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Kings Notebook (Dec. 4)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Rob Scuderi could return from injury as soon as Monday.
Rob Scuderi has been skating and practicing, practicing and skating, for days on end now, waiting for his body to tell him it's the right time to return to game action.

It seems as though that time is now, finally, almost at hand.

Scuderi, who has been suffering with a lingering lower-body injury, is not expected to play Saturday afternoon when the Kings host St. Louis at STAPLES Center, but after Friday's practice, Scuderi said he is targeting a return for Monday, when the Kings host Calgary.

"It's kind of been `two steps forward and one step back',' Scuderi said, "but it's felt really good as of late. I would really like to play some games before we have this really long break coming up (after Dec. 17). I don't think I need any more time off. I think I'm aiming to play vs. Calgary.

"I think it's a little too late for tomorrow, but I'd really like to play against Calgary. That's what I'm going to hope for, but who knows if the coach is going to want to change the lineup, the way the guys have been playing. So we'll see what happens."

Kings coach Terry Murray has indicated that he will put Scuderi back in the lineup as soon as Scuderi says he's ready to play. Left unsaid has been which defenseman would come out of the lineup, and Murray is unlikely to announce that until he is certain of Scuderi's return.

Scuderi had one assist and an even rating in 21 games -- and had provided steady stay-at-home play -- before he left a Nov. 14 game at Tampa Bay with the injury.

Murray said this week that Scuderi is not at risk of re-injury, but Scuderi said he doesn't want to return until he feels as though he can contribute at his regular level.

"You don't want to play the game if you're not yourself, and you can't do the things you normally do," Scuderi said. "The truth is, we have the depth to put someone else out there. So as much as I want to play, I would never force myself out there, at the expense of my teammates."

The Kings, in recent years, have generally fared well in home games that start at 1 p.m., so perhaps it's mere coincidence that two of their worst games this season were afternoon starts at STAPLES Center.

On Nov. 7, the Kings showed little jump in a 3-1 loss to Nashville. Two weeks later, they gave up a goal 11 seconds into the game and suffered a 5-2 loss to Calgary. Murray said the key to success in those games is not necessarily the games themselves, but the preparation for them.

"It's a different mentality, to get ready for those," Murray said. "I like those games, but it is a different mentality to get prepared. Everything changes. Your routine is thrown off a little bit. You're eating at a different time. You're eating different kinds of meals.

"But...that's what you deal with, and prepare yourself for. You just have to spend more time with yourself, talking to yourself, preparing yourself for the start time."

Who has stepped up in Scuderi's eight-game absence? Randy Jones, for one, as the Kings' waiver pick-up has four goals in his 11 games with the Kings.

But, with a lower profile, Jack Johnson is playing his best hockey of the season. In his last seven games, Johnson has three assists and a plus-1 rating. It's not just about the stats, as Johnson is hitting more and playing a stronger all-around defensive game.

"He's playing physical, aggressive, and that's been going on for the last eight or nine games," Murray said. "To see that, over that period of time, has certainly been very encouraging. It's now becoming part of his game. He's being rewarded, because of that good play, with minutes, and there's got to be a lot of good feel in his own mind, after the game is over, that he senses that he was a major contribution to the team win."

The Kings managed to beat Ottawa on Thursday despite some admittedly sloppy play, and the roughest patch of the game was late in the first period and early in the second period, when the Kings had a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes but failed to even put much pressure on the Senators.

The problem? For one, the Kings had three or four shots from the point sail wide of the net. So it was no surprise that Murray, asked what he would have changed on that power play, had a simple answer.

"Hit the net," Murray said. "The opportunities were there. We had penalty of shooting opportunities, but you have to hit the net. In the 5-on-3, our attitude up front is scoring and, to me, that needs to be changed. Just hit the goaltender, and now you're looking for second, third, fourth opportunities.

"Everybody is turning around, looking to find the puck. They're facing their goaltender, and that's when you jump on it. We're trying to put it inside the post, and get too fine."

Kings defenseman Jack Johnson will make an appearance at Sport Chalet in Arcadia this Sunday, Dec. 6 from 1:30-2:30 p.m., signing autographs and taking photos with fans...more

Sport Chalet is located at:
400 S. Baldwin Ave. Suite #910-L,

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