When Kings defenseman Drew Doughty fired in the puck from the crowded slot for the winning goal in the waning moments of L.A.'s 3--2 victory over the Blue Jackets on Feb. 1, it wasn't the first time this season that he had come through for his club in the nick of time (though Columbus general manager Scott Howson, who complained loudly that Doughty's goal had been made possible because the Staples Center game clock had stopped briefly with 1.8 seconds left, begs to differ).
Doughty's last-second heroics date back to Sept. 30—just 48 hours before the Kings boarded a plane for Europe, where they opened the season—when he re-signed with the club for eight years and $56 million after a summer of contentious contract negotiations. The lateness of the agreement forced Doughty to miss training camp and all but seven days of the preseason. His lack of fitness, coupled with an early-season shoulder injury that sidelined him for five games in October, begat a glacially slow start. Two years after a 59-point season that earned him Norris consideration at the tender age of 20, he scored just eight points in his first 25 games this year. (That included a stretch of 14 games during which he registered just one assist.)
The added pressure and expectations that came with his new contract, paired with an underperforming Los Angeles attack, seemed to weigh on the normally imperturbable Doughty, who forced too many passes and looked generally out of sorts as the Kings, preseason favorites to finish near the top of the Western Conference, staggered to a 13-13-4 start. "The team struggled offensively, and I think he took a lot of that responsibility on his own shoulders, and when that happened, frustration set in," Kings assistant coach John Stevens says. "He affects the team a lot.... He plays the most minutes. There's not a situation that we encounter with our hockey team that he's not among the first out [on the ice]. We need him to play well."
But to play well, the six-foot, 212-pound Doughty first had to play himself into shape, a process that took until early last month. Beginning with an assist in a 5--2 win over the Capitals on Jan. 9 in L.A., he has run off eight points in his last 11 games. Bolstered also by the superb play of goalie Jonathan Quick (.934 save percentage, 1.91 GAA), the Kings (25-18-10) have climbed from ninth in the West to seventh. And Doughty is rediscovering the fun in his game.
Recently he and teammates Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Matt Greene starred in an online video short for the site funnyordie.com, poking fun at the players' relative anonymity as professional athletes in Hollywood. While Doughty's comedic timing might leave something to be desired, his timing on the ice has come back—and not a moment too soon.