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Defensive Hazards

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
NASHVILLE -- Being a Kings defenseman comes with occupational hazards this season.

Only once this season, in 29 games, have the Kings been able to start and finish a game with the full complement of defensemen they would choose to have on the ice. That number, unfortunately for the Kings, is unlikely to rise in the near future.

Willie Mitchell, who left Thursday's game with a lower-body injury, has been designated as ``week to week.'' Matt Greene, described as ``wobbly'' after a hit in Monday's game, has returned to Los Angeles for tests and his short-term future is unknown.

So now, less than a week after the Kings' defensive corps was at full strength, there are significant holes to fill with the loss of two top physical, ``defensive'' defensemen.

In practice Friday, Drew Doughty remained paired with Rob Scuderi, while Jack Johnson paired with Peter Harrold, the same look they had last week before Mitchell returned from a broken wrist. Alec Martinez paired with Davis Drewiske in practice.

STURM ON THE VERGE?

Marco Sturm, acquired recently in a trade with Boston, had been penciled in for a Kings debut on Dec. 23 against Edmonton at STAPLES Center, but that debut might be earlier.

Sturm practiced with the Kings for a third consecutive day on Friday, and coach Terry Murray seemed optimistic that Sturm, who is in the late stages of recovery from May knee surgery, might be able to play before the end of the road trip.

After tomorrow's game, the Kings play Sunday at Chicago and Tuesday at Colorado.

Murray said that when Sturm is ready, he might go into a first-line partnership with center Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who would move back to his natural right wing. That would reunite the previous second line of Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams.

Murray indicated that he wouldn't hesitate to play Sturm on the top line even if, in his first few games, Sturm wasn't ready to handle the minutes that typically accompany the role.

``To me, he's looking pretty good,'' Murray said. ``He was out there today and he did all the drills in the practice. Then at the end he was very competitive in all the 1-on-1 stuff they were doing at the one end, to get some more work on the conditioning side of it.

``He was moving well. He held onto the puck. He had a lot of lateral movement, and stops and starts, which are very much game situations. He came through it, in my eyes, looking pretty good. So I'n going to go have a 1-on-1 talk with him (after practice), just to get a look in his eye and hear what he has to say and try to move this forward a little bit.''

THIRD LINE ON THE MOVE

The Kings are expected to make one lineup change against Nashville, with left winger Kyle Clifford moving up to the third line to replace Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Clifford moved into that role during the second period against St. Louis, after Murray was dissatisfied with Ponikarovsky's early-game play. Murray praised Clifford's effort, which included a second-period fight and an assist, and had tough words for Ponikarovsky.

``I wasn't real pleased what was going on with the other player on the left side, to be quite honest,'' Murray said, referring to Ponikarovsky. ``It started right with his first shift, where the puck comes along the boards. It's a play you've got to make. You've got to recover the puck and get it going on the breakout and get on the attack.

``We turned it over, and then spent another 15, 20 seconds in our D zone trying to go through coverage and recover the puck again. So there were just a couple situations like that in the early going of the game that needed to be looked at and changed.''

BERNIER GETS THE CALL

As expected, Jonathan Bernier will start in goal tomorrow against Nashville. Jonathan Quick had started eight consecutive games and Bernier will have gone 24 days between appearances. Bernier has a 3.29 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage, and Murray said the move is designed to rest Quick and get Bernier back on track.

``It's probably both,'' Murray said. ``I was thinking of playing him [Bernier] in the game at home against Minnesota. Quick had been playing well, and I just wanted to stay with that. (Bernier) did have a good game here last year against Nashville, and with back-to-back games and a 6 o'clock start in Chicago, the rest factor kicks in on that one too. So he will get the start tomorrow.''

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