Anze Kopitar on substandard year, failure to make LA All-Star cut
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – For almost six weeks near the end of the summer, Anze Kopitar resorted to FaceTime in order to keep in touch with his pregnant wife and young daughter in Los Angeles.
First he was in Minsk, Belarus for 2018 Olympic qualifiers where he helped Slovenia make the next Games in Pyeongchang with three goals and five points in three games. Then it was the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto during September, where he captained Team Europe to a surprise final series appearance against Team Canada and notched four assists in six contests.
By the time Kopitar finally returned to the Los Angeles Kings, his wife was just about ready to give birth to the couple’s second child.
“I told the staff (of Team Europe) the coaches and everything if something happens, that I’m leaving with the first flight out of Toronto,” Kopitar said. “They certainly understood that and made sure they knew that was my priority obviously. But yeah it was hard to be away from my older one I guess who was just over a year old at the time too so that’s a little tougher to get away.”
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The month before the start of the NHL’s regular season, it seemed like Kopitar had almost a year’s worth of hockey and life experiences. Through it all he has tried to stay the same consistent two-way, even-keel force that saw him receive a 10-year $80 million contract extension last season along with the Selke and Lady Byng trophies
But the 29-year-old Slovenian superstar has seen his points per-game drop to 0.57 – below his career average of 0.88, which leads to some wonder if his amount of playoff-like games before the season hurt his production during the first half of the NHL’s regular slate. Through 37 games Kopitar, has four goals and 17 assists.
“There was a lot of travel. If I could I would have cut down on some miles for sure, but it was what it was. It didn’t hurt me too much or tire me out too much,” he shrugged.
Kopitar’s game involves more subtlety than just scoring. His ability to effectively play both offensively and defensively has enabled the Kings to build a solid puck possession outfit around his talents. This season, he has held a plus-6.02 adjusted 5-on-5 CF% Rel and a 58.09 adjusted 5-on-5 CF%. Both are higher than the numbers he had a year ago, but points are the issue that have mostly gnawed at Kopitar this season.
“My numbers this year are just not good enough. They’re nowhere close,” Kopitar said. “But I’m working at it. I’m getting there. I think it’s encouraging for me just because I am getting chances and I’m around the net and the pucks aren’t necessarily bouncing my way but I’m sure that’ll come too.
“I’d say I’m very critical of myself to begin with, almost too critical sometimes where I have to draw the positives and build on that,” Kopitar added.
Kopitar missed five games from Nov. 13-20 with an upper-body injury, but this hardly counted as rest for the first-year Kings captain. During this time he tried to heal but also push himself enough so that when he returned to action he’d be at 100 percent.
“There’s definitely some rest involved, but at the same time you can’t just lay around because once you’re good you have to be in game shape right away,” Kopitar said. “You get a couple of days to catch the air, but after that you have to start working out. You have to start getting better and just getting in game shape.”
Los Angeles has tried to put Kopitar and Marian Gaborik together on a line at times in order to rekindle some past magic, but Gaborik has scored two goals in 20 games played as he has attempted to find some traction after a foot injury during the World Cup kept him out until late November. The two have picked up some points recently, but it has been slow going.
Gaborik has notched a goal and two assists in his last three games while Kopitar has notched five points in his last five. This came after as stretch where Kopitar had one point in his previous nine. So far, Trevor Lewis has been arguably Kopitar’s best complement throughout the season, but he’s not exactly known as a big scorer. Jeff Carter’s line has mostly carried the offensive load for the Kings this season.
“Points are hard to come by but you have to work for it obviously,” Gaborik said. “Behind everything is kind of working it and getting on the puck and getting around the net and then when those plays happen, when you can make a good play, I just have to execute.”
The Kings immediately dismiss any notion that the pressure of being captain has hurt Kopitar’s production. He puts enough on himself to succeed and wearing the ‘C’ doesn’t really change how he views his game. The Kings decided to give Kopitar the captaincy last summer after Dustin Brown held it from 2008 through 2015-16.
Brown then went off on the Kings, not about taking his ‘C’ and giving it to Kopitar, but about how the decision was leaked before it was made official.
“Kopi, I think he’s a great leader. I think Jeff Carter’s a great leader. I think Drew (Doughty’s) growing into being a great leader. I think (Dustin Brown’s) a great leader. It’s why we’re a good team. It’s why they’ve been a good team,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
Recently, the Pacific Division All-Stars were announced, and Kopitar was not on the list. This came after the NHL released a commercial that included Kopitar advertising the 2017 All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
When asked if it was strange seeing himself in the commercial since he wasn’t picked for the team, Kopitar cracked a small smile and said, “It might be weird now because I didn’t make it. It is what it is.”
Not having the ability to play the game on his home rink in front of his fans upsets Kopitar, but this does provide a silver lining to him. It’s a chance to get some rest, hang out with his family and mentally prepare himself for the next stretch of games.
“Would I have loved to have played in the All-Star Game? For sure, especially because it’s here, but at the same time a few days away from hockey won’t hurt either,” he said.
Just because Kopitar has four goals currently doesn’t mean he will finish with that exact number. There’s plenty of 2016-17 left to pile up some goals and points. Plus, the Kings have stayed in the Wild Card picture during Kopitar’s struggles, which bodes well for when he starts to score at a more consistent rate.
“The thing for me is I’m very critical to myself. My personal goals are high, so when I don’t meet those goals it’s frustrating but I’ve always been very competitive,” Kopitar said. “My standards have been very high. That’s the way I am, that’s the way I’m going to be and when I don’t meet those standards it’s not the greatest feeling, but at the same time I have to realize I’ve done something right to play 800 games in this league and all of that – going back to the positive draw from that and build on it.”
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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper
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