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Kings Notebook (April 14)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Brad Richardson's move from the third line to the fourth line to help neutralize Vancouver speed on the wing will be a key to the series.

VANCOUVER – Most of the Kings are now in uncharted waters.

Murray - Practice Report 04/14/10

Of the 24 players on the current roster, 13 have never experienced the NHL playoffs. Thursday’s Game 1 against Vancouver will no doubt be an eye-opening experience for one of the league’s youngest teams, but it might not be totally unfamiliar.

While it’s true that the young core of the team – players such as Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick – has nary a playoff game among them, they do have other high-profile experiences from which they can draw.

Less than two months ago, Brown, Doughty and Johnson played in perhaps the highest-profile international hockey game in history, the Olympic gold-medal game. Quick was also on the United States’ roster and soaked in the atmosphere.

Kopitar and Peter Harrold have experience at the World Championships and Wayne Simmonds won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. Other players have playoff experience at the junior and/or minor-league levels.

So while none of that can completely duplicate the experience of being in the NHL playoffs, the young Kings at least know what pressure situations feel like.

"A lot of the young guys that we have on this team have been through big games in the past, big series,’’ coach Terry Murray said, "whether it's the World Juniors or maybe it's going back through the Memorial Cup or even back through their Midget days. It's all a part of the learning process, to be able to deal with the pressures of the moment.

"We feel that, with our young guys, they've been exposed to many of those kind of situations, and we feel very confident that they're going to come out and play their game and the team can play well in this series.’’

The Kings, whether by design or coincidence, are also surrounding their inexperienced players with veterans who have significant playoff experience.

On the first line, Kopitar will be sandwiched by wingers Justin Williams, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, and Ryan Smyth, whose Edmonton Oilers were beaten by the Hurricanes in that Stanley Cup Finals series.

Doughty is partnered with Rob Scuderi, who won the Stanley Cup last season, and the Kings have another Cup winner on defense in veteran Sean O’Donnell.

LINEUP SET
Murray ultimately decided to make one tweak from his end-of-season lineup, as wingers Fredrik Modin and Brad Richardson will flip spots on the bottom two lines. (Click here for the Kings lineup)

After the first line of Smyth, Kopitar and Williams, Jarret Stoll will center the second line with Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown. Michal Handzus will center Richardson and Simmonds, and Jeff Halpern will center Raitis Ivanans and Modin.

The biggest question was whether Murray would choose to include Ivanans, the team’s "enforcer’’ who did not record a point in 61 games but had 136 penalty minutes.

"Raitis gives us a big-bodied guy who has played well since he's gone back into the lineup,’’ Murray said. "I've been very pleased, actually, with how he's showing more of a relaxed attitude with the puck. He's not fighting it. He's showing composure, making some plays and executing very well.

"Also, Vancouver is a pretty gritty hockey club. They've got some heavyweights there. They've got a hard attitude in their game, and Raitis is going to help us have that same kind of an attitude.’’

On defense, the Kings are expected to go with pairs of Doughty and Scuderi, Johnson and Randy Jones, and O’Donnell and Matt Greene.

STEPPING UP
It’s been a big season for Richardson, who arguably has been the Kings’ most improved player, a year after he appeared in only 31 games in an injury-shortened season.

Richardson had a career-high 27 points this season, in 81 games, and spent some time in a first-line role. Now, he has another huge task, since his line likely will be charged with matching up against the Vancouver Canucks’ top line.

In Henrik Sedin, the Canucks have the NHL’s leading scorer, and they have two other talented offensive players in Sedin’s twin, Daniel, and Alex Burrows. When possible, the Kings will try to use the Richardson-Handzus-Simmonds line in matchups.

"It's going to be a lot of fun,’’ Richardson said. "I'm sure that we'll be trying to match up against the Sedins. It's great. Zeus has had a great year for us. He's been the workhorse for us in every situation, so that will be fun.

"Simmer has also had a great year. I've played with Simmer quite a bit this year. We've been put together quite a bit, so I'm real familiar with him. It's going to be a lot of fun. We're all really excited and I just can't wait for tomorrow night.’’

MIDDLE MEN

The Kings held their final pre-playoff practice in El Segundo on Wednesday morning, before their afternoon flight to Vancouver. (Click here for Jarret Stoll's first podcast "The Journey") After practice, Murray was asked about any particular points of emphasis he had for his team in practice this week.

"The one thing that's been hard for us against Vancouver, for two years, is getting through the middle of the ice,’’ Murray said. "They play a left-wing lock system and they're very aggressive with it. They angle very well and you have to try to stay away from that transition game that they thrive on.

"We're looking at some of our neutral-zone counter stuff today. We practiced it yesterday and followed through with it today again, just some puck management and making good decisions."

A QUICK LOOK AT THE SERIES
No. 3 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 Los Angeles Kings
Stanley Cup Playoff Commercial | NHL On the Fly Preview
Season Series: The Canucks won three of the four games, sweeping both home games by a combined 7-2…The Canucks were dominant at GM Place all season, posting the best home record in the Western Conference (30-8-3) and second-best in the League behind Washington (30-5-6)…After dropping the first three games of the series, the Kings will look to build on the final game, an 8-3 Los Angeles win on Apr. 1 in which Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo surrendered all eight goals. Kings captain Dustin Brown tallied his NHL hat trick and had a career-best four-point night.

Special Teams: Both teams would be well advised to stay out of the penalty box. Not surprising given the offensive talent on both rosters, the Canucks (20.9%) and Kings (20.8%) ranked sixth and seventh in the NHL, respectively, on the power play this season. They also were in the bottom half in penalty killing -- Vancouver placed 18th (81.6%), Los Angeles 20th (80.3%).

Offense: The Canucks and Kings combined for 513 goals, the second-highest total among the first-round match-ups behind Washington and Montreal's 535. The Canucks led the Western Conference in offense with 272 goals, their highest output since tallying 278 in 1995-96. The Kings scored 241, an increase of 34 over 2008-09. The Canucks feature Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin and twin Daniel, who could have challenged for the trophy if not for an early-season injury. The Kings boast 20-year-old sophomore phenom Drew Doughty, who ranked third among NHL defensemen in scoring.

Fan Favorite: Kings defenseman Jack Johnson will expect to hear it from Canucks fans as he makes his Stanley Cup Playoff debut. Johnson has received the wrath of the GM Place faithful since his participation for Team USA at the Vancouver-based 2006 World Junior Championships.

Back On Vancouver Ice: This series features five star players who competed in the now-legendary gold medal game between Canada and the United States at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver: Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo (Canada) and forward Ryan Kesler (USA), and Kings defensemen Drew Doughty (Canada) and Jack Johnson (USA) plus forward Dustin Brown (USA).

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