LOS ANGELES – When it comes to the debate over the Kings’ soul-sucking neutral zone clog, Drew Doughty has an admission to make.

“I’d rather play a different system,” chuckled the gap-toothed veteran in a quiet one-on-one chat.

“But this is the system we’ve chosen, and all bought into.”

Unfortunately for the game of hockey, it works.

Case in point, Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Flames at Crypto.com Arena.

On a night when a rink-side shot of Will Ferrell provided the bulk of the entertainment, the Kings perfectly executed their 1-3-1 system, stymying the potential of controlled entries, and limiting the Flames to just 23 shots.

Only five were of the high-danger variety, giving former Flame Cam Talbot an easy path to clinching the team’s official playoff pass as the Pacific division’s third-place team.

“To the fans and stuff, and the top guys, it’s boring going against the 1-3-1 because it’s hard to get through and we’re pretty clean on our breakouts,” said Doughty. 

“It’s not the ideal system to watch, I wouldn’t think, for the fans, but we’re not too worried about it.

“That’s how we got here.

“When we started the rebuild five years ago, or whatever it was, we played that system and that’s what got us to this point and we’re going to see it through.”

On Thursday the Kings got off to a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson and Akil Thomas, which was enough for the league’s third-stingiest squad to cruise to victory.

Doughty has been on record calling criticism of his team’s play “absurd,” adding, “I find it funny in a way.”

“It’s definitely suited for playoff hockey,” said the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

“I’ve always believed good defence is what wins championships more than amazing offence, and that’s the way we play.

“We don’t have the 100-point guy, I don’t even think we have a point-a-game guy.

“So, it’s a collective group thing and I think that’s exactly how you win playoffs.”

On this night they were helped, a tad, by Daniil Miromanov’s Jason Kelce impression, grabbing the puck and throwing it back between his legs for a costly penalty.  

“Oh my god, you know what, I was sitting and thinking in the penalty box about what I could have done,” said the Flames defender.

“It was a stupid play by me, I just grabbed it and chucked it to Weegs there. It happened so quick, my stick went down and the puck was right at me, so it’s a split-second decision. To me, if I throw it in my feet, I have no stick and it would have been two-on-one so I just tried to move it somewhere because I felt like it was dangerous. Unfortunately a stupid penalty and it cost us a goal. This one’s on me.”

Ryan Huska’s squad had won two of the three previous meetings with the Kings this season, but said Thursday his squad lacked speed in the neutral zone, allowing the Kings to easily thwart Flames entries and easily retrieve and clear dump-ins.

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Flames goal scorer Jonathan Huberdeau agreed.

“We know what kind of game it’s going to be and we played good against them before, so no excuses,” said Huberdeau, whose club has lost nine of its last 11 games.

“You need to get some speed and I think we were a little slower tonight and had a hard time getting in their zone.”

Just what Kings coach Jim Hiller wants to hear.

“I know it’s boring and repetitive, but to play good hockey is hard to do,” said Hiller, whose club takes pride in the system the rest of the hockey world condemns.

Even Doughty has warmed to it over time.

“At first I thought (the 1-3-1) took away from parts of my game, but you’ve got to adjust. evolve with time and you’ve just got to accept things and move on,” said Doughty, who insists at age 34 he’s still playing some of his best hockey as one of the league’s busiest blueliners.

“This season has got to be one of my better, or more consistent seasons,” said Doughty, whose assist on Arvidsson’s empty netter gives him 49 points, keeping him top-20 amongst defencemen.  

“I don’t have a ton of points or anything like that, but that’s not my entire game.

“I play against the other team’s best lines every shift and we do a really good job at it. 

“I’m very proud of where my game still is.

“I know a lot of people have written me off, but all you’ve got to do is watch and you’ll see how good I still am.”

Doughty says when breakdowns do occur, Talbot and backup David Rittich have been rock-solid.

“I think they’ll both tell you they have great defence in front of them, like, that’s with the forwards, not just the defencemen,” said Doughty.

“We play a good defensive game, but when we’ve needed them they’ve stepped up big and both been really good.

“I can’t say enough good things about both of them – they give us a ton of confidence and they’ve both been great.”





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