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Kings Notebook (Feb. 26)

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Will Cliche make his NHL debut next week?

Kings coach Terry Murray didn't even wait for the question to be finished.

For the record, the question was: Is Murray thinking that Justin Williams, out for two months with a broken ankle, will be able to return before the end of the regular season?

"Damn right I am, and I’ve been thinking that way all the way through, quite honestly," Murray said after Thursday's practice. "I have never gone through pieces of paper, writing down lines, where I haven’t put his number over in the corner, as a reminder that this is a player who played very well for us. It’s quite likely that he will be back for us in the last games of the season."

Those are strong, optimistic words from Murray, stronger than Williams issued the day before, when he declined to publicly state a timetable for his return or say whether he was targeting a return before the end of the regular season in mid-April.

It's clear, though, that Williams -- barring a setback -- is on track for a quicker-than-expected return, one that could see in a Kings uniform again sooner rather than later.

Williams broke his ankle during a Dec. 26 game at Phoenix and, after surgery and eight weeks of recovery, returned to the ice Wednesday to skate for the first time.

Williams' recovery still has some significant steps to be taken, but few team followers -- including Murray -- expected Williams to be back on the ice at this point.

"I’m very surprised at how far along he is also," Murray said. "He went to the doctor and got the green light to go on the ice. When that call came to me, from Kinger [athletic trainer Chris Kingsley] that, 'Here’s the news,' I said, 'You’ve got to be kidding me.' Man, and here he is now, public skating, and it just shows the dedication and the hard work, and the hard work the medical staff has done with him."

Murray left open the possibility that when Williams is cleared to play, Williams might play a couple rehab AHL rehab games with Manchester before rejoining the Kings.

All five Kings Olympians are still in the hunt for the gold medal. In Friday's semifinals, the United States (with Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick) will face Finland, while Canada (with Drew Doughty) will face Slovakia (with Michal Handzus).

It's possible that all five Kings will win a medal and, at this point, either Doughty or Handzus will be taking home at least a silver medal.

At least one of the Kings, and as many as four, will play in the gold-medal game on Sunday afternoon, which means that player (or players) won't rejoin the Kings until their morning skate Tuesday in Dallas.

Murray said that even if the U.S. makes the gold-medal game, Quick will start in goal Tuesday, and Murray said he's not concerned about possible fatigue for the Olympians.

"The players coming back from the Olympics, I think they're going to be energized, rather than be tired," Murray said. "These players that we have there, they're still playing, and that's a pretty exciting and a very special time for them. So they're going to bring a lot of energy back to our team and will, I'm sure, play a high-end game through the whole remaining part of the season."

The Kings haven't committed to keeping Marc-Andre Cliche -- called up Wednesday from Manchester -- on the roster when the NHL season resumes Tuesday, but Cliche is getting an extended chance to prove himself in practice this week.

Murray indicated that Cliche, with a strong showing in practice, could earn himself a spot as the Kings' fourth-line center when the season resumes. Oscar Moller has been filling that role, but the Kings would prefer to play Moller on the wing.

"This is an opportunity for him to show us where he’s at in his game," Murray said of Cliche. "I think what I’ve seen so far is good. He seems to be more comfortable, more relaxed, more confident in how he’s dealing with being with the NHL team, as opposed to where he was in the training camp. Although he caught my eye then, as a pretty responsible player, he’s much more comfortable right now.

"So we’ll just keep watching. We’ll have a scrimmage tomorrow and see how that shakes out. When it gets down to lineup time, we’ll have him around to make a decision, at least."
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