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Brown sees room for offensive improvement

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

The problem is obvious. Among the 30 NHL teams, the Kings rank 28th in goals per game. The defense is good. The goaltending is great. The question is, how to improve offense without sacrificing defense?

It’s an age-old question, and the Kings are regularly at work on improving their cycling in the offensive zone and getting the defensemen more involved. Team captain Dustin Brown, though, suggests that the crux of the problem takes place even before the Kings get the puck across the offensive blue line.

Neutral-zone play, Brown said, is preventing an effective forecheck and puck control.

``Sometimes we get too spread out,’’ Brown said after Monday’s practice. ``Whether it’s a quick counter or a long counter, we’ve got to be able to identify that, as a group of five, and come up together. Right now, we’re really spread out in the neutral zone, which forces us to dump it in. And if we’re spread out in the neutral zone, that means we’re going to be spread out on the forecheck, and it’s hard to turn pucks over with a one-man forecheck, which we’re seeing a lot of right now.’’

The Kings are undefeated this season when they score at least three goals. Problem is, it has only happened eight times in 26 games. The Kings have scored two or fewer goals in five consecutive games and, overall, have scored the lowest number of 5-on-5 goals (34) in the NHL this season.

``You look at our team and, I don’t know what the stats are but I think we have nine or 10 guys who have scored 20 goals in this league,’’ Brown said. ``So, guys can score goals. But we can’t score goals when we’re dumping the puck in and not getting it back.’’

To that end, the Kings made a couple more line-combination tweaks in practice Monday. The Kings reunited the No. 1 line that started the season together, with Anze Kopitar centering Simon Gagne and Justin Williams, two wingers who have been stuck in a scoring rut of late.

Brown moves back to left wing, on the second line with center Jarret Stoll and winger Trent Hunter. On the third line, Andrei Loktionov centers Dustin Penner and Ethan Moreau. On the fourth line, it’s Colin Fraser centering wingers Kyle Clifford and Kevin Westgarth.

``We’ve moving some players around,’’ Murray said. ``Maybe moving them back to the original start would be the correct terminology by me. Putting Williams back with Kopitar and Gags. I’m going to put Brownie back on the left side. He’s so effective coming off that left side on the attack.

``I just want to take advantage of it right now. I go back to the end of the game against Montreal (on Saturday), and our shot count is not where it needs to be. The chances should be more. The net presence needs to be better, and Brownie is the one player there, with his power-forward mentality off the left side, who is very effective. So I want to take advantage of that.’’

Alec Martinez (upper-body injury) has been cleared for contact drills and continues to practice. Mike Richards, on injured reserve after taking a hit to the head Thursday, visited the practice facility Monday.

``He rode the bike, feeling better, and that’s all I can answer on him right now,’’ Murray said. ``It’s going to be a week for sure, obviously, with the I.R., and then hopefully we’ll get another evaluation at the next home game.’’

The news is better for Willie Mitchell, who will be out of the lineup for Tuesday’s game at Anaheim but who did some post-practice skating on Monday.

``I’ve had a groin pull before where it was two or three weeks, and you couldn’t even walk for a week, but I knew this one wasn’t as bad,’’ Mitchell said. ``I just had a strain earlier in the week in practice, and I felt good in the morning skate, but you can’t replicate a game. I went to push off in the first shift and I just fel it pop a little. Like I said, not as bad as what I’ve had. When you play long enough, everyone pretty much gets a groin pull. But I felt good walking around. The only way you can test it is to get out there, and it was good. I probably skated at about 75 percent today, which is pretty good.

``You’ve just got to be comfortable putting yourself out there, as far as making a quick stop or a turn, which is when it really stretches out your groin. You get a few skates and you can try it, and hopefully it doesn’t go pop again. You want to get back as quick as you can, but you also don’t want to go back to square one. So I want to be smart about it, but it’s encouraging, definitely, to get out there and do 75 percent of my stuff.’’

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was named the NHL’s ``third star’’ of last week, after his shutout victory over San Jose and his 2-1 victory over Florida. Former Kings forward Matt Moulson, who had six goals in three games, was the first start. Nashville’s Ryan O’Reilly was the second star.

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