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Kings Notebook (Nov. 30)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
The numbers are impossible to ignore. The Kings have played eight games since Nov. 13, and they have won one of them. The pertinent question is, what is the proper way to characterize this recent stretch? Is it simply a bump in the road, or a bigger problem?

Players and coaches keep their focus narrow, looking only toward the next game and for ways to improve. A general manager is able to take a wider view, and today, Dean Lombardi said he was not overly concerned about the team’s short-term future.

The Kings, after a franchise-record 12-3-0 start, have fallen into last place in the Pacific Division and 11th place in the ultra-tight Western Conference.

``When you start to worry is when you think the guys don't have the mental fortitude to fight through it,’’ Lombardi said during Tuesday’s practice, ``and I think they do. They've shown it to me before. They've got themselves, now, with even higher expectations. They're in a rut right now, and they have to fight their way through it.’’

That said, Lombardi is looking for ways to improve. The Kings have totaled four goals in their last four games, and have used seven different first-line left wingers this season.

In Tuesday’s practice, another new-look first line formed, with Anze Kopitar centering Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, but Lombardi said he is exploring trade options.

The preseason and Nov. 15 groin injuries to winger Scott Parse have made lineup changes difficult for the Kings.
``Once we found out that (Scott) Parse was going to be out for four months, we've been looking,’’ Lombardi said, referring to Parse’s recent hip surgery.

The Kings have the salary-cap space needed to make an in-season move for a forward, but for now, they’ll go ahead with what they have, although perhaps with a new look.

Williams leads the Kings with 22 points this season, and is tied for the team lead with nine goals. A first-line player for much of last season, Williams has been in a second-line role this season, on a successful line with Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth.

Coach Terry Murray has resisted breaking up that line, because it’s the only one that has consistently given him offense, but the need to get increased scoring, in general, led Murray to shift his forwards in practice Tuesday.

Trevor Lewis moved up to the second-line right-wing spot, alongside Smyth and Stoll, while Wayne Simmonds returned to the third line, alongside Michal Handzus and Kyle Clifford. Brad Richardson, John Zeiler and Kevin Westgarth skated on the fourth line.

After practice, though, Murray did not commit to keeping those lines intact when the Kings host the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at STAPLES Center.

``Sometimes, if you make a little line change in practice, it brings a little more focus to it,’’ Murray said, ``and that's a good thing when you have two days between games. We'll see where it goes. Look, we need some offense. We need to get some production from the top two lines, in particular. The Stoll line has been tremendous, through the time they've been together, with lots of points, good chemistry, good reads and a lot of things happening. But in the last several games here, we've gone a little stale.

``We're just trying to get a different look and get some focus back. Maybe it will stay as I had it in practice here today. Quite honestly, I can't answer that. I'm going to continue to watch the last couple games, and put it under the microscope a little bit and see if I can make some changes that would be for the next game.’’

Willie Mitchell (broken wrist) and Alexei Ponikarovksy (broken finger) skated after practice, but no target date has been set for the return of either player.

Matt Greene did not practice Tuesday. Murray called it a ``maintenance day’’ for Greene

Brayden Schenn returned from his two-week conditioning assignment with the AHL’s  Manchester Monarchs and practiced with the Kings on Tuesday.

Schenn had four goals, three assists and a plus-3 rating in seven games with the Monarchs, and now he will wait and see what his short-term NHL future might be.

Schenn has played eight games with the Kings, and before he plays his 10th, the Kings must decide whether to return him to his junior team or keep him and use a year of his entry-level contract. Schenn said he had not been informed of any decision yet.

``I just take it day by day,’’ Schenn said. ``It's their decision, but after that stint (in Manchester), hopefully I can make their decision a little easier. I went down there trying to focus on my D-zone play, and I thought I improved. I came out with a good plus-minus, so I guess that's a positive as well. So I guess we'll just see what happens here now.''

After Tuesday’s practice, the Kings made their annual visit to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to distribute gifts and visit with pediatric patients.

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