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Kings at Phoenix Story Lines

by Thomas LaRocca / Los Angeles Kings
The Kings will send a relatively inexperienced group to Phoenix to face the Coyotes in the first game of the Kings split-squad contests versus their Pacific Division rivals.

Check out the storylines of the game.

No this is not some crazy St. Patrick’s Day concoction that is served at Patrick Molloy’s on the Hermosa Beach pier. This is the Kings probable pairing of Matt Greene and Davis Drewiske, whom the players have affectionately termed, “Whiskey.”

The two could create quite the defensive presence on the Kings blue line, both have good size (6-2, 215 for Drewiske and 6-4, 235 for Greene) and both are defensive first, stay-at-home defensemen whom will error on the side of keeping pucks out of the net.

"I like to consider myself a defensive guy first," Drewiske said. "I can jump in on offense when I am needed or jump on the power play if there is an injury or something, but I just always consider myself a defensive guy first."

Both back enders finished plus-1 a year ago for a team that was out-scored 139-114 in 5-on-5 situations. Greene has a bit of a mean streak finishing with 111 PIMs, and finishing second on the team with 202 hits. He also blocked a team-leading 167 shots, including one very memorable shot in the closing minutes vs. Edmonton. Greene added 2-12=14, while playing in all 82 games for the Kings a year ago.

Drewiske started the season at Manchester and ranked second amongst team defensemen with a plus-five rating. The responsible Drewiske was recalled from Manchester on Feb. 3, while the Kings were thin on defense, due to injury and suspension to Denis Gauthier. The rookie rose to the occasion and played the final 17 games of the season, chipping in three assists and 18 PIMs.

The pair could form a shutdown defensive duo for the 2009-10 Kings.

For much of last season, head coach Terry Murray placed scoring winger Alexander Frolov on the team’s checking line with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds. The line thrived with the addition of the puck-control expert and the talented Frolov added scoring punch that made the Kings third line emerge as arguably the team’s most consistent last year.

The trio has stayed together for much of camp and if all goes according to plan, will start the season together behind the Kings top line of Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, and the Kings second line of Teddy Purcell, Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown. The balanced lineup may allow the Kings to roll three solid scoring lines, but all of that could change depending upon the health of Stoll and the emergence of Purcell…if either falter, it could necessitate a change.

A strong performance in this game, however, might convince Murray to keep the trio together. Don’t forget, Handzus finished with 18 goals, while Simmonds finished with nine, four of which were in the last 15 games of the season and Frolov led the team with 32 goals. If Frolov can post 30 (he has scored 30 plus goals twice in his career) tallies, Handzus can reach 20, which he has done three times in his career, and Simmonds improves to 15, the Kings third line will be a force to be reckoned with.

Four of the Kings six defensemen in the lineup are expected to start the season at Manchester and have yet to appear in an NHL game. Gaining valuable experience can be key to each prospect’s growth.

Andrew Campbell and Viatcheslav Voynov will form one pair, while Alec Martinez and Drew Bagnall will form the other. Campbell made his pro debut last season with the Monarchs, appearing in 72 games and scoring 3-5=8 but was minus-15 with 72 PIMS. Voynov, whose skating ability has been called NHL-ready, appeared in 61 games at the tender age of 18 years old (he turned 19 on Jan. 15), and tying for first amongst Monarchs blue liners with 8-15=23. Both players were selected in the 2008 NHL Draft.

The man that Voynov was tied with also made his pro debut a year ago in Martinez, the Miami University product that tallied 8-15=23 in 72 games. Martinez will be paired with Bagnall, the elder statesman of the group, with two years of pro experience under his belt at 25 years of age. Bagnall posted 150 PIMs in 79 games while adding six assists. The year before, he posted 115 PIMs in 54 games, while adding 1-11=12.


Murray has indicated that there are very few spots open on this team’s roster and that he wants to start the season with the guys who finished last year. That being said, he has also indicated that one of the younger players could challenge and force his hand. The most likely candidates in this game are Trevor Lewis and Marc-Andre Cliche.

With the Kings top-nine forwards basically set, the competition for time on the Kings fourth line is heating up. Lewis, who made his NHL debut last year and appeared in six games scoring 1-2=3, played the majority of the season with the Monarchs, where he tallied 20-31=51 in 75 games, a 23-point improvement from his first pro year in 2007-08, where he scored 12-16=28 in 76 games. Lewis could contend for a roster spot in 2009-10, but a strong performance in this game will certainly help his cause.

Cliche, who missed half the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in training camp a year ago, played the last 31 games of the season scoring 5-4=9 at Manchester. The year prior, he picked up 11-10=21 in 52 games with the Monarchs. The former second-round pick of the NY Rangers, who came to LA in the Sean Avery deal, plays a strong checking game and could make a case for a spot on the Kings fourth line.

It was a tale of two seasons for Erik Ersberg, who started the year 8-5-2 before suffering a groin injury on Dec. 15 vs. San Jose and finishing the year 0-6-3. His numbers suggest that Ersberg provided strong play for a No. 2 net minder (8-11-5, .900 SV% and a 2.64 GAA), but the coaching staff will certainly want more than just numbers and the W’s will have to come when he spells the starter Jonathan Quick.

Putting the second half of last season behind him, Ersberg is healthy and will start tonight vs. Phoenix. A strong performance will help the 27-year-old goaltender hold of young Jonathan Bernier, who is starting vs. Phoenix at STAPLES Center.
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