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Kings Notebook (March 19)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
With the Kings road to the playoffs getting a tad rocky, veteran Rob Scuderi and others spoke up after a difficult practice and video meetings.
Playing with desperation but not panic, as Kings coach Terry Murray acknowledged Friday, is "a narrow thread that you walk," particularly late in an NHL season.

So with his team mired in a 2-4-1 stretch, and with its playoff footing starting to feel a little bit shaky, Murray tried to tip-toe on that thread in practice Friday. Murray shuffled his forward lines completely, held meetings and drilled players hard in practice.

The result, Murray hopes, will be a strong effort when the Kings host the New York Islanders on Saturday night at STAPLES Center.

Calgary, in ninth place in the Western Conference, could pull within four points of the sixth-place Kings if the Flames beat San Jose tonight, but the Kings will have two games in hand. Still, with 13 games remaining, the Kings know they need to show more.

"The desperation is a good thing," Murray said. "It elevates everybody's adrenaline and emotions and your focus. You're going out and playing the game, shift after shift, at that high tempo that we've shown to be able to play at for most of the year.

"I feel, sometimes, there's a reluctance to make the plays that we're very capable of making, for fear of a mistake. Then the panic attitude maybe sets in a little bit, where we're throwing pucks away and getting rid of them without that ability to make plays. That is that fine line, itself. It's the composure part of the game that allows you to play with desperation and play with control."

After a mostly dismal effort in a 3-0 loss to Chicago on Thursday night, Murray changed every line in practice Friday.

Anze Kopitar centered Brad Richardson and Wayne Simmonds in a reunion of a line that had surprising success in December. Michal Handzus centered Fredrik Modin and Dustin Brown. Jeff Halpern centered Alexander Frolov and Justin Williams. Jarret Stoll centered Ryan Smyth and Scott Parse. Raitis Ivanans and Rich Clune skated as "spare" forwards.

The Kings' former first line of Smyth, Kopitar and Williams, reunited last week after Williams returned from a broken leg, had zero points in five-on-five situations in three games. Kopitar did have a power-play goal.

"I said I wanted to give the line an opportunity to work things out, with Willy coming back," Murray said. "There's parts of it that seemed to be in pretty good order, and then there's that play when you have a team like that, last night, who had a pretty good defensive posture through the middle of the ice.

"When you play against that system, you've got to chip and you need to go get the puck. We were not getting it stopped and, in particular, Kopi's line, with Smytty and Willy, I thought that part of it was lacking. We seemed to be playing that start-and-stop game again, from the offensive goal line back into our end. I just feel that needed to change in the third period. That's why I changed the lines."

The line changes came after a game in which the Kings generated only 17 shots on goal, their third consecutive game with fewer than 30 shots on goal.

"There have been several games here now, in a row, that our shot total has dropped off," Murray said. "We've fallen off that attitude that is about getting to the net, which forces pucks to the net, when we have the screens there. Our cycle that we've been using, right through the training camp, has to be reinforced.

"It's not an automatic, when you just want to go out and play the game and have fun. It's something you have to have focus on, with one forward establishing a net presence."

Rob Scuderi is only 31 years old, but he has the poise and demeanor of a player several years older, plus he lifted the Stanley Cup last year with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Scuderi, then, is quite qualified to speak about the ups and downs of a team hoping to be on the rise. Scuderi was asked to evaluate the young Kings and give his opinion on what might be holding them back during this rough post-Olympic stretch.

"I think there's a little bit of complacency," Scuderi said. "We set ourselves up in a fantastic way before the Olympic break, when we had that nine-game (winning) streak and then, I don't know how many of the previous 16 we had won, but certainly we set ourselves up nicely. A little bit of complacency and not the best attention to detail. That's hurting us right now. But we had a good meeting this morning, and let's hope that we nipped it in the bud right now, because we don't want it to snowball into something more."

Scuderi added that with only 13 games remaining in the regular season, there isn't much time to turn things around.

"When you're at game 40 or 50, you can pull yourselves out of it," Scuderi said. "A lot of other teams are in the same spot, with the schedule and the grind in the middle of the year, but this is the hardest time of the year to play. Playoff teams are trying to set themselves up and trying to enter the playoffs on the right foot. The teams that are out, guys are playing for jobs. Everyone is playing for something at this time of year.

"No win is going to come as easy -- not that they ever come easy -- but they're going to be harder to come by than they were from November to mid-January. That's just the way it is."

Not surprisingly, the Kings had a long day at the rink, with pre-practice video and meetings, a lengthy practice and some post-practice meetings with Murray.

Scuderi said several areas were addressed in the pre-practice meeting.

"Just airing some of this stuff out," Scuderi said. "Nothing complicated. We just have to play like a team more. Last night was a classic example. We weren't generating much. We had tremendous spaces between the D and the forwards, we couldn't get the puck stopped up and we couldn't get our offense going. If we're going to have success, from here on in, that has to change. Hopefully it's a good wake-up call for us, and we can move on."

One strength for the Kings continues to be their penalty-kill success. The Kings killed all five Chicago power plays on Thursday and have now killed 20 consecutive opponents' power plays. In their last 15 games, the Kings are 45-for-50 on the penalty kill.
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