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Arrival of Richards, Gagne raise expectations in L.A.

Tuesday, 09.27.2011 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 15

By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

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Arrival of Richards, Gagne raise expectations in L.A.
The Red Wings lost a few key veterans, but the return of others, including Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, should keep Detroit a Stanley Cup contender.
Move around the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility these days and there is a business-like approach and a confident sense of transition.

Mike Richards and Simon Gagne have been skating with their new teammates for weeks and have given the returning players a feeling of renewal after the club's deflating first-round playoff loss to San Jose.

"I think we matured last year, but at the same time we did lose to a great team," defenseman Jack Johnson said. "I think this year we're excited because we kind of feel like we're a new team."

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards
D. PenneR A. Kopitar D. Brown
S. Gagne M. Richards J. Williams
S. Parse J. Stoll a. Loktionov
k. Clifford t. lewis B. Richardson
K. Westgrath E. Moreau
DEFENSE
W. Mitchell D. Doughty*
J. Johnson R. Scuderi
A. Martinez M. Greene
M. Drewiske
GOALIES
J. Quick
J. Bernier
ones to watch
D Slava Voynov
D Thomas Hickey
F Colin Fraser
*Unrestricted free agent
The time clearly is now for the Kings, who, despite last season's early summer, have followed the trajectory of general manager Dean Lombardi's long-term plan and added two major pieces to take the next step.

"Management did a great job," center Jarret Stoll said. "Now it's up to us."

Lombardi has preached building a contender from the goalie out, and Jonathan Quick is a bona-fide top-tier stopper behind the defense-first system of coach Terry Murray.

The Kings were seventh in the League in goals-against in 5-on-5 play last season, and Richards fits their style of play like a glove.

"That was one of the things I noticed right away when I got traded," Richards said. "There's a lot of fast, gritty, hard-working players that are going to make us a tough team for the opposition to play against. When you have that edge, especially when you're at home, it makes for a tough building to come into. You know you're going to have to come to a game and earn everything. It could be a scary place to come if we get on a little bit of a roll if we start playing as a team."

The Kings were 25th in scoring at 2.55 goals per game, but that's expected to change with Richards and Gagne, who have experience playing for Murray when all were in Philadelphia (assistant John Stevens also coached the two with the Flyers).

Richards, a captain in Philadelphia, also brings intangibles that already have been tangible in training camp.

"There's always a tap on the pads from him during a practice to a young player," Murray said. "Whenever I stop and blow the whistle and make a correction with a young player, he's right there right away in the locker room. He sets an example. He says the right things. It spreads the leadership to a broader brush and this is what this group needs."




The Kings are expected to be one of the deepest teams in the NHL at center, with Anze Kopitar, Richards and Stoll.

Kopitar is back from season-ending ankle surgery after a newfound two-way game propelled him to a team-high plus-25 rating and a near point-per-game output.

While Richards is good for 25-30 goals a season, his defense will have just as big an impact because it should take some responsibility off Kopitar and others.

SUMMER MOVES

IN: Colin Fraser, C (trade, Oilers); Simon Gagne, LW (free agent, Lightning); Trent Hunter, RW (tryout, Islanders); Ethan Moreau, LW (free agent, Blue Jackets); Mike Richards, C (trade, Flyers)

OUT: Michal Handzus, C (free agent, Sharks); Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW (free agent, Hurricanes); Brayden Schenn, C (trade, Flyers); Wayne Simmonds, RW (trade, Flyers); Ryan Smyth, LW (trade Oilers)
Stoll and captain Dustin Brown also are defensive-minded forwards, as the Kings now are better equipped to counter the power forwards of the Western Conference.

The team's stagnant power play fell from seventh to 21st last season and there has been an emphasis on more movement with different personnel in training camp. Richards and Gagne come into play here as the two combined for 36 power-play points with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, respectively, last season.

This is a telling season for Dustin Penner, who reported to camp in good shape and is an X-factor as he enters the final season of his contract.

Line combinations early in camp saw Justin Williams flanking Kopitar; Richards between Brown and Gagne; and Stoll centering Kyle Clifford and Scott Parse.

A host of candidates are competing for spots on the third and fourth lines. Clifford and veteran Brad Richardson are grinders, while Trevor Lewis and top prospect Andrei Loktionov bring far more offensive upside.

Parse has potential with 12 goals in 64 NHL games, and veterans Ethan Moreau and Colin Fraser also are in the mix.

The Kings are unapologetic about their offense. They won't fill up the highlight reel under Murray's grind-it-out style, but it might pay off come spring.




Lombardi didn't make any changes to this unit after the Kings finished sixth in goals-against.

Former Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty remains unsigned, but assuming he joins the club at some point, he's expected to put together a more consistent campaign after an uneven 2010-11. He is a major component of the power play.

It's hoped his partner, Willie Mitchell, can put in a full season after he was limited to 57 games in 2010-11. Jack Johnson and steady Rob Scuderi round out a solid top four.

Alec Martinez was a nice surprise last season and earned time on the second power-play unit. Matt Greene brings physicality and character but often was a weak link.

Thomas Hickey, the fourth pick of the 2007 draft, and Slava Voynov were the early standouts in camp. Jake Muzzin, whose toughness got him a job out of camp last season, also is a candidate.




Murray made it a point to ease Quick's workload and it seemed to pay off.

After he logged 72 games in 2009-10, Quick played 61 games and could not have been more of a backbone with a 2.24 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and six shutouts.

Murray was able to rest Quick more because he put more responsibility on then-rookie Jonathan Bernier. The backup showed a tendency to leave rebounds, but he finished with 11 victories and a 2.48 GAA.

Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff are the No. 3 options; neither has NHL experience.


Quote of the Day

I think I'm lucky to be here and you definitely don't take very many things for granted, if you take anything for granted. I definitely put my family and my wife and my close family in perspective, that they're the most important thing in the world. I want to do whatever I can to play hockey, but like I said, under the right circumstances.

— Stars forward Rich Peverley to "The Musers" radio show on The Ticket 1310 AM in Dallas