Kings center Anze Kopitar brings the puck into the offensive zone against… (Kirby Lee / US Presswire )
Game-day skates are optional for the Kings, and their top six forwards and top four defensemen usually opt out in order to preserve their energy.
But on Saturday morning at the Kings' practice rink in El Segundo, as for just about every game-day skate, center Anze Kopitar joined the youngsters and spare players for about a half-hour's worth of skating, shooting and passing.
He didn't need the work: through Friday his ice time ranked second among NHL forwards at 22 minutes and 43 seconds per game. But Kopitar is reluctant to change a good routine and it's easy to understand why, given that he had at least one point in each of the Kings' first six games and 10 points overall. He was tied for second in the NHL scoring race before the Kings faced the Dallas Stars on Saturday at Staples Center.
Coach Terry Murray has urged him to skip optional sessions but Kopitar believes it helps him to lace up his skates and take a twirl on the ice.
"This is almost my wake-up call in the mornings for me. This is where I come in and put a little sweat on, just a little blood flow, I guess," he said.
"It's a little better. I can eat a little easier. You're not as full. And you go home and you sleep a little better. I just want to do it. It's been working for me."
Knowing what's best for him is part of his evolution from a scorer to a two-way player and up to the level of a potential 100-point scorer and scoring title contender.
His maturation and the club's acquisition of center Mike Richards are helping Kopitar launch what could be a career season. He has never averaged a point a game — he had 81 points in 82 games in 2009-10 and 73 points in 75 games last season before suffering a season-ending ankle — but he's poised to reach or exceed that lofty level.
Until this season he was the Kings' only scoring center and opponents could match their checking lines or shutdown defense pairs against his line. Richards' presence on a second scoring line changed that dynamic, forcing opponents to focus on one or the other. If Richards draws the top checkers, Kopitar doesn't.
"I have noticed. I've been playing against different lines pretty much every time," Kopitar said. "It depends on that team, what they want to focus on too. As of right now, I've been playing against different lines, which is different from last year when I was pretty much playing against the shutdown guys every time, especially in their rinks, with the last change….
"We do have two really good lines and they both have to be shut down. They're not focusing as much on me as they were last year."
Murray has seen it too.
"It makes it difficult for the opposing coach now when you have a couple of lines that are a threat out there," Murray said. "Whenever there is, in the player's mind, a mismatch, or if I see something there that I can get a line out in a mismatch situation, then I'll try to jump on that one right away.
"It's a nice feeling, I think, for a player to have a little less pressure sometimes, just in a couple shifts in a game, or a period and they can get their nice comfort level of play in the offensive zone where there's a real good feeling coming back."
Another area in which Kopitar should thrive is power-play production.
In 2009-10, he had 38 points on the power play (and one shorthanded goal) among his 81 points. Last season, he had only 18 power-play points and one shorthanded goal among his 73 points. The Kings' power play ranked among the league's early leaders and Kopitar had four power-play points among his first 10, a healthy percentage.
"Apparently last year my production five-on-five had gone up quite a bit but my power-play production came down quite a bit too," he said. "If I can put them together at some point that would be nice. Right now it seems to be going that way. I don't want to jinx myself but hopefully I can continue playing like that."