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Kings Aim At Depleted Penguins

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
PITTSBURGH -- Tonight, it's the Kings vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Well, some of them.

The Penguins' group of forwards is depleted, with injuries to Sidney Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (knee) and Chris Kunitz (lower body), and Matt Cooke serving the first of his four-game suspension tonight. Will this turn into a ``trap game'' for the Kings?

The Penguins are coming off rough back-to-back losses to Washington and Columbus, and will have four new AHL call-ups in the lineup tonight, but they also still have a deep group of defenseman and an All-Star goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury.

These might not be the same high-flying Penguins, but they still have the attention of Kings coach Terry Murray.

``Any time you lose top players like that, in the game, it's really unfortunate for the game of hockey,'' Murray said. ``But from our side of it, we have to come out and play the right way. We have to do the same things, and know that we've got to work hard, that every shift matters.

``So whether you have the top players of the opponent against you, or you have a banged-up team, I know darn well that Pittsburgh is still a very good defensive hockey club. They're going to bring a lot of intensity, a lot of hard play, and we've got to be ready to match that.''

Murray played coy when asked about the Penguins' newcomers. Brett Sterling (a native of Pasadena who once played in the Jr. Kings program), Ryan Craig and Nick Johnson all will be playing in their first games of this season.

``We have our secret scouts all over the place, to give us a lot of feedback on players,'' Murray said with a grin. ``It's great to see young players. We went through the process there, just a couple years ago, with bringing a lot of young players into the organization and not knowing who they were and giving them an opportunity to play.

``And they're pretty good players. There's a lot of emotion and adrenaline, and they're going to go out there tonight and give everything they can. This is their opportunity to show management that they're ready to play in the National Hockey League. So it will be a high-energy game.''

Winger Kevin Westgarth will be in the lineup tonight against Pittsburgh who leads the NHL in penalty minutes.
Kevin Westgarth, a healthy scratch from the Kings' previous six games, will be back in the lineup as the fourth-line right winger in place of Brad Richardson.

Pittsburgh leads the NHL in penalty minutes this season and is second in the league in major-penalty minutes.

``Westgarth brings an element to the game that we think we have to have when we come on the road,'' Murray said. ``Pittsburgh has got some heavy players. In the remaining part of the road trip, there are those kinds of teams, that play hard. The Flyers are going to have a hard team and a hard lineup, so we've got to make sure that our bases are covered in the important areas of the game.''

Marco Sturm, still recovering from knee tendinitis, continues to skate extensively in practice but will not play tonight.

The biggest news of the day in the arena, post-practice, was the attendance of Crosby, who has been out since Jan. 5 because of concussion symptoms.

Crosby recently spent time with family in Nova Scotia but was back in Pittsburgh and said he had no timetable as to when he might be able to return to game action.

``I'm getting better. It's just slow,'' Crosby said. ``That's the tough part, the progression. Everything is improving, but it's just at a slower rate than I'd want it to be. That's kind of something that's out of my control, and you just hope with time, hopefully (it's) the quicker, the better.''

Alexei Ponikarovsky also makes his return to Pittsburgh tonight.  The Ukranian winger played 27 games for them after the trade deadline last season.
Rob Scuderi, as expected, had an extended session with the Pittsburgh media today, in his first trip back to the city since he won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009.

It's easy to forget, though, that this is also a return trip to Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh in March. Ponikarovsky played only 16 regular-season games and 11 playoff games for the Penguins before signing with the Kings last summer, and his season has been full of fits and starts, with injuries and a couple games as a healthy scratch.

``It's been a big adjustment for him, coming through a couple different organizations,'' Murray said, ``coming through Pittsburgh last year and now to us. It's a new system, new style, new philosophy, and it takes a little bit of time for a player to make those adjustments.

``I think his game is starting to get back on track, with what we expected when we signed him as a player. So we're looking for big things from him in the remaining games.'

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