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Defensemen Revitalizing Kings' Attack

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Perhaps the guys at the blue line hold the key to revitalizing the Kings’ offensive attack?

Every NHL team wants its defensemen to be more involved in scoring -- although not at the expense of being solid in their own end -- but of late the Kings, in particular, have shown the value of having defensemen getting onto the score sheet.

The Kings beat Phoenix 4-3 on Saturday, and defensemen were highly involved, directly or indirectly, in all four of the plays that led to goals.

The Kings have received a lot of production out of their defensive corps lately, including Drew Doughty.
Drew Doughty scored the second goal. Alec Martinez scored the third goal. The fourth -- and game-winning -- goal came on a play that was started by a Jack Johnson slap shot.

Even the Kings’ first goal, scored by Justin Williams with an assist to Ryan Smyth, got its genesis in the neutral zone, where Matt Greene picked off a breakout-pass attempt and pushed the puck into the offensive zone to start the play.

In all, defensemen recorded four out of the 10 points awarded in the game.

``That's really where you have to come to, today, with the way the teams play on the structure, in their home-plate attitude,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``You've got five (players) down tight. There's not a lot of room to make plays.

``Unless something good is happening off the rush, or you get second options off of rebounds, now you recover pucks, you get your feet moving, you open something up, and that's where those low plays develop. But the original puck-possession plays, most times, need to go low-to-high, get it to the net. Maybe great players can make something happen from low, but it's a hard thing today.’’

Doughty, in particular, has appeared more aggressive on offense in recent games.

Doughty has two goals in his last five games and, in general, has seemed more comfortable jumping into plays, either by initiating them, carrying the puck into the neutral zone, or getting pucks to the net from the blue line.

``In the last half-dozen games, he's really got his feet going,’’ Murray said. ``That's the big difference in his game, for me, is the skating. He's alert, he's jumping, he's got a nice energy level. We're seeing a lot of puck-carrying, but we're also seeing a lot of good things happening away from the puck in the offensive zone.’’

The Kings aren’t expected to make any lineup changes for tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins at STAPLES Center, and Jonathan Quick will start in goal.

Rob Scuderi did not participate in Sunday’s practice or in Monday’s optional morning skate, but Murray said Scuderi would be able to play against the Bruins.

Roughly half of the skaters -- and both goalies -- were on the ice for the morning skate and, as he did last season, Murray said he would start making most morning skates optional. That has to do with keeping players as fresh as possible late in the season.

``That's what we'll look at, probably, for the rest of the year,’’ Murray said. ``When you get into this time, and the way things are with the scheduling, a lot of optionals. We might look at something different in February here, because of all the road games that we have, to get some morning skates in, but in general it will be a lot of morning optionals.’’

The Kings have two home games remaining -- tonight against Boston and Wednesday against San Jose -- before their five-day All-Star break, and they know they cannot afford to take those four points for granted.

The Kings have 51 points in 48 games, putting them on pace for approximately 87 points this season. Last season, 91 points were required to make the playoffs, and as many as 93-95 points might be needed this season.

``Right now, it doesn't really matter where we are -- at home or on the road -- or whether it's before the break or after the break. They're all important,’’ Kings center and assistant captain Anze Kopitar said. ``We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, and now we've got to climb out of it. We've got to win games. There's no secret to it. You've got to be around 95 points, probably, to make the playoffs in this conference, and that's what we've got to shoot for. I think everybody, in their minds, has it broken down, how many wins we're going to need to get there, and we've got to do it. That's just the bottom line.’’

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