The Kings hosted their third practice over the last four days since falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets by a 2-0 score, the second of three straight shutouts by CBJ rookie Steve Mason, the newly crowned rookie of the month for December. The Kings boast their own rookie goaltender that has been tossing up zeroes in Jonathan Quick
. With his emergence, and with the return of a healthy Erik Ersberg, Jason LaBarbera became expendable and was dealt to the Canucks.
The goaltending situation was not the only change at practice as Brian Boyle is back up from Manchester while Trevor Lewis was returned to the Monarchs. In addition, the Kings shook up the lines, re-establishing a top line of Patrick O'Sullivan, Anze Koptiar and Dustin Brown.
Head coach Terry Murray had this to say about practice: "There was good effort coming back to work the last couple of days. [The four-day break between games] gives you an opportunity to do harder work than normal. I think the players welcome it. When they are doing it, they probably don’t like it, but in the end, you know as a player, it is something you need to get down. The work is good, the attention to detail has been good.
"The drills were designed to get us battling, get us digging in. We need better play in that area, in those trench areas that are the difference in games."
With the trade of LaBarbera and the return of Lewis to Manchester, the Kings recalled Boyle from the Monarchs and promptly inserted the 6-7 forward into the lineup to center the Kings fourth line. When Boyle was sent down on Nov. 30, Murray spoke at length with the 24-year old about playing a more aggressive style of hockey.
"Through conversation and reviews, he went down with a positive attitude as far as the approach he had to take to get back here," Murray said. "Everything coming back from the coaches down there and the members of our organization that have seen him play there has been positive."
Boyle got more minutes and played in all situations at Manchester and feels ready to return.
"When I went down it was tough, the initial shock for a few hours," Boyle said. "Going back to Manchester, there are a lot of great guys down there and my family is so close, they live about an hour away. It was a good situation. I got to make plays and play hockey. I was playing more minutes and in more situations and playing better.
"Everything elevated from there. I was playing more physical, better offensively, everything got better. Coming back up here, I am going to try and do what I was doing there, not to think and to just play. Hopefully I can keep that going up here, I play better when I do that. I was trying to keep things too simple, I got away from my game, I was trying not to make a mistake and not screw up and keep it as simple as possible. You can't play like that."
Boyle, who has posted 1-0=1 in 14 games with the Kings while posting 4-7=11 in 13 games in Manchester, will play on the Kings fourth line with Raitis Ivanans and John Zeiler. Derek Armstrong, who has not seen any action since suffering from concussion like symptoms stemming from a hit at Colorado on Dec. 9, could also see time on the Kings No. 4 line.
LINE UP CHANGES
Since the Kings have been involved in an NHL-high 10 shutouts - shutout an NHL-high six times, while shutting out the opponent four times - (Vancouver 6/3 and Nashville 5/4 are tied for second with nine), the Kings shook up the lines again, looking to bolster the team's offense.
Murray has promoted Brown back to the top line with Kopitar and O'Sullivan, a line combination that excelled last season for Los Angeles.
"I want to see the chemistry that I keep hearing about from last year, I want them to break through," Murray said of the Kings top line. "I am trying to get some balance to the lines. We are a team that needs the four lines playing well. We want scoring on each of the lines."
With the addition of Boyle, Teddy Purcell was moved from playing the pivot on the Kings fourth line to playing on the Kings No. 2 line with Jarret Stoll and Kyle Calder. The Kings No. 3 line of Wayne Simmonds, Michal Handzus and Alexander Frolov will remain intact as it has much of the year.
The defensive pairings, which has been pretty steady for much of the season, until lately, might be tweaked again, depending upon match ups. The Kings have paired Sean O'Donnell with Drew Doughty; Matt Greene and Kyle Quincey; with Denis Gauthier playing with either Peter Harrold or Tom Preissing for most of the season.
"[The defensive pairings] have been moved around a bit," Murray said. "Against Columbus, we had Greene and O’Donnell against Rick Nash and the big boys on that line, that was more the reason on that. I don’t want to say it is game to game, but with the amount of minutes that Doughty is playing, he is going to be out there with different partners."
With the trade of LaBarbera to Vancouver on Dec. 30, the Kings logjam at goaltender has been cleaned up with Quick and Ersberg now splitting time between the Kings pipes.
Quick is slated to start vs. Philadelphia, his sixth straight start.
"Quick is going to play, he has played very well," Murray said. "I am going to give him the start vs. Philadelphia. We have nine games before the all-star break, I told both guys on the ice today that both guys are going to be playing. I think they will work hard for each other and with each other, the two young guys will rally and get the job done."
Quick has posted a 2-3-0 mark with 1.73 GAA and a .937 SV% and two shutouts, while Ersberg has posted an 8-5-2 mark with 2.38 GAA and a .903 SV%, but has not played since suffering a groin injury on Dec. 15. LaBarbera, meanwhile, was 5-8-4, with a goals-against-average of 2.83 and a save-percentage of .893. at the time of his trade to Vancouver.
"It’s tough when you get a trade like that, Jason was one of my better friends," Ersberg said. "If he was going to be traded, he would have picked Vancouver. It is a good opportunity for us here to get more ice time and for me to step my game up a little bit more.
"[Quick and I] are going to both get some games for sure, it is an important nine games for us here."
Last night, LaBarbera made his debut with his hometown team, stopping 31-of-32 as the Canucks won, 2-1. The Kings dealt LaBarbera to the Canucks for a seventh-round draft pick and he should get plenty of action with starter Roberto Luongo out until after the All-Star break and back up Curtis Sanford also shelved due to a groin injury.
With the pick the Kings acquired, the Kings now boast 14 picks at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Below is a breakdown:
First Round – 1 pick
Second Round – 2 picks
Third Round – 1 conditional pick
Fourth Round – 3 picks
Fifth Round – 2 picks
Sixth Round – 2 picks
Seventh Round – 3 picks
A LOOK BACK AT 2008
For the last two days, LAKings.com has taken a look back at the Kings 2008 in its annual Year in Review, Part I and II. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Kings (33-35-11, 77) finished with a better record in 2008 than the Columbus Blue Jackets (33-37-10, 76), Ottawa Senators (31-39-9, 71), Tampa Bay Lightning (26-37-16, 68), St. Louis Blues (28-42-12, 68), Atlanta Thrashers (27-41-12, 66), and the New York Islanders (27-44-11, 65).
THE PHILADELPHIA CONNECTION
The Kings have a bit of a Philadelphia connection as Murray was head coach of the Flyers for three seasons (1994-95 through 1996-97), compiling a 118-64-30 record, with two Atlantic Division Championships (1995 and 1996) and a run to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals. Murray also served as an assistant coach from 2003-08 with the Flyers.
Vice President/Assistant GM Ron Hextall, of course, holds numerous Flyers franchise goaltending records, including an NHL-record 113 penalty minutes in 1988-89, owns the franchise records for most career games played (489), career wins (240), career points (26), career penalty minutes (476) and most career playoff wins (45) by a Flyers goalie.
Kings President/GM Dean Lombardi was a pro scout in Philadelphia for two seasons, while three players, Calder, Handzus and Gauthier all wore a Flyers sweater. Calder tallied 9-12=21 in 59 games during the 2006-07 season with the Flyers, Gauthier spent two seasons (2005-07) in Philadelphia appearing in 60 games and earning four assists and 82 PIMs while adding an assist in six playoff games. Handzus spent three seasons with the Flyers, from 2002-06, scoring 54-92=146 in 237 games, while going to the playoffs all three seasons, scoring 7-13=20 in 37 games.
ABOUT THE FLYERS
Philadelphia (20-10-7) recently snapped an 0-3-1 road slide (8-6-4 overall away from the Wachovia Center) with a 3-2 win at Vancouver on Tuesday. However, the Flyers endured another setback to injury. Already without forwards Scottie Upshall (right knee sprain) and Danny Briere (left groin strain), they lost Simon Gagne just 15 seconds in after he took a hard hit from Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa.
The Flyers have already dropped 183 man games lost to injury.
"They are a good team playing through adversity with injuries," Murray said. "They have gone through the process of bringing the young guys along and they have some good young players. You don’t get to the third round of the playoffs by chance. You have to earn that, you have to be a good team to win. We have something good coming up against us."
Like the Kings, the Flyers are an extremely young team as six rookies have made their NHL debut with the Flyers this season: Andreas Nodl, Jonathon Kalinski, Darroll Powe, Nate Raduns, Jared Ross and Luca Sbisa. Meanwhile four Kings have made their NHL debuts this season in Doughty, Trevor Lewis, Oscar Moller and Simmonds, while Boyle, Matt Moulson, Quick and Purcell all qualify as rookies and have seen action for the Kings this season.
The Flyers, who are 4-4-2 against Western Conference opponents, will play the Anaheim Ducks tonight in the first half of a back-to-back. The Flyers have 18 pairs of back-to-back games this season and post a record of 4-2-1 in the first game and a 3-2-2 mark in the second game.