Drew Doughty is a key reason the Kings have been so successful in the playoffs. (Christian Petersen / Getty…)
Greetings from Staples Center, which is hours away from playing host to its first-ever NHL conference finals game.
The last time the Kings got this far, in 1993, they called the Forum home. Staples is much bigger and can be tougher to fill with noise but defenseman Matt Greene said fans have been extraordinarily loud during the playoff run that has, so far, given the Kings a 2-0 conference finals lead over the Phoenix Coyotes entering Thursday’s game.
“The crowd’s been great for us all playoffs. I think it’s just going to keep getting better,” he said. “Hopefully we keep giving them a good show.”
This will be the Kings’ first home game since May 6, when they completed their second-round sweep of theSt. Louis Blues. “Toward the end of last game it was definitely the loudest I’ve heard in this building,” Greene said. “It was a good feeling.”
One of the key reasons the Kings have been able to advance so far — and so swiftly — is the outstanding all-around play of defenseman Drew Doughty. He’s averaging a team-high 25 minutes and 30 seconds’ ice time per game and is +9 defensively, third on the Kings behind Dustin Brown (+11) and Anze Kopitar (+10).
Doughty isn’t the flashy player he was in his second season, when he won a gold medal with the Canadian Olympic team and was a finalist for the Norris trophy. But he’s a more complete player now, after four NHL seasons and in the midst of his longest playoff run.
“These pressure situations are the time that I thrive under,” he said Thursday after the Kings’ game-day skate at Staples Center. “I think I play a lot better at both ends of the ice and going into these next couple games I’ve got to be at my best.”
He also offered some insight into how he has gotten better — and said that while Greene, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi had helped him on the ice, it hasn’t always been a smooth process.
“I’ve learned a lot from the coaching staff and fellow players,” he said. “Bringing John Stevens in here as the D coach, when he first came in we’d kind of butt heads all the time. We kind of didn’t agree on plays. Now that me and John have kind of found a place where we get along on plays, we talk things over rather than yelling at each other and I think he’s done a lot for me.
“He’s taught me to play hard, physical. He’s taught me to be more prepared before the game even starts, even the night before the game. And he’s helped me a lot. So that’s one thing, I think and just learning from guys on the defensive end.”
Doughty said the disagreements between him and Stevens centered on matters like whether Doughty should have taken the body in certain situations or whether the defenseman left too big a gap defensively.
“At first he came in, he was really hard on me and I think that was a good thing for me,” Doughty said. “I hated it at first but it has made me learn that he’s just caring about me and about the whole team and he just wants to make me a better player. Now we get along, we talk things over. He’s been great for me….
“My first couple years, being a young guy, a rookie, they kind of let a few more things fly than they would with an older guy they want to lead the team. So my first couple years I would kind of get by making those mistakes and no one would really say anything to me or be hard on me with it. But then John came in my third year and he’s really tough on me. At first it was hard for me to deal with but now things have been going well and he’s been great.”
One more note: Kings forward Trevor Lewis, who was hit from behind by Shane Doan in Game 2 and suffered a cut nose, said he needed stitches beneath his nose and on his lip but felt about as well as you can after being driven into the boards face-first. Doan wasn’t suspended on the play. Lewis’ nose wasn’t broken but he still had a visible cut on Thursday.
“It feels fine,” he said. “Not bad at all.”
How many stitches did he get? “I don’t know,” he said. “They were doing it in between periods so I didn’t ask. It’s a little swollen. Now I’ve got the typical playoff face.”
We’ll have more coverage from Staples Center later, including a pregame news conference about how fans can deal with the traffic problems that will arise near the arena on Sunday when the Kings, Clippers and finish of the Amgen Tour of California bike race all converge.
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