|Wayne Simmonds' progression over the last two seasons is hard to miss.
For the first time Tuesday night, many of Wayne Simmonds’ family members and friends will get a first-hand look at what is becoming increasingly evident.
Simmonds, who made the Kings’ roster as a surprising third-line rookie last season, has risen to the level of first-line winger and, arguably, the Kings’ top defensive forward. He’s been so strong in all areas that power-play time might be in his near future.
The Kings play at Toronto tomorrow night, and a contingent of Simmonds’ family and friends will make the 20-minute drive from Scarborough, Ontario, northeast of Toronto.
"It’s real exciting," Simmonds said. "All my family is going to be here, friends and family, so it will be really nice, that’s for sure."
Known, last season and early this season as energy-first player with the ability to create scoring opportunities for himself – he has 12 goals and 18 assists in 47 games this season – Simmonds got elevated to the first line shortly after Justin Williams
broke his ankle on Dec. 26. It doesn’t seem as though Simmonds wants to let go of the spot.
In the Kings’ victory over Detroit on Saturday, the Kings’ new-look first line factored in all three goals, and Murray had high praise of Simmonds’ development.
"He has shown a lot of good things," Murray said. "The board play, the dot-to-board play, has always been a big part of his game. That's probably what attracted my attention to him at the start. His puck skills are good. He's good great puck-protection skills.
"He can make plays pulling it off the boards, can see people in tight spaces, tight situations. Just on the other goal the other night, the first goal of the game, he's the guy that probably set it up, just with a good stick, a stick on the puck. He ends up getting a pick on the pass from (Jonathan) Ericsson. He had the puck behind the net. He gets his stick on it and jumps on it and the puck goes to the net, and as a result it's the first goal of the game for us. So he's got a pretty well-rounded game for us.
"We're using him on the PK, 4-on-4, and I don't see where it would be too far down the road, he will get some power-play time. He's developing the right way." BE EXCITED...NOT TOO EXCITED
Tomorrow’s game in the Kings’ final game in Canada this season. So far, they’re 2-4, with both victories coming over lowly Edmonton. Is there a reason?
Murray has said, since the start of the season, that games in Canada make him somewhat nervous, because he feels that young Canadian players have a tendency to want to do too much when they play in their native land.
The subject came up again this week in regard to Simmonds, as well as Drew Doughty
and Brad Richardson
, also young Ontario natives. Peter Harrold is American, but was born a short flight away, in Kirtland Hills, Ohio.
"We understand that there is going to be a lot of family and friends around," Murray said. "On a young team, sometimes players have a tendency to try to get away from structure and system, to try to show a little bit more in their game. So that’s an area that I address when we come into Canada. `Stay with it, guys. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary here. Just play the game and good things end up being a result of that." LINEUP CHANGE
After Monday’s practice, Murray said forward Raitis Ivanans would return to the Kings’ lineup. Murray said he had not yet talked to the players about the shift, and declined to comment on which forward would be coming out of the lineup. Ivanans, Oscar Moller, Teddy Purcell and Brandon Segal have been fourth-line players in practice. ICE DELAY
Most of the Kings were on the ice for the scheduled 1 p.m. start of their practice Monday at MasterCard Centre, but the ice wasn’t ready.
Why? Because the Zamboni, less than halfway through resurfacing the ice after the Maples Leafs practiced, took a time-out while Toronto coach Ron Wilson addressed the media. The Zamboni noise, it seems, interferes with the interviews.
The Kings had their practice delayed 15 minutes while they waited for Wilson to finish, but they made themselves heard anyway by, at one point, banging the glass and ice with their sticks repeatedly. The noise drew Wilson’s attention, but he continued.
Murray didn't seem upset with the delay afterward, and spoke of how Wilson's father, Larry, was his first professional coach in hockey, with the 1970-71 AHL Providence Reds. UP AND DOWN
Depending on how things break in the West, the Kings could either be in fifth, sixth or seventh place in the conference after tomorrow’s game.
Murray has said that his only focus is getting the Kings to the playoffs, and said that he wants "to keep the bar very high for this team" as they prepare for the second game of a five-game road trip against a Toronto team desperate for wins.
"I love the way the situation is starting to unfold, where you have to respond to pressure," Murray said. "It's good for our team. It's good for the growth of the young guys on our hockey club to have to go through it. The response has obviously been good. We had pretty good play, over the 60 minutes, against (Buffalo and Detroit), and the young guys are a very big part of that, logging big minutes in critical situations.
"As a coach, you talk about it before the game and try to present it the right way, as to what the expectations are, but to have young guys go through and live it, and come out on the other side the right way, for personal growth it's tremendous."