Line of Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams tough to handle
GLENDALE, Ariz. — They won a mere two games in December and ended up using seven goalies during a not-so-memorable Kings season in 2007-08.
But one of those goalies — Jason LaBarbera — recognized something special in two of the Kings’ young forwards, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. They had career breakthrough performances that season, scoring 33 and 32 goals, respectively.
“You could see how great they were going to be,” said LaBarbera, who is now the Phoenix Coyotes’ backup goalie. “They’ve always been really good players. But they’ve never been on that pedestal they are on now. They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Mainly giving the Coyotes considerable trouble in the Western Conference finals. They were responsible for two of the Kings’ four goals in their 4-2 win in Game 1, and Phoenix appeared overwhelmed and overmatched against the line of Justin Williams-Kopitar-Brown. Game 2 is Tuesday night.
“That’s a great line. Kopitar is really strong on the puck,” said Coyotes center Martin Hanzal on Monday. “He can hold too. Brown can score and Williams, I think he is really an underrated player because he’s got big skill.”
Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett pointed out that there were errors in coverage against both Kopitar and Brown in Game 1. Kopitar scored the game’s first goal and Brown had the game-winner and assisted on the Kopitar goal.
“They’re physical guys, big bodies,” said Phoenix center Boyd Gordon. “We’re going to have to find a way to slow them up somehow. It’s like anything else; you can’t turn pucks over.”
The attention given to the likes of Kopitar and Brown has benefited their linemate Williams, who has three goals and nine points in 10 playoff games.
“I probably go a little more under the radar because we have so many high-profile guys on our team,” Williams said. “I’m more than comfortable with that. It’s helpful being under the radar, if you can produce.”
The line may not have a nickname, yet. But not one is needed when there is such a special mix of skill, power and finesse.
“It’s pretty good recipe. I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “The power forward, Brownie; there’s Kopi, big dominant centerman; and I guess I fit the mold of the playmaker, puck-handler. It’s only a good blend when we’re all working together. The last month or two we’ve really been moving our feet and creating a lot of havoc in the offensive zone.”
LaBarbera spoke of another element of the line’s success.
“They’re different in the fact they’re real good down low,” he said. “They’re good off the rush, but I think their strength is protecting the puck down low below the tops of the circles. I would imagine as a D-man, it’s really hard to play against.”
Brown, in particular, has managed to walk the fine line in terms of aggression.
“He lets his play do the talking,” LaBarbera said. “I think that’s probably frustrating for players. This guy hammers guys, but nobody ever goes after him because he’s not that kind of guy who hits you and stays there and says something. He hits you and keeps playing.
“He plays on the edge. He’s not afraid. He’s not a dirty player. He hits hard, but he doesn’t cross that line. Not yet, anyway.”
The concussed Simon Gagne, out since Dec. 26, has been cleared for contact but when asked about expectations that he could return for playoffs, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter made a zero sign.
“That’s news to me,” Sutter said. “I mean, he hasn’t played a game in five, six months.”
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