Dustin Brown has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde case for the Los Angeles Kings this year, both in the regular season and the playoffs.
A big question for the Kings to answer in the Stanley Cup Final will be which version of their captain will show up, and it could be the key to whether or not the Stanley Cup goes to Hollywood or Broadway.
Some could argue Brown’s streaky status started in last year’s playoffs, putting up just four points in 18 games as the Kings were dethroned by the Chicago Blackhawks.Brown then started this season slowly, scoring just nine points in 27 games through November while getting into the news for a knee-on-knee hit that took San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl out of commission for the majority of the season, though Brown wasn’t suspended.
Despite the slow start, Brown was named to the U.S. Olympic Team for the Sochi Olympics (as an alternate captain) based on his body of work while Bobby Ryan, who was off to a strong start with the Ottawa Senators, was left off the team.
Going into the Olympics, Brown went pointless in 12 straight games, heading to Sochi with 16 points in 58 games and even more questions, especially as he’s set to start an eight-year, $47 million contract with Los Angeles next season.
After a lacklustre performance in Sochi, Brown returned to Los Angeles and recorded points in five of his first six games back before cooling off again, including a seven-game pointless skid that took him through the end of the season, save for a goal in the regular season finale against Anaheim.
In total, Brown finished with just 27 points in 79 regular season games, his lowest total since the 2005-06 season (28 points in 79 games), including last year’s lockout-shortened season. Prior to last season, Brown had six straight seasons of 46 points or more, including a 33-goal season in 2007-08. Coincidentally, this season also produced Brown’s lowest average time on ice (15:50) since that 2005-06 season, whereas he had been averaging around 19 minutes per game ever since.
The decrease in ice time may have also prompted Brown to press a bit more on his shot opportunities, as his shooting percentage dropped to 7.7 per cent this year after four straight seasons of 9.7 per cent or better, including a 12.7 per cent clip last season.
It’s been more of the same in the playoffs, as Brown started out with points in three of the last four games in the opening round, when Los Angeles came from 3-0 down to take out San Jose in seven games. He followed that up by going 10 games without a goal, posting just two assists in that time. However, he’s since scored six points in his last four games, including two assists in Game 7 to help send the Kings back to the Stanley Cup Final.
While Brown acknowledged being disappointed in his regular season play, he told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times that he started to feel more like himself after the Olympic break, and it’s given the Kings another effective weapon in what’s already a deep lineup thanks to the emergence of rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, among so many others.
At his best, Brown is a high-energy agitator who can contribute and forecheck with the best of them, and the Kings’ results are reflected accordingly. In games where Brown scores at least one point, the Kings were an astounding 19-2-2 in the regular season, and 6-3 in the playoffs for a 25-5-2 total mark.
Part of his recent playoff surge could be attributed to him amping up his physicality. After putting up 246 hits in the regular season (just over three hits per game, tied for ninth in the NHL), Brown has nearly doubled his physical output in the playoffs, far and away leading the pack with 104 hits in the playoffs, 24 hits clear of second-place teammate Jarret Stoll, along with Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell.
He also finds himself back on the top line with a pair of Conn Smythe contenders in good friend Anze Kopitar and big trade deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik now, so Brown will have every opportunity to keep producing.
Brown was instrumental in the Kings’ Stanley Cup win in 2012, putting up 20 points in 20 games while hitting everything in sight. Darryl Sutter will no doubt be hoping his captain can further discover his 2012 form to help bring the Stanley Cup back to Hollywood.