So far, the 2011-12 season has been a rollercoaster ride for the Los Angeles Kings. After the off-season acquisitions of Mike Richards and veteran Simon Gagne, expectations were high and ten games into the season, the Kings did not retreat on those expectations as they started the year at 6-2-2. Richards fit like a glove with his team and Jonathan Quick posted a team-record three-straight shutouts as he proved, like he had in seasons past, that he is an elite NHL goaltender. There was someone else in the mix that no one seemed to be very excited about heading into the new season and early on, it seemed as though many were right for not being enthusiastic. But the season rolled on and we began to see a transformation.


Before the season even began, many had seemed to burn their bridges with Drew Doughty. Not only did he have a subpar season last year but, as no one needs to be reminded, Doughty and the Kings went through a summer-long drama involving a new contract for the star defenseman. Doughty ultimately re-signed in the wee hours of September 30 having missed training camp and most of the pre-season. Many believed that without participating in said training camp, Doughty would struggle early on – and he did.


After starting 6-2-2, the Kings fell a bit in their next 21 as they went 8-11-2. Towards the end of that streak, the Kings were playing sluggishly and it didn’t even seem like they were trying at times. With that, Terry Murray was fired and ultimately replaced by Darryl Sutter but not before assistant John Stevens took over for four games on an interim basis.


Prior to the team’s December 19 date in Toronto against the Leafs, the Kings were 1-6-0 and slipping in the standings at a quick pace. In John Stevens’ last game as the interim before Darryl Sutter took over, Los Angeles won in a shootout. From then on, things started to change and Drew Doughty certainly was not an exception to that.


Since December 19, the Kings have managed points in 14 of their next 15 games and although some of those one-point games should have been ones of the two-point variety instead, Los Angeles is doing a bit more than keeping their heads above water. They’re succeeding with everyone chipping in and that includes Doughty. Since playing in Toronto last month, has recorded a goal and ten assists while collecting 40 shots, a +7 rating overall, not to mention averaging 25:07 of ice time per game. In his previous 27 games, Doughty had two goals, seven assists and a rating of -6. Can it be argued that Sutter has had a positive impact on Doughty? Well, considering how much better the communication has been between the coaches and players since the new coach’s arrival, I certainly can’t disagree with that.


Whenever I’ve seen or heard about Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos scoring, I cringe, although it’s not about Stamkos personally. I do so because since Stamkos was chosen 1st overall in 2008 directly ahead of Doughty, I thought that the Lightning scored the jackpot while the Kings, as usual, ran into some bad luck. Although Doughty’s still not putting up the numbers that Stamkos is, it doesn’t make him any less valuable to his team. In fact, while the Lightning are struggling mightily to not only contend for the playoffs this season but find a sense of identity, the Kings are flourishing as of late despite Doughty not carrying the team on his back.


But does Doughty even need to that? Of course not. Some may argue with the amount of money he’s making now, he should be. But I disagree. Lately, Drew Doughty has proven that your name doesn’t have to be on the scoresheet every night to contribute to your team’s success. Three goals and 17 assists through 42 games is nothing to get goosebumps over but it’s not as if Doughty has simply taken the money and ran. Would it be nice to see him rack up a few more points? Yes, of course, but it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t because as long as he contributes in the ways he’s been doing from the beginning of this streak, then there’s no room to worry.


Just a couple of months ago, I was slamming Drew Doughty for his lacklustre play on the ice. Now, I’m signing a much different tune. Some are still going to think of Doughty negatively because of his hefty contract but as time goes on, there seems to be fewer and fewer Doughty critics. Darryl Sutter has seemed to instill a new sense of confidence into his defenseman and Doughty is taking that very seriously as he is showing the new bench boss that he deserves the ice time he's getting.


It’s mid-January and Doughty has found a groove, which is just what this Los Angeles Kings team needs. A few may argue that Doughty’s a little late and he should have been playing this week in November. I don’t think the timing could have been better. Once we enter a new calendar year, it’s a sense of separating the men from the boys – and Doughty is proving that with the proverbial chest hairs and the deep voice, the puberty ship has long since sailed for #8.




Photo: Courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images