On a quiet, mild day off in Dallas, the Kings had plenty going on.
Ron Hextall on Jonathan Quick
First, goalie Jonathan Quick received word, in the early-morning hours, that his wife was going into labor with the couple’s first child. Quick left Dallas to catch a morning flight to Los Angeles, and the Kings, in need of a goalie, called up Jonathan Bernier.
Then with Bernier, one of the top goalies in the AHL, en route to Dallas, the Kings determined that forward Justin Williams – out since Dec. 26 with a broken leg, would be able to return to the lineup for Friday’s game against the Stars.
Still to be determined is where everyone will play, although coach Terry Murray confirmed that Williams will return to his first-line right-wing role, alongside Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth, and Murray indicated Bernier might start in goal.
Murray’s other option is Erik Ersberg, who has been the Kings’ backup all season but has started only six of 66 games. Bernier has a 2.08 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in 50 games with Manchester. The decision rests in Murray’s hands.
"That's what I have to decide, what I'm going to do now," Murray said. "I want to see him [Bernier]. I know he's had a great year, one of the best in all of the goaltenders that are outside of the NHL. This might be an opportunity for me to get a look at him, for the team, and for him to come up and play. I'm going to think about it."
Bernier, 21, was the Kings’ first-round draft pick in 2006 (No. 11 overall) and has been considered the Kings’ "goalie of the future" ever since.
Bernier made the Kings’ roster coming out of training camp in 2007 and appeared in four games. Bernier had mixed success (a 4.03 GAA and a .864 save percentage) but Murray said that previous experience might make Bernier more comfortable on Friday.
"That does help a bit, absolutely," Murray said. "And that's the nice thing about when young players go through that kind of a process, to get a couple games under their belt and see what the league is all about.
"They get some games and then go back down and get it all together and become what he is right now, a premier goalie in the American Hockey League. When the opportunity comes, like this, you're prepared. So I'm aware of all that, and what he's done, and I just need to think it out.''
Then there’s Williams.
When he suffered his injury, in the first period of the Dec. 26 game at Phoenix, initial estimates had Williams missing approximately three months of action.
It was clear, though, once Williams started skating late last month, coming out of the NHL’s Olympic break, that he would be ahead of schedule.
"Williams is going to play," Murray said. "I'm going to put him in. I had a meeting with him this morning, before we came here. He had a very hard day yesterday, with the skate and a lot of the battles, and he came out of it feeling very good. So, as a result of that, that feedback, I'm going to get him back into the lineup. He knows that and he's ready to go. He's excited.
"He's going to go right back with Smyth and Kopitar tomorrow, and get him right into the heat of the battle. Take advantage of a fresh player. It will be like adding a new guy through a deal, really. He's been out a while and he's excited. There's going to be a lot of emotion and adrenaline, and he's excited about it."
Williams, who has been skating hard and well in practice over the past two-plus weeks, said he will feel no hesitation, only excitement, in his first game back.
"I'll be having a grin on my face for a while," Williams said. "I have, ever since I've known that I've been close. It will just be good to be in the room again, getting ready for a game and put the jersey on and enjoy this playoff run. This is going to be fun."
Williams has eight goals and 16 assists in 33 games this season. When playing together, the line of Smyth, Kopitar and Williams generated 61 points in 18 games.
THE OTHER LINES
Murray indicated that the Kings would likely go with a second line of Alexander Frolov, Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown, and keep the third line of Fredrik Modin, Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds intact.
As for the fourth line, Murray said he was leaning toward keeping Jeff Halpern at center with Brad Richardson on the left side, and had not yet decided on a third forward.
This could change, Murray said, if Modin suffers any negative effects for the slap shot he took off the hand area in the second period Wednesday night against Chicago.
"He blocked a shot, that one slap shot from the blue line, and got it right on the glove," Murray said. "It kind of stung him. I'm pretty sure that everything will be OK, that he will be ready to go."
STICKING WITH JONES
Randy Jones had a tough night against Chicago. He had a minus-3 rating and, in Murray’s estimation, was out of position when Brad Richardson’s ill-advised neutral-zone pass led to Patrick Sharp’s overtime goal.
After Thursday’s practice, though, Murray said he would keep Jones in the lineup and offered a possible explanation for Jones’ poor play.
"You know, he got hit by (Dustin) Byfuglien right there early in the second period, kind of a knee-on-knee," Murray said. "It stung him a bit. He was feeling the hit throughout the game, and it was a little bit of a concern for him when he was making a pivot to the boards. There was one shift when he did get beat wide, and it was the pain and the soreness that was the reason for it.
"But I talked to him this morning. He's at the rink getting some treatment with Kinger [trainer Chris Kingsley] and it sounds like everything is good. I will keep him in. He is stable. It was more of a contusion that was causing it."