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Anze Kopitar acknowledges his 'down year' and the adjustment to being the Kings' captain

Anze Kopitar acknowledges his 'down year' and the adjustment to being the Kings' captain
Kings captain Anze Kopitar looks on after a Nashville Predators goal scored on March 9. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Greetings from Edmonton, where the big news is that the Oilers can clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 if they defeat the Kings on Tuesday night. But something interesting cropped up Tuesday morning from the Kings' point of view: Anze Kopitar told The Times that the responsibility of being the team's captain has been "a new challenge," and although he said the burden hasn't affected his production, his scoring totals this season strongly suggest otherwise.

Kopitar has only 11 goals and 46 points in 68 games — far below the numbers expected of an elite No. 1 center — and his reign as the team's scoring leader will end after nine straight seasons. He became the captain last summer, after management took the captain's "C" away from Dustin Brown, and the Slovenian-born center said he hasn't finished settling into that leadership role.

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"I wouldn't say a burden. It was definitely a change. It's definitely some adjustments that I needed to make," he said after the Kings held an optional morning skate at Rogers Place. "I'm still learning. I don't know if you can learn that overnight. It's been, not a burden, but a new challenge that I think I'm in the process of getting the handle of it and I'll get there."

But he won't complete that process of settling into the captaincy in time to salvage his season — or salvage the Kings' playoff chances. Before Tuesday's games, the Kings were 11 points behind St. Louis, which holds the second West wild-card playoff spot.

"I don't think that affected my production at all. I just wasn't playing good, flat-out, that's just what it is," said Kopitar, who played in Olympic qualifying for Slovenia and for Team Europe in the World Cup before the NHL season began.

"I hold myself to a higher standard — a lot higher standard than that. This year has been definitely a down year for me and I will try to correct that."

Kopitar said the Kings are still focused on winning and making the playoffs, no matter how bleak the odds are, and that they hoped to prevent having to watch the Oilers clinch a spot Tuesday.

"It was hard for them when we were clinching our playoff spots, so it's not the greatest feeling, that's for sure," he said of watching the Oilers celebrate.

He also said he's surprised that the Kings are in such a dire situation and might miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

"At the start of the year, I think if you looked at our roster, not a whole lot of people would have predicted that we'd be in the position we are right now," he said.

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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