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Breaking the Slump

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
In sports, there’s no magic formula for breaking out of a slump. Sometimes, it’s attention to video review. Sometimes, it’s a lively team meeting. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than a fluke goal, off a player’s backside, that might get the scoring going.

Every team identifies leaders, though, and in hockey they are designated by a letter in the top corner of the sweater. Those leaders are counted on to provide the correct words at the correct moments, in terms of communicating with teammates and coaches.

Captains Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar attempted to lead the club out of a slump with a closed-door meeting after Monday's loss to Toronto.
The Kings have one of the youngest leadership groups in NHL, with 26-year-old captain Dustin Brown and assistant captains Matt Greene (27) and Anze Kopitar (23).

That group helped lead a closed-door meeting after Monday’s loss to Toronto, and coach Terry Murray said he’s confident that the correct leadership is in place to help the Kings get back on a winning track starting tonight against St. Louis at STAPLES Center.

``They're doing a good job,’’ Murray said of the team leadership. ``I like the group. Whenever we do meet, as a staff, there's lots of good communication. They're airing some things. I'm voicing some opinions. I'm not looking for any in-house secrets, or anything like that, that's going on in the locker room. It's always concerning the performance of the team on the ice. I think they're doing a good job of that.’’

``It's an important time, always, for the leadership group, whenever you're bouncing around a little bit, getting some wins and losing. This is a critical time for the leadership group, coming to practice, on the ice, what they do, how they do it, setting the example, talking about things in the locker room. They're normally your veteran players, your captains, and it takes everyone, in today's game, to really contribute in that area.’’

Left Winger Alexei Ponikarovsky will be a healthy scratch against St. Louis tonight.
Alexei Ponikarovsky will be the healthy scratch among the group of Kings forwards tonight, Murray said, as the Kings will go with a fourth line of center Trevor Lewis with wingers Kevin Westgarth and Brad Richardson, who returns after a two-game absence.

Murray expressed his frustration with Ponikarovsky, who has played two games since returning to the lineup after an ankle injury.

On Monday, Ponikarovsky played a first-line, left-wing role, with center Anze Kopitar and right winger Dustin Brown, and Ponikarovsky recorded three shots on goal in 14 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time.

``With Poni, I just need him to be a more competitive player right now,’’ Murray said after Thursday’s morning skate. ``He's coming back off another injury there, but it's got to be a whole lot better, from a veteran player.

``Whenever you're scratching a player, it's very hard. Everybody wants to play on a regular basis. Certainly, whenever you're a veteran player it's more difficult. But there's a standard of compete that we have to have. I was looking at the game that he played against Toronto, his former team. It was maybe the first game that he played against them. If he played against them with Pittsburgh, I'm not sure. And he's playing with Kopitar and Brown. That's a pretty good pair to be able to get on a line with, against your old teammates. I was expecting not just hard work but a very competitive level of hard work. That part of it is not there for me. In fact, I was upset about it at the end of the game. It needs to be at a higher level. I need to express that. Players don't really want to accept it all the time, but that's our view and that's where the decision has to be made.’’

Ponikarovsky, traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh last season, did face the Maple Leafs on March 28 and had one assist in a 5-4 shootout win.

On the other hand, Murray said he was ready to return Richardson, who missed the two previous games as a healthy scratch, to the lineup in place of Ponikarovsky.

``We had a meeting, and went over some video,’’ Murray said. ``I think we're at an understanding, of what he needs from me and what I need from him.’’

Kyle Clifford celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday, and will get to spend it in a high-profile role as the second-line left winger with Michal Handzus and Brown.

Clifford, a junior-eligible rookie, started the season on the fourth line but, in November, moved up to the third line. Now he gets another bump, a product both of his solid play and the Kings’ need to find some spark among their top-six forwards.

Murray said he wouldn’t ask Clifford to significantly change the way he plays.

``We just want him to be able to go out and play his instinctive game,’’ Murray said. ``It's getting better by the week. His gritty play, his physical play, is important, and that's the way it will always be. His composure with the puck, to have it on his stick for long periods of time, to carry it, to see the ice and make plays, that's what we will need from him on that line To me, he's getting better with it as time goes on.’’

Davis Drewiske was able to participate in Thursday’s morning skate, despite an ugly scene in practice Wednesday, when Drewiske was struck in the face by an errant puck, lost a significant amount of blood and required stitches.

Drewiske, as previously planned, will be a healthy scratch tonight, and his only nod to the injury was his wearing a visor. Drewiske did not previously wear a visor.

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