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Kings Notebook (Dec. 21)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar tallied 14 goals and 18 assists in 22 games with Ryan Smyth, he tallied just 2-4=6 in 15 games without him.

One by one, they strode through the doorway and onto the ice, the Kings' four Ghosts of Injuries Past.

Jack Johnson, Brandon Segal, Wayne Simmonds and Ryan Smyth, who have all missed time over the past month, all returned to the practice ice Monday morning and all are expected to return to action when the Kings resume play on Saturday at Phoenix.

Jarret Stoll (groin) and Randy Jones (neck) did not practice. Coach Terry Murray said Stoll is considered day to day and that Jones is unlikely to play Saturday.

The longest-awaited return was that of Smyth, who has been out since Nov. 16 with a still-undisclosed upper-body injury. The most surprising return was that of Simmonds, who had surgery only one week prior to clean up cartilage in his knee but participated in the full practice.

"I'm very pleasantly surprised, first of all, that he's there," Murray said. "I guess I kind of expected that he would get out there and dig in and push right through the whole practice. It kind of surprised me, but he said he felt good. A little bit winded, because of being off so many days, but there's no issue with the knee. He feels fine, and after a couple more days of hard skating he should be ready to go."

Simmonds, who has missed four games, said he felt relief that the injury wasn't more serious and required only a relatively minor arthroscopic procedure to clean up some cartilage.

"Oh, definitely," Simmonds said. "You never know what's going to happen, but you just try to be optimistic, and this was the best-case situation. I've missed four games so far, and we still have a little ways to go until the 26th and our next game, so hopefully I can be back."

It seems that Simmonds is destined to never know exactly when he hurt the knee. It would seem as though months, if not years, worth of wear and tear finally caught up to Simmonds, who said there was no single moment in which he felt he hurt the knee.

"It happened to me when I played in Owen Sound, in junior," Simmonds said. "Right before a playoff game, I was sitting there stretching, and my leg was kind of lateral and I put pressure on it, to get up, and it just locked right away. Fortunately, that time it popped right back out.

"This time, it didn't pop out the whole weekend, and it just popped out a couple hours before surgery, actually. So I might as well get it done sooner rather than later. It's better to have it happen now than the playoff push."

For the first time since his injury, Smyth shed the red "no contact" jersey that he had been wearing in practice, and went back on a line with center Anze Kopitar and right winger Justin Williams.

"It felt good to be out there with the guys," Smyth said, "knowing that there's light at the end of the tunnel and knowing that Saturday is coming right around the corner. It's exciting, playing on a regular line and getting back to moving the puck again. It's just a matter of getting into a game situation."

When Smyth got hurt, he was in the NHL's top 10 in points, with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 22 games. His play also helped propel Kopitar to the top of the NHL scoreboard. In 22 games with Smyth, Kopitar had 14 goals and 18 assists. In 15 games without Smyth, Kopitar totaled two goals and four assists.

"I think we compliment each other, as a line," Smyth said. "I really do believe that, right from the start of the year, in training camp, we developed some kind of chemistry with the three of us. We want to continue that. Obviously it's a work in progress. We always know there's room for improvement. It's a good mix and I'm excited to get back on that line."

Johnson, who was hit on the ankle by a Sheldon Souray shot in Edmonton last week, and Segal, who has been out for three weeks with a knee sprain, are also expected to return.

Stoll's status for Saturday is in question, due to his groin injury.

"Stoll still lacks some strength," Murray said. "He's going to have to continue to get that worked on, on the off-ice part of it."

Jones, who took a big hit from Edmonton's Dustin Penner, is "doubtful" according to Murray, who said he's not aware if there are any concussion issues with Jones.

"That word has not been mentioned to me," Murray said. "I know he has stiffness in his neck, a little bit of whiplash from the hit, and that seems to be the concern right now. When he rides the bike and gets his heart rate up to 150-plus, that's when he's having some issues. So he will go to the doctor this afternoon and get a good look and we'll try to evaluate him from our team-doctor aspect."

The Kings will practice Tuesday and Wednesday in El Segundo at 10 a.m., then take the NHL-mandated break on Dec. 24-25.
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