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Kings Notebook (Dec. 2)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Leading scorer Justin Williams will join Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the top line tonight vs. Florida.

EL SEGUNDO -- Justin Williams has nearly been on a point-per-game run, since the start of the season, as the Kings’ second-line right winger. Now, he takes a step up.

Williams will move to the first line tonight, alongside center Anze Kopitar and left winger Dustin Brown, as the Kings look for some offense and look for a way to break out of their recent slump when they host the Florida Panthers at STAPLES Center.

Williams leads the Kings with 22 points in 23 games and is tied (with Brown) for the team lead with nine goals. Williams spent most of last season (when healthy) on the first line with Kopitar, and for part of the season, that was the NHL’s highest-scoring line.

For a Kings team that has totaled only four goals in its last four games -- all losses -- coach Terry Murray is looking for a spark, and turning to Williams.

Trevor Lewis steps up to fill the second-line spot vacated by Williams, alongside Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll, while Wayne Simmonds returns to his familiar third-line right-winger role, alongside center Michal Handzus and left winger Kyle Clifford.

``We're looking to get offense,’’ Murray said. ``That's always the holy grail that you're looking for, as a coach, to get the chemistry and have balance in the offensive part of your game. Right now, with Stolly, Smytty and Willie, I thought the chances were still there but the finish was not.

``Kopi's line, with whoever I put up there, it just has not connected on a consistent basis. So I'm hoping that something good can happen out of this. I'm just trying to take a good piece from one place and put it there, and hope that there's good chemistry that can develop and get that offense that we're looking for.’’

Brown, a natural right winger, will continue to play on the left side. Brown has six shots on goal in two games on the left side, and Murray said he has been pleased with the results so far.

``He's very comfortable playing on his off side,’’ Murray said. ``He played with the L.A. Kings in the past, I used him there a little bit. He played in the Olympics last year on left wing, so he's fine. It's a great opportunity for him, on his off side, to play that real power-forward, open up and shoot the puck, one-timers. So I'm OK with it. I think he's played pretty good there. He's had some good opportunities. With Williams moving to that right side tonight, we'll give it a look for a couple games and see how that comes together.’’

The Kings are expected to make one other change, with Peter Harrold replacing Davis Drewiske on defense.

The Kings have yet to officially make their intentions known, in terms of Brayden Schenn’s future, but Schenn is expected to return to his junior team this week.

Schenn, 19, has been on the Kings’ roster since the start of the season but has appeared in only eight games. He recently competed a seven-game AHL conditioning stint with Manchester but, because of his age, the Kings must choose to either keep Schenn on the NHL roster or return him to his junior team, Brandon of the WHL.

A return to junior would also free up Schenn to participate in the World Juniors tournament, which starts Dec. 26 in Buffalo.

``That's a decision for management,’’ Murray said. ``My candid opinion would be, sure, that would be a great thing for him to go play for Canada in the World Juniors like that. It's great competition and invaluable experience.’’

Alexei Ponikarovsky, out of the lineup with a broken finger, might be close to a return, Murray said. Ponikarovsky has been skating after practice and has been cleared to handle and shoot pucks, and Murray is looking at a possible return date.

``Things are moving in the right direction,’’ Murray said. ``He has made a lot of progress. I can't put a time frame on it, quite honestly, but I will say that I'm hoping that, within a week, he's able to get in the lineup and start to be a part of the team again.’’

The Kings host Detroit on Saturday, then host Calgary on Thursday. Willie Mitchell (broken wrist) is also on the mend, but his recovery is approximately one week behind that of Ponikarovsky.

Murray has changed three of his four lines since Monday’s game at Anaheim. The only one to stay intact is the fourth line of Brad Richardson, John Zeiler and Kevin Westgarth.

``They were good in Anaheim,’’ Murray said. ``They gave us some really big shifts, energy, good offensive-zone time. They were in on the puck. They were a little reckless in their forecheck and their recovery of pucks, which is always nice, to keep the other team off-balance. I'm just looking for that kind of consistent performance every game. If they do that, they can be very effective for us.’’

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