(I did a Q & A with the 700 Level in preparation for tonight's game. I'm quite informative, charming and witty but then again, when am I not?)
So here's something weird: Anze Kopitar isn't struggling. At least, not in the way we think he is. Kopitar only has 3 goals in his last 25 games and has had his linemates shuffled in an attempt to get him going, but he's not really struggling... at even-strength, at least. Take a look at Kopitar's production the last 3 seasons along with this season at even-strength:
|2010-11 (Thru 55 Games)||12||26||38|
As you can see, Kopitar's even-strength numbers are remarkably consistent, whether in his breakout year of 07-08 or his much maligned 67-point season in 08-09. As you can see, Kopitar is going to destroy his previous highs in even-strength points and has already set a high in assists.His numbers project to a line of 18-39-57 over an 82-game season.
What's fluctuating in Kopitar's year-to-year numbers? Kopitar's power play numbers:
|2010-11 (Thru 55 Games)||5||9||14|
Kopitar's on pace to score 9-13-20 points on the power play, which would be his lowest power play total ever. Power play numbers generally fluctuate more than even-strength numbers because a player spends less time on the power play so his numbers are influenced by the vagaries of fate more. Kopitar's luck is more likely to balance out in the 1,300 minutes he spends at even-strength each season than the 300 he spends on the power play.
So, what is this telling me? Kopitar has seen real improvement this season as compared to his previous seasons, it's just being masked by his bad luck on the power play. It's possible Kopitar is as lucky at even-strength as he's unlucky on the power play, but that's not really lining up with what I'm seeing from Kopitar every night. He's driving the net more, he's digging the puck out along the boards, and he's moving the play. He's 23, so there's no reason to think an increase in ability is smoke and mirrors. I expect Kopitar's even-strength totals to stay in the 50's for the majority of his career, with "good years" and "bad years" being determined by his power play points.
The main reason I'm so confident that the Kings are going to make the playoffs lies in how poorly they've done on the power play this season. The Kings are on pace to score about 13 less goals on the power play then they did last season but they're also on pace to score about 10 more goals at even-strength. The latter number is much more important than the former. The Kings could continue to struggle on the power play but they could just as easily go on a tear and finish about where they did last season. Kopitar's numbers are a microcosm of the team's numbers. I expect both to improve by the end of the season.