Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty were friends even before they were at the head of the NHL's 2008 entry draft class and were chosen first and second by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Kings, respectively.
“We played world juniors under-18s together,” Doughty said. “We were in the draft together. In the summer we’re only a couple of hours away from each other so we’ll run into each other out, and stuff like that.”
If they run into each other Thursday night, it’s likely to be at high speed and in full gear and without allowances for friendship.
Stamkos, who shared the NHL goal-scoring lead last season with 51 and is the scoring leader this season with 20 points in 11 games, will face Doughty, runner-up for the Norris trophy last season, at Staples Center. Their friendship gives the game additional significance for Doughty beyond it marking his return to the lineup after suffering a concussion Oct. 20.
“He’s a pretty good buddy of mine but going into tonight I’m really looking forward to playing against him,” Doughty said after the Kings’ morning skate in El Segundo.
“He’s one of the best forwards in the league and to play against him and hopefully to shut him down would be amazing.”
Doughty will be reunited with defense partner Willie Mitchell. They're sure to see a lot of Stamkos’ line, which features wingers Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie.
“It’s a lot of fun shutting down a team’s best line,” Doughty said. “If you play against a guy like [Alexander] Ovechkin and you can hold him off the score sheet you played a good game, no matter what. That’s the thing we’re going to do tonight — try and keep their big guns off the score sheet.”
Doughty had said Wednesday that he would likely wear a mouth guard, which is believed to help prevent concussions by dissipating the forces of blows to the head, but sounded less sure Thursday when asked if he will wear it in the game.
“I’m supposed to be, so I’m going to say yeah,” he said.
Kings Coach Terry Murray and General Manager Dean Lombardi said they’d like to see players wear mouth guards. However, the use of mouth guards and visors is optional in the NHL and players can’t be ordered to wear them.
“We do encourage that through the whole organization. Management, doctors, coaches — we all encourage the players to wear a mouth guard,” Murray said. “There’s medical evidence that’s a preventative for any kind of injuries.
“Even going back to competing, battling, one-on-one, two-on-twos, there is a strength element that does enter into it when you can have something like that to have a mouth guard to bite down on. It does tighten up the muscle and it is scientifically proven that you are a stronger player in those compete situations.”
Lombardi said the Kings have asked their minor-leaguers to wear ankle guards in practice and players have complied.
“This is kind of similar, where you’re trying to get your players to wear some of these things, given the impact of injuries. But you can’t force them,” he said.
“It starts in junior hockey. They get in those habits in junior hockey and it’s like anything else. Just like with the visors with the kids coming through. You really try and get to them before they turn pro. And it becomes habit. No question you’d like to see them wear it, but boy, getting a pro to change his routine isn’t easy.
“Something like this … they expect to lose their teeth. Those you can lose. But you don’t want to lose those brain cells.”
We’ll have more soon about Murray’s thinking on forming a fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, and some other tidbits.
-- Helene Elliott