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Kings Notebook (March 21)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Terry Murray has been tinkering with the Kings lines all year trying to find that perfect fit.

The recycling bin in the Kings' offices must get full quickly.

Ask Terry Murray about forward lines, or potential lines, and he will tell you about the hours he has spent writing down potential combinations, trying to find a fit.

That quest has extended into late March, leading some fans and team followers to question whether Murray should put down his pen. Murray's answer to that is, well, he would like nothing more than to stop tinkering.

"I'm set," Murray said, referring to line combinations, "but it's up to all those guys on those lines to hold their position. I have lines. I know what I want, and I put players in those positions. But again, we have responsibilities as players, whenever we're out there, to do the right thing and to play with what's needed to be done in order to win games, to execute. I know what I want to get to, for line combinations.

"I don't like changing lines. I have had lines together for pretty much the whole year, with other teams. Like (Anze) Kopitar's line at the start of the year. They started to play and they had great chemistry. A lot of good play was happening, and you just stay with it as long as they keep playing that way."

Murray, looking for more offense and depth, made wholesale changes before Saturday's game against the New York Islanders. The Kings played better, overall, but still didn't generate much offense in a 1-0 victory.

Murray tinkered a bit more in Sunday's practice. The top line of Kopitar, Brad Richardson and Wayne Simmonds -- which generated Saturday's only goal, by Richardson -- stayed intact, as did an effective third line of Fredrik Modin, Michal Handzus and Dustin Brown.

Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll moved up to the second line, joined by Scott Parse, while Alexander Frolov and Justin Williams fell to the fourth line and were centered by Jeff Halpern.

The latter moves were not difficult to predict, as Frolov and Williams each had only one shift in the third period against the Islanders.

Williams is trying to play himself back into form after missing almost three months with a broken leg. Frolov's benching, as Murray explained it, was merit-based.

"This isn't a touchy-feel game at this time of the year," Murray said. "I'm not worried about that. It's about execution. It's about winning the game. In Fro's case in particular, on the penalty kill that he was out there for, the puck came to him three times on the boards, around the boards, to his side of the ice, and there needs to be more battle and compete. That's a desperation kind of a situation. In the one-goal games, everything matters, every play, every pass, every read really matters.

"The other part of it, with Willy being a veteran guy, he's still working his way back to be at top speed, and I have awareness to that. I loved his effort last night. He's trying to work on the skill part of his game. He showed some really good things but, again, I needed to shut that game down and I went with the people that could."

NOT RATTLED

For a young team, the Kings have a particularly impressed record in one-goal games. Saturday's win improved the Kings to 22-9-5 in that area.

So while Murray and his players generally had a "good but not good enough" attitude toward Saturday's victory, in terms of the Kings' overall effort, Murray expressed great satisfaction with his team's ability to hold a narrow lead.

"That's the part of the game, at this time of the year, that you have to be real good at, in my mind," Murray said. "It becomes a half-ice game, almost, as you get to the latter part of the season, through the playoffs. Everyone is structured so compact through the middle of the ice and into the D zone that, when you do find a way to get the goal, you know that with the way the game is going, you're probably not going to end up with two, three, four goals.

"So you have to find a way to play the right way. That's an important part of the game all the time, but it's always highlighted at this time of the year."

PLAYOFF SERIES?
Through a quirk of NHL scheduling, the Kings and Colorado Avalanche have played only once this season -- a 3-0 Kings victory at STAPLES Center on Feb. 13 -- but the Kings will now face Colorado three times in their final 12 games.

Colorado entered Sunday one point behind the Kings for fifth place in the Western Conference -- the Avalanche played at Anaheim on Sunday night -- but the teams will meet on Monday night at STAPLES Center and on Wednesday in Denver.

"We've played them one time, and here we are in March already, near the end of March," Murray said. "It's pretty amazing. But it's an interesting finish to the schedule, when you look at the league. It always narrows it down to division and conference play, certainly division play. A two-game series here, right now, is pretty exciting."
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