Despite a Game 4 loss that will force a Game 5 in Newark on Saturday, Drew Doughty was again part of the action, tying the game in the third period with a powerplay goal. It was his fourth goal and 14th point in 18 playoff games this season.
The offensive pop Doughty has shown, and is expected to produce, comes with a defensive swagger that was missing for much of the beginning of this season. In fact, many could argue that Drew Doughty was missing for the majority of the start of the season.
But Darryl Sutter, who has taken charge in helping this Kings roster find themselves, found Drew Doughty.
And the Kings now find themselves a win short of greatness heading into New Jersey.
Doughty, the most talented all around defenseman on the Kings' back line and a second overall pick in 2008, started the season uncharacteristically slowly, as did most on the Kings. Through the first 28 games of the season, Doughty had only ten points and two goals. In fact, from November 12th to December 13th, Doughty recorded just one assist. That is not Drew Doughty.
But with the December 20th hiring of Darryl Sutter behind the bench, Doughty's game showed signs of rounding out. Doughty recorded five points in Sutter's first four games, and recorded 26 points overall in the 49 games after Sutter's arrival.
In the playoffs, Doughty has taken it a step further to be LA's best blue-liner, even when surrounded by a defense corp making substantial steps forward, particularly with the advanced responsibility shouldered by youngsters Slava Voynov and Alec Maritnez. Rob Scuderi has been brilliant in a shut-down role, and veteran Willie Mitchell has found the next level of his game while playing 25 minutes a night.
But Doughty has been the star from the back end, as is expected, since the playoffs began. Doughty has points in all four games in the Final, but his success extends beyond that. Doughty has brought the physical play in the defensive end back to his game, the confidence in his breakout passes, and the assertiveness rushing the puck which has made the NJ Devil forecheck half as effective as in any other round this post-season.
Doughty has taken it upon himself to create with his feet, to dictate above the circles in the offensive zone, to be a difference maker. He has taken on the challenge to mature mid-season and has grown up all over again before our eyes to be the Norris candidate going forward that his sophomore season proved he could be.
In an early May article by Rich Hammond on LA Kings Insider, Doughty was quoted saying the following regarding Sutter:
“He’s hard on you. He’s huge on preparation. He’s making sure that we’re all ready for the game, whether it’s the day before the game, or right before we step on the ice, he’s making sure that we’re into it. He has ways of doing it, that, it just works. He’s so hard on you, it’s almost scary to not be ready. If he catches you off-guard or something like that, you’re going to be in trouble. So he does a great job with that. I think that’s a huge part of why our success is like this right now.’’
This of course is not necessarily the reputation of a Terry Murray coached team, an interesting parallel that can be drawn across the league. Tom Renney, for example, has had the reputation of an excellent man for player development and working with young men out of the draft. However, when it has come time to win, to push to the next step, Renney has now found himself cleaning out an office twice.
Murray met a similar fate after building up a strong young roster over the course of the last 4 years. But when it became time to win, when first round ousters weren't enough, and when the off-season Cup pick for some was floundering in the first months of the season, it was time for a change. And the no-nonsense Sutter has been the answer.
The Kings as a whole have awoken since Sutter arrived and since the playoffs began. But it has been most noticeable, and perhaps most necessary, in Doughty. Doughty missed 13 days of camp this summer lobbying for a massive contract, and he didn't respond properly after getting his pay day. In the last three seasons, Doughty's point production has fallen from 59, to 40, to 36. It was time for a change, for Doughty and the organization, to reach the next level.
The change was made. And it was a man brought in who hadn't been behind the bench since 2006. But Sutter has pushed all the right buttons and the Kings have played their best hockey at just the right time. And for their greatest investment, it could be the change that keeps the Kings right where they are, among the league's most dynamic group, for years to come.
In these playoffs, there's no doubting Drew.