Shortly after starting the 2011-12 NHL season and shortly after signing a long-term extension, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty suffered an upper body injury. The injury came early in Saturday night’s matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers when Doughty was skating through the slot and took a hard hit from the Flyers Zic Rinaldo. The hit appeared to be clean from every angle so no suspension will be handed down. Doughty had one assist in three games this season.
Who steps up in his absence? Doughty is the team’s leader on defense. It was encouraging to see forward Dustin Penner step up and challenge the Flyers after Doughty was hit. That is the fire you need from a guy who has something to prove after a disappointing campaign following the trade deadline last season. Anze Kopitar has recovered beautifully from his broken ankle with three goals and four assists in the team’s first four games this season. Mike Richards has made an immediate impact already notching an assist on the game-winning goal Saturday night in his return to Philadelphia. That’s the offense though.
I nominate Jack Johnson to step up and take the reins. The 24-year old has been very noticeable this season already on the offensive end with two goals and two assists. With the Kings a crucial defenseman down, another crucial defensive player needs to fill his skates. The start of Saturday’s Flyers game could have gone a lot worse. Jonathan Quick had to do backflips to protect the net. Offense can be made up by a number of guys. The Kings fell into a trap of playing from behind far too often last year due to lack of zone help. They already fell behind 2-0 to the Rangers in the opener and were down 1-0 against Philadelphia as well. To win a dangerous Western Conference, the Kings can’t afford to play from behind anymore.
Luckily for Doughty and the Kings, there was no apparent damage to his head. The worst thing that can happen to the Kings is to have a Sidney Crosby situation on their hands. The team will be without Doughty for seven to ten days, which means he will miss the home opener against the St. Louis Blues Tuesday. He is expected to make his return against either the Dallas Stars or Phoenix Coyotes.