|Stoll still expected out on Saturday at Phoenix.
With approximately five hours of practice time over the past three days, the Kings tried to make the most of their unusual eight-day holiday break. How will it work out when they return to action on Saturday?
When the Kings play at Phoenix, they will certainly be rested, and stronger with the return of previously injured players Jack Johnson, Brandon Segal, Wayne Simmonds and Ryan Smyth. Coach Terry Murray said he expects all four, but not Randy Jones and Jarret Stoll, to play Saturday.
By putting his players through lengthy practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- the NHL mandates a break on Dec. 24-25 -- Murray did his best to keep his players in game shape, but after it was done, Murray admitted that he can't be certain how the Kings will look Saturday night.
"It's hard. That's very hard to do," Murray said. "So you try to recreate a lot of the game scenarios, within the practice. Throughout the practice, you're asking for total concentration, execution.
"Do things hard, do them fast, with intensity, but bottom line, it's very hard to create that game scenario. That's where we have to be very focused when we get back at it on the 26th."
Rather surprisingly, the Kings haven't lost much ground in the Western Conference standings during their six-day break. The bleakest projections had the Kings falling to seventh place, but if Phoenix earns fewer than two points tonight against Anaheim, the Kings will be in fourth place in the West.
Stoll has not skated since injuries his groin last Monday in Vancouver. Today, he indicated that his condition has improved over the past couple days, but given that the Kings are not allowed to skate Thursday or Friday, it's highly doubtful that Stoll would be able to play Saturday.
Jones, who experienced headaches and neck pain after a hit from Edmonton's Dustin Penner last Tuesday, won't practice until he can ride a stationary bike, without symptoms, for a lengthy period of time.
HOW THEY'LL LOOK
With Stoll and Jones out of the lineup, it's expected that the Kings will skate as follows on Saturday:
Anze Kopitar centering Smyth and Justin Williams, Michal Handzus centering Brad Richardson and Dustin Brown, Oscar Moller centering Alexander Frolov and Simmonds, Corey Elkins centering Segal and either Raitis Ivanans or Teddy Purcell, with the other being a healthy scratch.
On defense, Drew Doughty, Sean O'Donnell, Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene and Davis Drewiske are likely to get the nods, with Peter Harrold as the healthy scratch.
During Tuesday's and Wednesday's practices, the Kings took a "halftime" break while the ice got resurfaced, then returned to focus primarily on special teams. In their five games before the break, the Kings were 0-for-13 on the power play and 16-for-19 on the penalty kill.
After Wednesday's practice, Murray was asked whether he used the time to re-emphasize things on special teams or whether he tried anything new.
"Re-emphasizing," Murray said. "Yesterday, the main focus was power play only. When you go to the two end zones and you alternate ends, that gives you that, `OK, this is a power play' day. Today was as much a PK day. You're going full ice.
We had a video during resurfacing, with the PK, and reinforcing system and aggressiveness and reads, and you just bring it onto the ice. That was as much the focus as the power play today."
NOT SO BAD
Murray still isn't a big fan of the eight-day holiday break, but said he has come to appreciate the positive benefits the Kings will get from it, particularly the ability to get four injured players back in the lineup.
"I had a very hard time with the schedule when I first saw it, even through the middle of November," Murray said. "I was dealing, not very well, with this break. I wanted to keep playing. It's very unusual for me to see this kind of a break, especially in an Olympic year, where you're going to have another two weeks off later on.
"But, that being said, with the number of players that were sidelined with injury, and the number of games played, there are a lot of things that are factored into it, with the fatigue factor, physical and mental. I'm looking at it as a very positive opportunity to get players back in the lineup, get them to fine-tune a few areas on the conditioning side of it, on the team-play part of it, and tie in the mental break. I hope it pays good dividends for us as we move through and get started again."