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Kings Notebook (Nov. 15)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
SAN JOSE -- Throughout the first six weeks of the season, Kings coach Terry Murray has kept a straight face while asserting that he doesn't pay attention to where the Kings are in the standings.

It's no surprise, then, that Murray didn't attach any extra significance to tonight's game between the Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Kings enter with the best record in the Western Conference, six points ahead of the Sharks, who have been the perennial rulers of the Pacific Division of late.

Then again, this is only the 16th game of the season for both teams, which is good reason why Murray said he's not looking at tonight's contest as a ``measuring-stick'' game for the Kings.

"I never look at a game as a measuring stick for a hockey club," Murray said. "It's a big hockey game. It's a division rival, and we're going to have to come out and play a complete game against probably the most talented team in the National Hockey League. They're big, they're strong. Their big players are their skill players, and we're just going to have to be ready to play a real solid game."

The Sharks are looking for some consistency and, perhaps, are on an upswing. After a 5-5-1 start, they are 3-0-1 in their last four games. As usual, the Sharks have plenty of firepower up front and lead the NHL with an average of 35.6 shots on goal per game this season.

The Kings, by contrast, allow an average of 28.1 shots per game -- seventh in the NHL -- but Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he doesn't want his team to emphasize offense only.

"I don't want that to be the sole focus of our hockey team, because they can do a lot of damage in the offensive zone as well,'' McLellan said. ``When they're playing that good defensively, if you give them two or three free ones, you have no chance of winning. So I want our commitment level, in the defensive zone, to be real high. I want us to stay out of the penalty box. I want us to be very competitive in areas where we need to be. Then we'll worry about the offense after that."

LINEUP CHANGE

The Kings will make one change tonight, inserting defenseman Peter Harrold in place of rookie Jake Muzzin. Harrold will partner with Davis Drewiske and play his fifth game of the season.

"There are a couple things there," Murray said. "I think Peter Harrold has really been great, out of the lineup, with his attitude and his work ethic. His game is ready to go. On the other part of it, Muzzin, in the last home game, I felt he got a little exposed in a couple situations. The pace got a little high for him and he started chasing. I think it's an opportunity for him to watch from above, take a look and see that sometimes you have more time than what you think you do. I hope it's just a lesson for him, to be able to settle things down in his own mind at times."

As expected, Jonathan Bernier will start in goal for the Kings.

FIGHTING CHANCE

Kevin Westgarth remains in the lineup in a fourth-line role, and is coming off a game -- Saturday against the New York Islanders -- in which he had his first two fights of the season.

Westgarth, the Kings' designated "enforcer," didn't have a fight in his first 11 games this season, and said he was having trouble finding opponents willing to drop the gloves with him.

"In our first little run there that we had, we'd get down in games and I would ask guys (to fight) and they would shake me off pretty quick,'' Westgarth said." It was tougher, and you get a little frustrated, not getting the fights, but also I know that if they don't want to fight me, there's probably an element of fear there. That's partly what I'm here for. Even if I'm sitting on the bench, it's just to make sure that they're not doing anything. That's the most important part to me, to make sure that our guys are staying safe, and then obviously when the bell rings, I'm ready to go."

STAYING AROUND

Brayden Schenn will be a healthy scratch once again for the Kings. Schenn, having played eight games this season, is still eligible to return to junior hockey without using a year of his NHL entry-level contract, but the Kings have not yet decided whether to keep Schenn for the long term.

"Quite candidly, we have talked quite a bit upstairs, the coaches, among ourselves,'' Murray said. "With players on the sidelines, having him here now is OK with me. He's going to learn. He's going to work hard. He's going to watch NHL hockey games, and that certainly will have an impact on his development. It gets to a point where I might have to put him in. I'll see how that goes. But right now, everything is OK. Until further notice from management, this is what we have. And that's a good thing.''

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