Commentary

Doughty and Johnson an exciting pair

The Kings' Olympic defensemen have been masterful during power plays

Updated: April 20, 2010, 7:41 PM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- In a city that lives for stop-what-you're-doing moments and only gravitates toward superstars, the Los Angeles Kings may have finally found their perfect package. If Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson can continue to man the power play as masterfully as they did during the Kings' 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, giving L.A. a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference quarterfinal series, the Kings may have something far greater than a second-round date in their future.

The Kings on the power play with Doughty and Johnson at the helm have been like Kobe Bryant getting the ball with the time running out or Manny Ramirez going up to bat with the bases loaded. You drop whatever you're doing and watch them because you know there's a good chance you're going to see something special.

[+] EnlargeJack Johnson
Noah Graham/NHLI/Getty Images Jack Johnson's masterful performance during power plays lifted the Kings in victory Monday.
So far in these playoffs that's exactly what the Kings' young pair of Olympian defensemen has produced. They are the quarterbacks when the Kings have a man advantage and the two of them are playing like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They are puck-moving defensemen with the ability to set up a score at any moment. And, as the Canucks found out Monday, they don't waste much time.

The Kings were 3-for-3 on the power play (they're now 7-for-12 on the series) during Game 3 and scored their power-play goals within 42 seconds of getting the man advantage. The Kings had always been a good power-play team, finishing the regular season with the seventh-best power-play percentage in the NHL (20.8) and the fifth-most power-play goals (64). But they've been so consistently efficient in the postseason, posting the most power-play goals and best power-play percentage, that some are beginning to wonder if the Kings haven't discovered an exploitable flaw in a Vancouver penalty kill that ranked in the bottom half of the league during the regular season.

"We've been working on it a lot in practice," Doughty said. "We've definitely been watching video on their penalty kills and we see what they're doing and what they're not doing. We happened to open up those lanes today, and thank god they're going in."

The connection between Doughty, 20, and Johnson, 23, is obvious on and off the ice. They were already friends before the Olympics, but after playing against each other in the gold-medal game -- with Doughty's Team Canada beating Johnson's Team USA -- they grew tighter. They talked about their expectations for the Games as they flew up together and reminisced about what they had just accomplished on the flight back together.

"That experience will be something we'll never forget," Johnson said "We'll probably never again play in a game of that magnitude globally unless we play against each other in another gold-medal game."

Despite only recently being paired together on the power play after Johnson replaced Jarret Stoll in Game 2, Johnson and Doughty have always enjoyed playing off each other on the ice, even if it's at practice and not in a game.

[+] EnlargeDrew Doughty
Kirby Lee/US PresswireDrew Doughty tied a Kings playoff record with four points by a defenseman, including a goal on Monday night.
"Me and Jack love playing together," Doughty said. "We have a lot of fun and we're both the same kind of players; we can be gritty in our defensive zone and then other times like to jump in on the offense and feed the power play. We kind of feed off each other and know what each other is doing before we do it, and that's why we work so well together."

Johnson smiles when he hears Doughty's comments because, not surprisingly, he was thinking the same thing.

"I think we think a lot alike, which helps on the ice," Johnson said. "If you're thinking alike you don't need all the extra signals, you just read and react. And he and I are doing that well, and first and foremost we're having fun out there. When you think alike, the power play comes easily, and it's already a strong suit for us. It's great to have a partner out there like him."

Doughty and Johnson, who both had three assists, tied a playoff record for most assists by a defenseman in a game while Doughty, who scored a goal and had four points on the night, tied a Kings playoffs record for a defenseman.

While the two of them may think alike on the ice, what makes them so deadly on the power play is their versatility in being able to score or set up others in different ways from different angles.

"We have a couple different elements since he's a lefty and I'm a righty," Doughty said. "We can switch and we'll be on our offsides for one-timers, and other times we'll be on our strongside to make passes at the same time. It's been a great addition to the power play."

That was evident as the tandem assisted on a couple of Michal Handzuz power-play goals as well as Ryan Smyth's shot that put the game away. If the tandem of Johnson and Doughty continues to play this well, the Kings won't just be looking at a long postseason run this year but possibly for the next eight years, which would be just fine for Kings fans who waited eight long years to watch the Kings finally win a home playoff game.

"I think we have a good swagger to our power play now, knowing that when we go out we're expecting to score," Johnson said. "Drew and I are trying not to ever do the same thing twice. Once you become predictable you get into trouble, especially in a seven-game series. And I think that's one of our strengths: we're not predictable. We're going to try to keep that going."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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