Anze Kopitar made LA Kings' new captain after Brown loses job


Anze Kopitar made LA Kings' new captain after Brown loses job

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings named Anze Kopitar their new captain Thursday, taking the job away from longtime captain Dustin Brown.

Brown had been the Kings' captain for eight seasons since 2008, raising the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. But the American center's play has dipped markedly in recent years, and he has failed to score 30 points in the last four consecutive seasons.

The switch was announced by Dean Lombardi, the Kings' president and general manager.

Kopitar is the Kings' first-line center and their leading scorer for nine consecutive seasons. He has served as an assistant captain since 2008, but the Kings are tying their long-term future to the Slovenian playmaker.

Kopitar, who turns 29 later this summer, is the 14th captain in Kings history. He has an eight-year, $80 million contract with the Kings through 2023-24.

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The 31-year-old Brown has a $47 million contract through 2021-22, and though he has capably managed the leadership aspects of his job, his on-ice production hasn't matched his financial compensation.

Brown was the Kings' first-round draft pick in 2003, while Kopitar was their first-round choice in 2005. They've been teammates since 2006 while spending their entire NHL careers with the Kings, persevering through several rough seasons before leading Los Angeles' rise to become a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Both centers played major roles in the 2012 playoffs, when the eighth-seeded Kings rampaged through the postseason with a 16-4 record on the way to the franchise's first Stanley Cup title. Brown and Kopitar shared the postseason scoring lead with 20 points apiece in those 20 playoff games before Brown accepted the Stanley Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman, becoming just the second American-born captain to raise the NHL's top prize.

Brown has yet to reprise the offensive production he showed in 2012, although he still showed a knack for big goals during the next two postseasons, when the Kings reached the Western Conference finals in 2013 and won it all again in 2014.

Brown's declining play has been a major topic of discussion in recent years around the Kings, who missed the playoffs entirely in 2015 with just 11 goals from Brown. The former captain's inability to generate offense while playing his usual physical game has hurt the Kings, although coach Darryl Sutter has always staunchly defended Brown's presence and leadership.

They rebounded last season while leading the Pacific Division for most of the year and returning to the playoffs, but Brown managed just one assist in five postseason games while Los Angeles was bounced by San Jose in the first round.

With no playoff series victories in two years and an aging core still near its prime, Lombardi apparently felt a leadership change was necessary for the Kings to return to championship contention.

The Kings' future is strongly tied to Kopitar, the sublime two-way center whose steady play exemplifies the Kings' style in Sutter's tenure. Sutter recently agreed to a contract to return to the Kings this fall for his sixth season and beyond.

Star defenseman Drew Doughty also is expected to take a more prominent leadership role for the Kings this fall, likely assuming an assistant captaincy.

Brown's future is more questionable with the Kings, and Lombardi's decision to take away the "C" makes it even more tenuous.

Surging Sharks can't afford to lose 'tremendous' Tomas Hertl to injury


Surging Sharks can't afford to lose 'tremendous' Tomas Hertl to injury

The Sharks' game on Thursday was, without a doubt, the Tomas Hertl show.

Hertl has been playing at a high level throughout San Jose's current winning streak and added to that successful stretch Thursday by leading San Jose's offense with two goals against the Ducks. But then Hertl left the game in the third period after colliding with Anaheim forward Sam Steel and appearing to injure his leg. Hertl never returned to the game and was not available for comment following the Sharks' 5-3 victory.

Even after the postgame media scrum, there was no update on Hertl's status. But it's no secret that the Sharks, who are finally digging themselves out of their early-season hole, can't afford to lose him from their forward attack.

"He's playing tremendous," Logan Couture told reporters at Honda Center after the game. "You hate to say you get used to it because he's playing at such an elite level. But the way he's been playing over the last two years, he's been at that level. And he's getting better."

The captain isn't mistaken. Hertl really came into his own last season after head coach Peter DeBoer moved him to the center position, taking on more responsibility and becoming an irreplaceable force in San Jose's offensive arsenal. Now, after a slow start to the season, the Czech forward has come alive once again with goals in five straight games and is currently leading his team with 21 points. His performance through the first two periods of Thursday's game perfectly showcased the mix of physicality, goal-scoring prowess and relentless drive that makes him a power forward to be reckoned with. Not to mention, he plays well with a number of players on his wing, and the current combination with Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow has been one of the best lines -- if not the best -- the Sharks have put out on the ice since the start of November.

That's precisely why San Jose can't afford to lose him as the team climbs its way out of the Pacific Division basement.

An injured Hertl wouldn't just force DeBoer to shuffle up his lines, as he also plays an important role on San Jose's special teams, which have been one of the team's saving graces since the start of the season. There's no doubt that the Sharks would be missing a major puzzle piece if Hertl has to miss any games.

The Sharks have a packed schedule through the end of November with a mix of competition to face, from hosting the lowly Detroit Red Wings this upcoming Saturday to visiting the rival Vegas Golden Knights next Thursday. Given how San Jose's season began, there is no opponent on the horizon that the Sharks can look past.

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If the injury Hertl sustained Thursday causes him to miss time, San Jose's job becomes that much more difficult.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 win over division rival Ducks


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 win over division rival Ducks


It wasn't the prettiest or most dominant game the Sharks have played this season. But heck, a win is a win.

San Jose spent a good chunk of Thursday's game trailing the Ducks on the scoreboard. But thanks to some late-game magic from the special teams, Team Teal was able to extend its winning streak to five games with a 5-3 victory over the SoCal rival.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's game in Anaheim.

Stay strong, special teams

In all honesty, the Sharks didn't look like they had the upper hand for the majority of the game. But during a short span in the third period, San Jose completely took over the game thanks to a power-play goal from Brent Burns and a short-handed goal from Evander Kane within less than three minutes of each other.

San Jose's special teams have been one of the few bright spots through the slow start to the season. When facing an opposing goaltender that is on top of his game -- like John Gibson was for Anaheim on Thursday -- being able to score on both the man advantage and the penalty kill is huge.

Hertl power 

While three of the Sharks' four forward lines generated very little offense against the Ducks, Tomas Hertl and his linemates, Timo Meier and Barclay Goodrow, were on fire. Hertl had quite a night with two goals in the first 40 minutes, extending his goal-scoring streak to a career-best five games.

Hertl, Meier and Goodrow also accounted for the majority of San Jose's shots on goal within the first two periods. Although the rest of the offense began to come alive in the third, the Sharks still need to get to a point where all four lines play up to the level that the Hertl's played at against the Ducks.

Not-so-strong second 

Too often this season, the Sharks have followed up a strong first period with a sluggish second. Such was the case on Tuesday night, as San Jose grinded in the first period but came out in the second stanza flat-footed.

To make matters worse, the Sharks couldn't stay out of the penalty box in that period, which allowed Anaheim's dismal power play to find the back of the net. While the Sharks were able to tie the game back up before the period expired, they can't keep undoing all their hard work.