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Doughty Key to Power Play

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
EL SEGUNDO -- Last season, as only a second-year NHL defenseman, Drew Doughty stamped himself as a Norris Trophy finalist, in part because of his strong offensive numbers.


So far this season, those numbers have dipped. Doughty is coming off two of his strongest games of the season, but his play hasn’t always translated into points, as Doughty has only one goal and six assists in 19 games this season.

That pace would put him far off last season’s total, when Doughty finished with 16 goals and 43 assists and finished third in the league in scoring by defensemen.

So far this season, Doughty has only one more point than Rob Scuderi, the Kings’ reliable stay-at-home defenseman. It’s still too early in the season to make any sweeping declarations, of course, but after Tuesday’s practice, Kings coach Terry Murray acknowledged some surprise at Doughty’s lack of goal scoring.

``I'm surprised,’’ Murray said. ``I think the way the pucks were going into the net for him last year, and the way the offensive part of the game was really coming together, that there would be more production at this time. It's hard to (find) one reason why. I think there's a reluctance to shoot the puck on the power play, where we're looking to make plays. I think we've talked about that many times already this year. We're looking to pass the puck into the net rather than shoot it.

``There's been quite a few looks, on the power plays, where the play is continually being pushed down to the goal line, to the low play, the cycles, and that does not include the defensemen, obviously. So we've been encouraging getting it back up to the blue line, to those shooters, those quarterbacks. Get it in their hands more consistently, and I think with that attitude, it will start to happen for them.’’

Through the Kings’ first 25 games last season, Doughty had six goals and 14 assists, including 11 points on the power play. Last season, nine of Doughty’s 16 total goals came on the power play, as did 22 of his 43 total assists.

Part of this season’s dip, of course, is attributable to the Kings’ overall power-play struggles, as they entered Tuesday ranked 23rd in power-play efficiency.

Murray thinks the Kings’ current look might help. Doughty has been paired with Scuderi of late. Doughty’s previous partner, Willie Mitchell, is likely to return from injury soon, but Murray said he is considering keeping Doughty with Scuderi, for offensive purposes.

``I like Scuderi with him, and I'm kind of leaning toward that, even when Mitchell does get back into the lineup,’’ Murray said. ``You kind of play it as it comes, and see how everybody is going at that time. There's reasons why you change D pairs and line combinations. You're just trying to get the right look, and some chemistry happening, if things aren't going right.

``I think that whenever Scuderi is with Doughty, there is a real sense that, `I'm going to put the puck on his stick as often as I possibly can, and let him get on the move with it.'''

INJURY UPDATE


Alexei Ponikarovsky (broken finger) successfully made it through a second consecutive full-team practice, and Murray pronounced Ponikarovsky ready to play on Thursday when the Kings host the Calgary Flames at STAPLES Center.

Ponikarovsky is expected to return to his previous role as the Kings’ third-line left winger, alongside center Michal Handzus and right winger Wayne Simmonds.

``His conditioning is outstanding,’’ Murray said. ``They've been doing a lot of hard skating over the past couple weeks, in that small group skating club. So he's ready physically, and no question, mentally, he's been excited about getting back in for the last five or six days. Shooting the puck, handling the puck, he's doing everything that you ask a forward to do, a player to do, in these practices. In my mind, he's ready to go.’’

Willie Mitchell (broken wrist) continues to do conditioning skating, and some drills, and is scheduled to be evaluated by a doctor again on Thursday night.

FORBORT ON BOARD


USA Hockey announced its 29-player preliminary roster for the World Junior Championship, and it includes Kings defensive prospect Derek Forbort.

Forbort, now a freshman at the University of North Dakota, was the Kings’
first-round pick -- No. 15 overall -- in this year’s draft. After an early-season illness, Forbort has eight assists and a plus-2 rating in 13 games with North Dakota this season.

Forbort is one of 10 defenseman on the preliminary roster for Team USA, which is expected to announce its final roster in approximately two weeks. Team USA, which won gold last year, opens the tournament on Dec. 26 in Buffalo.

NO CHANGES EXPECTED

Murray said he expects to use the same defensive pairings -- Doughty with Scuderi, Jack Johnson with Peter Harrold, Matt Greene with Alec Martinez -- against Calgary as he did on Saturday against Detroit.

``I'm going to stay with those guys,’’ Murray said. `I like what I'm seeing.
We'll just keep them ready and keep them going, and if I have to `use (Davis
Drewiske) as a forward, I think there's no issue there. He's a defenseman and wants to play as a defenseman, but right now I'm just going to ride those guys the way it's set up.’’
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