(Welcome to Anze Kopitar Week at Jewels from the Crown, in which we honor everyone's favorite Slovenian superstar!)
It's Anze Kopitar's birthday. Let's celebrate by thinking of all the gifts he's given Los Angeles Kings fans in the last nine years. (I mean, we WANTED to give him a gift, but we didn't have a mailing address. Oops.)
Kopitar has played in 673 regular season games and 70 playoff games as a King. Here are eleven of #11's best:
11. Kopitar didn't wait very long to make an impression for LA. He scored twice in his very first game against the Anaheim Ducks, who were a half-decent team that season. Even better: his first goal was about as good as first goals get, as he shrugged off Chris Pronger like he wasn't even there.
10. Kopitar quietly toiled away during the down years as well, and in one of the few high points of 2007-08, he scored a game-tying goal and the overtime winner as LA stormed back from a 4-0 deficit with eight minutes remaining.
9. Kopitar's career-high for points in a single game came against the St. Louis Blues, just this past season. You might remember that as the night when Darryl Sutter decided Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Jeff Carter should skate together. OK! The Kings came back in the third to win 6-4, with Kopitar scoring a goal and notching assists on every other goal except for the Dwight King center ice tally. It was also (along with four others) the highest single-game point total in any contest this year.
8. As long as we're talking about individual scoring performances: Kopitar's got two hat tricks as well. We'll go with his first one for this countdown, which was part of a scorching October in 2009. Kopitar ended up with 81 points that season, still a career high, as he kick-started the golden era of Kings hockey.
7. Kopitar doesn't need to score goals to wow us, though, as evidenced by this little piece of absurdity from December 2010:
6. Kopitar was excellent throughout the 2012 playoff run, but it's easy to forget what he did against Phoenix. In three of LA's four wins he scored the Kings' first goal, and this play showcases how dominant he can be at both ends of the ice.
5. "Kopitar, another one of the Kings players we hadn't seen much..." -Brian Hayward, after Anze's third assist of the evening beat the Ducks.
4. One of the forgotten parts of LA's magical 2012 run was that they briefly forgot that teams aren't supposed to score when shorthanded. Perhaps Kopitar's most dazzling individual goal ever:
3. Just as Kopitar's 2009-10 season laid the foundation for his terrific two-way play and incredible consistency, the Kings' 2009-10 season laid the foundation for an eventual Cup run... or two. LA's first playoff win in eight years came against the Vancouver Canucks, and the overtime winner (and a huge outburst of emotion) came courtesy of Kopitar.
2. Kopitar was absurdly good in the first two rounds of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and after sealing Game 6 of the first round with two excellent goals, he was always going to have a huge impact in Game 7. In a very tense Shark Tank, the game had a "next goal wins" feel as the second period wound down. Enter Kopitar, with the eventual game-winner:
1. This one's a no-doubter.