Doughty braces for challenge of facing Ovechkin when Kings play Capitals
But there’s one thing the Los Angeles Kings defenseman isn’t looking forward to when he faces Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, BSW, ESPN+, SN NOW).
“I’m never looking forward to blocking his shot,” Doughty said Friday.
Third in NHL history with 782 goals, Ovechkin is renowned for his powerful slap shot and one-timer on the Capitals power play, and Doughty has gotten in front of his share of them. In 19 regular-season games against Washington, Doughty led Los Angeles with 31 blocked shots, including eight from Ovechkin, according to NHL Stats and Information.
But Doughty couldn’t play in either of the Kings games against the Capitals last season, sitting out their 2-0 home loss Nov. 17 because of a knee contusion and a 3-2 win at Washington on Dec. 19 while in NHL COVID-19 protocol. The Kings and the Capitals didn’t play each other in 2020-21 when teams were limited to games within their divisions.
So, this will be Doughty’s first game against Ovechkin in more than two and half years.
“I missed it a lot,” Doughty said. “I was hurt last year so I just missed a lot of things about playing. I definitely missed playing against Ovi. We have a good competitiveness with each other. We’re always running each other, trying to hit each other and stuff like that. He knows how hard and how much I care about playing defense and he loves scoring goals.
“So we obviously clash in those situations and we’re both determined to beat the other.”
Doughty, who won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL in 2015-16, has an ability to produce offense, as evidenced by his 570 points (133 goals, 437 assists) in 1,020 regular-season games during his 15 NHL seasons. But he’s also a tenacious defender who relishes playing against top forwards.
“I know he likes to score, I know he likes to set plays up and he’d like to have good personal stats,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “But I think deep down he enjoys competing and stopping the best.”
A right-shot defenseman who plays on the right side, Doughty often is matched against Ovechkin, a left wing. In their last game against each other Feb. 4, 2020, Los Angeles led 2-1 until Ovechkin scored three times in the final 6:10 to propel Washington to a 4-2 victory. Doughty was on the ice for Ovechkin’s final two goals.
Ovechkin has 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) in 19 games against Kings when Doughty has been in the lineup. Oddly, the 37-year-old didn’t have a point in either game against Los Angeles last season when Doughty was sidelined.
Yet, Ovechkin finished the season with 50 goals, tying the NHL record with his ninth 50-goal season, and 90 points, which were his most since he had 109 in 2009-10.
He has five points (two goals, three assists) in five games this season.
“It seems like he doesn’t age,” Doughty said. “He’s such a good player, still a physical player. … It’s always a challenge playing against him, and I get excited for the opportunity. But we know we’ve got to do it to win the game, so we’ll do everything we can to keep him off the score sheet and try to knock him off his game.
“But it’s going to be a tough task. They’re a good team and he’s a great, great player. The League wouldn’t be the same without him.”
The Kings weren’t the same without Doughty last season, when he was limited to 39 regular-season games because of injuries and illness. That included missing the final 24 regular-season games and the Kings’ seven-game loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a wrist injury that required surgery.
Despite sitting out more than half their games, Doughty led Kings defensemen with 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) and led all their skaters in averaging 25:44 in ice time. Doughty is back logging heavy minutes this season, leading the NHL with an average ice time of 27:19, and he has three points (one goal, two assists) in six games.
“He means the world to our team,” McLellan said. “He plays with so much enthusiasm and excitement. I felt he’s almost been overexcited a little bit trying to make up for lost time. He’s settled in in the last few games.”
Doughty acknowledged it was bittersweet watching the Kings qualify for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2018 without him. But after some challenging rebuilding seasons, he’s determined to help them reach the postseason again.
“I was excited to watch, I was into the game, but obviously I wanted to be out there,” Doughty said. “I haven’t played playoff hockey in a while and that’s the time when I love to play, those big pressure situations. Yeah, I wish I was playing, but what can you do? Hopefully we get back there this year and do better than we did last year.”
For now, the Kings (3-3-0) are focused on rebounding from a 6-1 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and closing a five-game road trip during which they are 3-1-0 so far. But they know it won’t be easy against the Capitals (2-3-0), who lost 5-2 at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
“I think it’s a great road trip if we win four out of five. That’s a really good road trip,” Doughty said. “But we’re not looking ahead to going home right now. We’ve got a big game against Washington, and we didn’t perform well in the last game so we’re going to come out hot, or that’s the plan anyway, and have a really good game.”