Anze Kopitar. The new hot button issue. 1 goal in 20 games. 2 in 25, or something like that. Lots of assists, but to say Kopi is in a scoring drought is…well, it’s accurate. The numbers in one column aren’t there for our star center and it’s all anyone can talk about at the moment.
It sparks a debate, one Dean Lombardi has caused for two years now, one-sided though it may have been and it all arises from one question: Is there any point to acquiring another high-end forward if Kopitar isn’t pulling his own weight? For such a short question, it sure does ask a hell of a lot or, rather, it raises more questions such as is getting Kopi a winger a bailout and therefore the wrong message to send? Will it matter who is on his wing if he can’t dominate on his own. Shit, Crosby does his thing as well as anyone with Pascal Dupuis on his wing, and we all know nothing good ever came from anyone named Pascal.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but Kopitar is not Crosby… Kopitar has played every game in 2011.
Digression and haughty insults aside, we must not ask ourselves to whom we think Kopitar compares or who we want Kopitar to be? He is young, and he will probably get better as he matures, but Kopitar is who he is and, under Terry Murray, that is not a number 1 center, but a checking line forward.
Checking line forward? Damn right.
Let’s break this down. It’s quite simple really.
With whom does Kopitar play? Brown, who isn’t much better on defense than Dustin has been on offense of late. Loktionov, who despite being a very smart defensive player, is really an offensive minded winger at this point and isn’t going to be banging bodies down low in his own zone to create and retrieve loose pucks. So essentially, Kopitar is THE defensive forward on his line. I will get to the line changes in a minute.
Now, who does Kopitar play against? It’s not the opposing team’s scrubs. Kopitar, by design, plays against the other team’s top offensive lines more nights than not.
Put two and two together. He has no real help defensively on his wings and he plays against the best offensive players in the world.
There’s one more element to add.
Kopitar is team first.
It’s one of the things we love about him and what I believe is causing his up and down offensive play. Let’s look back to the All-Star game. It’s relevant. Your mind immediately went to the fact that Kopitar scored 2 goals. Wrong thought. Did you watch the way Anze played most of the game? His head was on defense the majority of the time he was on the ice. He peeled back to the neutral zone when his teammate 20 feet away would bobble the puck. He expended more energy skating on the backcheck than he did on the rush. Defense is burned into Kopi’s head in a big way. Now, this is something that is most definitely Terry Murray’s doing and it has a good and a bad side to it. On the up and up, we have a star level center who can play on any stretch of ice in any situation and excel. Trending downwards, we see what we see now – a player who is all consumed with defensive responsibility.
So great you say, now he is going to play with Handzus and Simmonds. Those guys play wicked defense and they do, but they won’t tomorrow against the Washington Capitals because they are not on Anze Kopitar’s line to play defense, they are there to score. Kopitar has seen every linemate possible, so while it is not fair to pin so much on Loki and Brown’s lack of defensive tendencies, it illuminates the larger point that Kopitar is a one man show on two different stages. This is not Murray’s doing. It is Dean Lombardi’s. Kopitar is double booked and until the Kings’ General Manager can find someone capable of filling two of Anze’s four shoes, that is how it will remain. After all, what team has one offensive star? Let me rephrase that. What Cup contender has one offensive star? I won’t answer that. It’s rhetorical.
Anze Kopitar has done everything that has been asked of him and he is in a HUGE way responsible for every last bit of success this team has had since he has been a King. It is time for Dean Lombardi to stop saying “I’m waiting for Kopitar to show me how to win” and time to tell Kopitar “I’m going to do everything I can to make you a winner.”
Bold trades are what the overly patient dub ‘short-sighted moves’ or the cap conscious cry will unravel the team in years to come or the hoarders refuse to accept because, of course, having great prospects is better than having great NHL players.
Bold trades (or in some cases, free agent signings) are also what virtually every winning team in the NHL does every few years. Brian Campbell may be overpaid but his arrival was a distinct message from the top office to the locker room floor that mere words and platitudes cannot ever properly convey.
Trading for Marian Hossa, despite already having two of the world’s best offensive players says “I don’t care how good you are, it’s not fucking good enough.”
Sending off a boatload for Chris Pronger told everyone stuffing their face with Philly Cheese Steaks that the time hasn’t passed, nor will we wait for it to come but rather we will grab it, strangle and choke the life out of every last point we possibly can because there is nothing else but winning.
Lombardi made one great shift already. He took us from “what the hell are we doing?” to “we’re trying to do something.”
Time for the next shift.
More explicit Nike commercials. Just fucking do it.
Don’t deride Anze Kopitar for slumping in one area while he is being asked to excel in others. Give him your vote of confidence. As fans, as a coach and as a General Manager. Lift him up. He’s earned it.