Defenseman Drew Doughty sat out what appeared to be a relatively meaningless 2-1 loss for the Los Angeles Kings in Vancouver Saturday night, but many fans were rightfully concerned that the ‘upper body injury’ he suffered two nights earlier in San Jose (when he made an open-ice hit on Tyler Kennedy using his left shoulder) might be devastating to the Kings’ 2014 Stanley Cup aspirations. Of course, many Kings fans still remember the sting of the team losing Anze Kopitar less than three weeks before the start of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. While that Kings team hung tough with the heavily-favored San Jose Sharks before losing the best-of-seven series 4-2, there is no doubt that Kopitar could have made the difference in pulling an upset. Well, don’t despair, Kings fans–there IS good news:
As LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen suggested this morning (see the tweet above), there doesn’t appear to be any reason to rush Doughty back to play in the Kings’ remaining three regular season games. The Kings are already set in the third (and final) seed out of the Pacific Division–their playoff seeding cannot change regardless of the outcomes of the remaining three games. However, their first round opponent has yet to be determined because the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are only separated by one point in the standings. The Kings will play the team that ends up with the lower seed. If the outcome of the Kings’ final regular season game, Sunday against the Ducks, has the potential to affect their first round opponent, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see Doughty back in action–assuming that he is fully healthy, of course.
Doughty’s significance to the Kings’ playoff chances can’t be understated. Doughty has a plus/minus rating of 17 and is third in the NHL in defensive point shares (a statistic that measures the estimated number of points contributed by a player due to his defense) with 6.7. He is also fifth in the NHL in total time on ice, as well as fifth in total shifts and shifts per game. Doughty leads all Kings defensemen in points and time on ice, and is routinely expected to take responsibility for opposing teams’ best offensive forwards while on the ice. There really wouldn’t be any way for the Kings to replace Doughty’s contributions to the team, especially at this point of the season.
So, for now, it appears that the Kings have dodged a real bullet with Drew Doughty’s ‘upper body’ injury. He will continue to be monitored day-to-day, but there’s no way that he would already be back on the ice at practice only four days after suffering the injury if the team thought it was even remotely serious. Kings fans should breathe a sigh of relief and keep looking ahead for what should be an exciting first round playoff match-up!