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Easy to Forget Clifford Just a Teenager

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's easy to forget that Kyle Clifford could be in Buffalo right now, representing Canada in the World Junior Championships tournament.


For that matter, it's often easy to forget that Clifford is a teenager playing in the NHL.

Clifford doesn't turn 20 until next month, but after being a part-time player early this season, Clifford has established himself as a third-line regular, and his play, work ethic and attitude have drawn the strong praise of coach Terry Murray.

Clifford, a second-round draft pick in 2009, has two goals and four assists in
31 games this season and has not been shy about dropping gloves to defend teammates.

It's a testament to Clifford's play that there wasn't any thought given to the idea of Clifford leaving the Kings this month to go play in the World Juniors.

Clifford attempted an orientation camp in the summer but made the Kings' roster out of training camp.

"We all felt he should have been selected last year and he wasn't, so we decided to keep him so they couldn't have an opportunity to get him this year. Take that,'' Murray said jokingly, with a hearty laugh.

"Well, I'm glad he hasn't come to me and asked if he could go. I would have been disappointed. He's making great strides here, and he's a great kid. It's great to see the attitude that he brings every day to the practice. Going to the rink early, to get himself ready. Every game, he's on the first bus. He's just a rink rat. He wants to play the game and play the right way, and he wants to become a very successful pro hockey player for a long time. He's doing all the right stuff, with his respect for the game, for the veteran players. He's showing to us, the coaches, that he will do whatever it takes, putting in the work, the time, to keep our trust and keep it going on the ice.''

Clifford has become the regular left winger on the third line with center Michal Handzus and right winger Wayne Simmonds.

NO LINEUP CHANGES

The Kings will go with the same lineup, tonight against Phoenix, that they used in Monday night's victory over San Jose.

Alexei Ponikarovsky, who missed Monday's game with a lower-body injury, participated in Wednesday's morning skate, but Murray said Ponikarovsky is still ``a little lame'' and was restricted a bit in his on-ice movement because of the injury.

Jonathan Quick, coming off his fourth shutout of the season, will start in goal again. Jonathan Bernier will get the start in Thursday's home game against Philadelphia.

Murray said Willie Mitchell, who has been out since Dec. 16, skated for 30 minutes in Los Angeles this morning but there's no update as to when Mitchell might return to the lineup.

FOURTH-LINE SUCCESS

With Ponikarovsky out, the Kings once again with go with a fourth line of center Trevor Lewis and wingers Brad Richardson and Kevin Westgarth. That line contributed a goal -- from Lewis -- and some solid overall play against the Sharks.

With the Kings in the middle of a stretch of four games in five nights, the need to roll four lines is important, and Murray said he is confident in putting the fourth line on the ice.

"The fourth line has given me a lot of confidence to play them,'' Murray said. "They're doing the right things. They're playing hard. They're playing with speed, with grit, attacking, scoring goals. There was a huge goal against San Jose. So they're giving me everything that I could possibly want from them.

"To be able to come out of a special-teams situation and put the fourth line out there, and know that they're going to get matched up against one of the better lines on the opposition, and that they're checking the right way and playing on the right side of the puck, is a real good thing for the hockey club. It obviously backs off some of your top guys, in a heavy schedule like this. Through it all, you're going to be fresher and play at a higher tempo because of it.''

REBOUND EFFORT EXPECTED

The Coyotes are coming off a 3-1 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday night, a game that Murray was able to watch in person. The Coyotes beat the Kings 4-2 on Oct. 21 at Jobing.com Arena, and Murray said he expects a return to that form from the Coyotes tonight.

"The game started off a little loose,'' Murray said of Tuesday's game. "I thought some of the execution was off-page, uncharacteristic for Phoenix. As the game got going, and they were down 3-0, they started to come back with more of a press-up game, typical of what they showed last year. I think I was a little surprised that they didn't show that right from the very beginning. That's what we'll see here tonight, more of three on on the puck.

"The defense are going to be aggressive down the boards, the defense are going to be jumping up on the play, on the attack, on a pretty consistent basis. They'll probably play more pucks off the net than what they did. I thought they over-passed, looking for some cute plays in the offensive zone last night, so there will be change of attitude, I'm sure, tonight.''

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