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Showdown: Hossa vs. Kopitar


The Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa and the Los Angeles Kings' Anze Kopitar are not having their best offensive seasons, yet most people around the league would still be grateful for their current numbers. Hossa has 21 goals and 54 points, and he may end up with his lowest goal total in an 82-game season since his rookie year. Kopitar has 16 goals and 60 points, and he hasn't had less than 25 goals in a full season since his rookie year.


What makes Hossa and Kopitar unique is that even when they're not pouring on points they still can impact games. Whether it's Hossa knocking a puck loose while backchecking, Kopitar making life hell for opposing forwards with his constant activity or the way both of them can be utilized in every situation, Hossa and Kopitar remain priceless because they do so much more than score.


The two players will meet in Chicago on Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET.


"Hossa is consistently one of the best players on the ice each night," one Western Conference scout said. "Rarely could you ever say he had an off night. With Kopitar, he does everything so well. That combined with his size makes him tough to handle."



Respect factor: Other NHL players fully grasp what it takes to play the way Hossa and Kopitar do in all zones, game in and game out. It's why the two players are constantly being shown respect by teammates and opponents.


Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith knows a thing about playing defense, and he enjoys watching Hossa play it. Hossa has finished in the top six in takeaways the past three seasons.


"The one thing that I know from playing with him is I didn't realize how good defensively he was," Keith said. "I think you watch him back check, there's nobody that back checks harder than him in the league. As a defenseman, you get a real good appreciation for a guy like that who back checks that hard and blocks shots and does all those things and still is good offensively and doesn't cheat for his offense. He plays the right way."


The San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture wrote about his favorite NHL centermen for The Players' Tribune in January, and he touched upon on what he admired about Kopitar, who is among the league's leaders this season with a 58.5 Corsi percentage. Kings coach Darryl Sutter has also described Kopitar as the best center he's ever coached.


"Kopitar is the most underrated center in the NHL," Couture wrote. "We see him all the time, unfortunately. Because he combines size, strength and intelligence, he's as difficult to play against as any player in the league. When we're up against the Kings, I try and play like him. He's very responsible defensively and checks very well, especially with his stick. He's one of the best in the league at anticipating where the puck is going and jumping in to cut off cycles."


Line matchups: Kopitar and Hossa will undoubtedly see a lot of each other on Monday. It's been a common occurrence whenever the Blackhawks and Kings have squared off against each other in recent years, and the teams have met frequently. Sutter will likely go with a line of Justin Williams, Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will counter with a line of Kris Versteeg, Jonathan Toews and Hossa.


A variation of those lines went up against each in the 2013 and 2014 Western Conference finals. Hossa and the Blackhawks won the 2013 series in five games, and Kopitar and the Kings won in 2014 in seven games. Hossa's and Kopitar's lines canceled each other out for the most part. Hossa had two goals and four assists in the two series, and Kopitar had one goal and six assists. Seven of those games were decided by one goal.


Prediction: This is an important game for both teams, but a bigger one for the Kings, who fell out of a playoff spot on Sunday. Even with the Blackhawks looking better in a win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, the Kings have been the better team of late. It'll be a tight one again, but the Kings and Kopitar will be more desperate and will find a way to pull out the road win.







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