Daily News Dubois gave Kings a lift, but likely to see fewer minutes when Kopitar returns


They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
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As the Kings hurled toward a probable third consecutive playoff matchup with the Edmonton Oilers, they prepared for their penultimate game of the regular season, which will offer them a chance to sweep the season series from the Minnesota Wild.

Following their 3-1 win against the Ducks Saturday, Kings interim coach Jim Hiller repeated the same thing he said in response to a question about resting captain Anze Kopitar against the Ducks (which he did) regarding Kopitar’s status in Games 81 and 82.

“We’ll see.”

In Kopitar’s stead Saturday slotted the ballyhooed offseason acquisition Pierre-Luc Dubois, in the middle of the No. 1 line and operating in a new position for him as a King, but a very familiar one for him as a Winnipeg Jet and Columbus Blue Jacket, the netfront of the top power-play unit.

Dubois played one second shy of 20 minutes, the most ice time he has logged since the season opener, a 5-2 loss to Colorado on Oct. 11. Expanding his role and playing him with more prominent teammates paid off, as he scored a power-play goal. While the goal itself was a wide-open tap of a loose puck, he also played a significant role in the buildup, twice sending passes into the slot.

However, more ice time for Dubois had typically not boded well for him or the Kings. Prior to Saturday, of the 20 games in which Dubois had most seen the ice, the Kings had won just five (5-11-4), with Dubois contributing only six points. Of the 20 games where he got most comfortable on the bench, they won 14 (14-5-1), with Dubois chipping in eight points despite his reduced deployment.

Dubois played on the fourth line in a victory over Calgary on Thursday before being catapulted to the top trio, a spot that Kopitar will surely reoccupy in Game 1 of the postseason. It also seems unlikely that Dubois, who will be the Kings’ highest-paid forward next year when Kopitar’s salary will be reduced to $7 million annually, would be relegated to the fourth line.

“Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know exactly. I mean, we’ll see what everything looks like,” Hiller said when asked about where Dubois would operate during Round 1. “(He) played a really good game tonight. I thought he looked good with (Quinton Byfield and Adrian Kempe) and, I’ll see how it goes. Power play goal for him. So we’ll just see.”

Dubois has seven power-play goals this season (tied for third most on the team), but just one assist in over 168 minutes of power-play time, the sixth most on the Kings behind only the top-unit regulars. Contrast that to Brandt Clarke, who has largely languished in the minors despite contributing three helpers in just 23:18 of power-play duty.

Plummeting power-play production has accounted for the bulk of the dropoff in scoring (123 points in two full seasons with Winnipeg receded into a 40-point pace with the Kings this year), as Dubois averaged 21 power-play points per season with Winnipeg. Though he did have a 61-point campaign with just nine power-play points as a second-year player with Columbus, his effectiveness has leaned heavily on man-advantage success.

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So will Dubois remain on the top unit? Will he stay down low or return to the sidewall, where he’s been a proverbial soggy noodle for much of 2023-24?

“Yeah, we’ll figure it out. I mean he was there. He was in Kopi’s spot today with our group. He did a good job and got one off the backside. But, yeah, we’ll still figure it out,” Hiller said. “That group has had a lot of different looks with Arvy out, and coming back in … so we’re still sorting through that.”

The Kings beat Minnesota on Oct. 23 and March 24, by a 13-3 aggregate score. The Wild have struggled to recapture the balanced attack that Kings winger Kevin Fiala, who arrived in El Segundo last season, helped them create. Kirill Kaprizov’s 93 points in 73 games are 27 more than the next highest scorer, Fiala’s former linemate Matt Boldy. One-time Kings prospect Brock Faber, who was central to the Fiala trade, has been a revelation and a short-list Calder Trophy candidate in Minnesota.

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