew light hasn’t even been on regularly.

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He’s already had two five-game pointless streaks, and he recently went three games with two shots on goal. Kopitar’s nine points through 19 games are fewer than half the 23 points he collected at this time last season.

With the bar set so high, the Kings captain is trying to work through it without getting alarmed about the low numbers.

“I always have high expectations internally,” Kopitar said. “I definitely know that expectations rose after last year’s performance and point totals and all that. And I get it. I know I can do it. It’s just that, for whatever reason, things have not gone my way this year, but there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.”

Interim coach Willie Desjardins has alluded to Kopitar’s fallen production as a reflection of his line not getting to the net. Kopitar and wingers Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown have put together stronger and more noticeable performances lately, which Desjardins noted after a loss to the Nashville Predators in which Kopitar ended a five-game scoreless run.

“It was a good sign for our team,” Desjardins said. “High-end players just always feel better when they get a point. I think it took a little pressure off them. I know they’ve been pressing because they knew we needed some goals. It was good for them to score and hopefully they’ll play a little bit more relaxed.”

Kopitar has begun to show those signs. On top of the Nashville game, he scored Monday against St. Louis to secure a victory and a 2-1 record on a trip. It was on an empty-net, but it always feels good to see the puck go in.

The next game against the Colorado Avalanche is a reminder of Kopitar’s magical click last season. He scored four goals against Colorado in a March 22 game. Those were four of his career-best 35 goals and 97 points on the year.

Kopitar would have to go on an MVP-like run the rest of the way to conjure those numbers, but it’s still November.

“I’ve just got to work on it, really,” he said. “I think the last few games, the chances have increased a little bit, but there’s a lot of work to be done. Trending upwards.”

Kovalchuk benched

Ilya Kovalchuk played two shifts in the third period Monday. Desjardins didn’t see the need while protecting a lead.

“I think we’ve got to find a place,” Desjardins said. “I don’t think he’s performed the way he wants to. He’s kind of a power-play specialist a little bit and we’re not getting any power plays, so it’s kind of hurting his chances. We’ll try him out probably with [Adrian] Kempe here and see how that line goes.”

Thompson’s new role

Assistant coach Marco Sturm is running the defense and the power play, and one of the twists has Nate Thompson on the second power-play unit. It’s his first extended look there in a career spent on the opposite side as a penalty killer.

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“But I’m getting a good opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it,” Thompson said. “Like everything else I do, I’m just trying to work at it and work hard.”

The Kings did not get a power play Monday. Against Nashville, Thompson found himself set up on the half wall, an area that is the domain of players like Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Thompson smiled and shook his head when asked about his new office space.

“Sometimes on the power play you have to ad-lib and you have to make hockey plays,” Thompson said.

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.

UP NEXT

VS. COLORADO

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network).

Update: Jonathan Quick (knee) did some drills Tuesday. Colorado boasts the NHL’s top two scorers in Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. Rantanen became the NHL’s first 30-point player on Sunday.

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