Is Matthew Tkachuk the most hated player in the NHL?
Drew Doughty certainly thinks so.
“I’m pretty sure he might be,” said the Kings defenceman in a one-on-one interview late Wednesday. “I have lots of friends on other teams and they don’t love him either. But whatever, that’s how he plays. All it does is fire guys up and guys take over games when that happens. Like tonight.”
Doughty’s comments came on the heels of another particularly heated battle between the two fervent foes Wednesday at the Saddledome, won 2-1 by Los Angeles in overtime.
After setting up Tanner Pearson’s winning goal, Doughty gave Calgary’s C of Red an angry Jagr Salute before ramming the glass and sharing some animated thoughts with fans who had been booing him all night. He then did a mic drop/stick toss towards the middle of the ice and purposefully departed the playing surface before shouting down the hall at Tkachuk as he approached the dressing room.
All this following a contest in which Doughty was targeted once again by Tkachuk, who delights in taking every opportunity possible to get under the star defenceman’s skin.
Despite being visibly enraged throughout the evening, as he has been their past few meetings, Doughty refused to give Tkachuk the pleasure of acknowledging his perturbing presence.
“It’s not him that was pissing me off tonight – not one time was it him,” said Doughty, lying through his tooth.
“It was something else.”
After being whistled for tripping and roughing following another set of rough rides from Tkachuk, Doughty threw his stick in disgust as part of a night that had the feisty blue liner even more out of sorts than normal.
“(Tkachuk) brings out the best – and the worst – in him sometimes,” said Kings coach John Stevens of Doughty. “Drew is a great competitor and Tkachuk is too. (Tkachuk) plays hard and is an effective guy. I think it’s just important to understand he can get your passion ramped up but you’ve still got to find that line of discipline.”
The rivalry dates back to last March when Tkachuk’s egregious elbow to Doughty’s face prompted a two-game suspension.
“He’s a pretty dirty player, that kid,” said Doughty after that game.
“To be a rookie and play like that is a little surprising.”
Tkachuk poked the bear before their next meeting a few weeks later, saying he expected more from the veteran than to go whining to the media after the loss.
For his transgression, and comments, Tkachuk had to fight Brayden McNabb early in their next meeting before getting right back at Doughty the rest of the evening.
Whenever they play, Tkachuk takes every opportunity to pound away on Doughty, finishing every check with a series of pleasantries the duo never miss a chance to exchange.
Like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, Tkachuk keeps haunting the Kings star, who clearly wants nothing to do with the super-pest.
Mere minutes into Wednesday’s game, Tkachuk and Doughty skated along the boards after a whistle before the latter was gently upended with an inconspicuous trip.
The veteran lay on the ice for several seconds with his hands in the air, shrugging as if to ask if the harassment would ever end.
It likely won’t, as Tkachuk has simply found the perfect target – a rare pinata that reacts exactly the way Tkachuk wants.
Later in the game Andy Andreoff took a run at Tkachuk that marked the 76th time in the past year-and-a-half the kid has drawn a penalty – the most in the NHL.
While flustered, Doughty shouldn’t be too flattered, as Tkachuk irritates indiscriminately around the league. Thus, discussions on whether he’s the league’s most hated.
“I don’t think so,” said Tkachuk, 20, when asked if he now held a crown previously worn by the likes of Alex Burrows, Matt Cooke, Corey Perry, Brad Marchand and Ryan Kesler of late.
“I don’t think about it and I don’t think guys around the league think about it either. I think you just want to be known as a guy who plays the game hard and is part of a winning team.”
Mission accomplished for the sixth pick overall in 2016, who has a career-high 14 goals already (along with 18 assists) and has been the biggest force on Mikael Backlund’s 3M Line most of the season as one of the more complete young players in the game today.
His edge only makes him that much more effective.
“To a certain extent, but I just can’t be running around doing stupid stuff,” said Tkachuk, who should be flattered to be in a conversation comparing him to perennial scoring leaders like Perry and Marchand.
“Corey Perry and Marchand have done a lot in their career – they’ve won Cups and been able to produce offensively and that’s what I look up to, the way they play the game from an offensive standpoint first and foremost.”
Does he think Doughty would label him the lord of being loathed?
“Probably not,” said Tkachuk, who still lags 2,072 penalty minutes behind his father Keith.
“I’m sure he’s played against a lot worse.”
As far as Doughty is concerned, no one else comes to mind.