EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson have been the Los Angeles Kings’ distant shining future on defence ever since the club acquired the pair of top-three draft picks a few years ago.
After watching these youngsters run Los Angeles’ power play during their first three playoff games, it’s undeniable the Kings’ future has already arrived ? and it’s equally obvious the Vancouver Canucks have little future themselves unless they figure out how to stop the Kings’ dynamic defensive duo.
Playing together on the power play for the first consistent stretch of their brief careers, Doughty and Johnson have scored five points apiece while propelling the Kings to seven man-advantage goals and giving Los Angeles a 2-1 first-round series lead over the Canucks.
“They don’t know what we’re going to do because sometimes when we get out there, we don’t know either,” Johnson said after the Kings’ practice Tuesday. “We don’t have set plays on the power play. We just like to create off of what they’re showing defensively. The reason we’re successful is because we’re unpredictable … and we think a lot alike. We didn’t play together during the season, but we’ve found it real easy to play with each other.”
Game 4 is Wednesday night at Staples Center, where Los Angeles went ahead in its first playoff series since 2002 with a 3-for-3 power-play performance in a 5-3 victory Monday.
With Doughty and Johnson quarterbacking the attack from opposite ends of the blue line, the Kings are 7 for 12 on the power play, by far the NHL’s best percentage heading into Tuesday’s games. With their smooth passes and vicious shots reducing Vancouver’s penalty killers to tentative impotence, Doughty had a power-play goal and three assists in Game 3, while Johnson had three assists of his own.
“They’re great on our blue line,” said Michal Handzus, who scored two power-play goals set up by the defencemen. “They’re very strong and really creative, (but) they know how to keep it simple, too.”
Although the 20-year-old Doughty still is too young to drink in Los Angeles and the 23-year-old Johnson can’t yet rent most cars, the defencemen have been a pair of aces since shortly after they got back from the Olympics, where Doughty starred for Canada and Johnson excelled for the U.S. team.
That Vancouver experience prepared Doughty and Johnson for another trip up to British Columbia, teaching them that good hockey players become stars only when they’re playing for the highest stakes in front of full houses.
“Definitely it means a lot to be at your best in the playoffs,” Doughty said. “First you have to make the playoffs, and we accomplished that goal. Now we’re showing that we’re not happy with just being here. We want to take it further and further.”
Coach Terry Murray doesn’t regret failing to put together this winning combination earlier, yet he also isn’t surprised by the results. Doughty and Johnson even excel at the finer points of their job, expertly faking shots to draw Vancouver’s penalty-killers down to the ice.
“We needed to get some better results from the back end,” Murray said. “Now we’ve got two guys we look at as quarterbacks. … Chemistry can just happen, or you can leave it together for a long period of time. With Jack and Drew, the experience that they’ve gone through is certainly paying off for them.”
Murray sometimes felt his young defencemen tried too hard during the regular season, perhaps trying to outdo the other with spectacular individual play. Doughty and Johnson don’t deny a friendly rivalry, with Johnson saying they play good-natured games against each other during practice.
Doughty and Johnson have remarkable symmetry in their careers. Both were exceedingly high draft picks ? Johnson went No. 3 overall to Carolina in 2005, and Doughty was the No. 2 choice by Los Angeles in 2008 ? and both played through initial struggles with the Kings to become solid NHL regulars this season.
Most of the Canucks’ key players stayed off the ice Tuesday at a light optional practice. The Sedin twins, linemate Alex Burrows and four-goal scorer Samuelsson played soccer, joined by some of Vancouver’s penalty-killing specialists.
Although Vancouver’s special teams play has been largely awful, NHL scoring champion Henrik Sedin exhibited no panic. The Canucks won the Northwest Division and finished in a tie for the league’s fifth-best regular-season record with the Sedins performing as the NHL’s best line for much of the season.
“We’re confident in ourselves, even after a couple of losses,” said Henrik Sedin, who has three assists. “We realize we just have to execute, because we’ve done it before. The penalty killing has to improve, and the power play has to be more active and more effective. Once we get that done, we’ll be all right.”
NOTES: Vancouver D Aaron Rome didn’t practice after returning to the Canucks’ lineup for Game 3 following a 10-day absence with an undisclosed injury. If Rome has aggravated his injury, Andrew Alberts and Nolan Baumgartner would be coach Alain Vigneault’s options. … Murray said he’s planning to play D Randy Jones, who was scratched for Peter Harrold in the past two games. Murray didn’t say whether Harrold was injured. “I just think it’s time to make a change there,” Murray said.