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Kings Notebook (Oct. 12)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
EL SEGUNDO -- Hockey, more than any other professional sport, puts a special emphasis on its designated team leaders. Long before it became a trend in baseball and basketball, hockey set apart its leaders by stitching letters on their sweaters.

The Kings’ leadership group of captain Dustin Brown and alternates Matt Greene and Anze Kopitar has been set since the start of last season, but with Greene expected to miss the first month of the season, the group picked up a new member last week.

Michal Handzus has been wearing the ``A’’ in place of Greene, a move that coach Terry Murray initially resisted because he didn’t think another captain was needed.

``I just kept getting asked, `Who’s the A? Who’s the A?’’’ Murray said. ``I finally gave in. I surrendered. I said, `OK, we’ll put it on Zeus.’ But I’m not big on that. I think whenever your assistants, your captains, are out of the lineup, you can get through it for a short time. If your captain, in particular, is out of the lineup for an extended time, then I feel there needs to be a captain in the locker room and I would make a change on that, for that injury time.’’

That’s no slight on Handzus, of course. Hockey players regularly say that a team leader doesn’t need a letter on his sweater, and Handzus is the perfect example of that.

A 12-year NHL veteran, Handzus is a quiet, lead-by-example type who is well-known for his voracious work ethic, both on and off the ice. Handzus is the anchor of the Kings’ third line, their ``shutdown’’ line, with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Wayne Simmonds.

The Kings host Atlanta in their home opener tonight at STAPLES Center at 7:30 p.m. It will be the first home game for rookie forward Andrei Loktionov, and in a major role.

As expected, Loktionov will play left wing on the Kings’ first line, with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Dustin Brown. Kyle Clifford will come out of the lineup, with Brad Richardson moving from the second line to the fourth line, on left wing.

Loktionov, a natural center, had an impressive training camp but was a healthy scratch in the first two games of this season.

``Andrei is a good player,’’ Kopitar said. ``He sees the ice well. He's really slick, he makes plays and he obviously has a ton of skill. Hopefully we will connect. I think we're going to be making plays, and then Brownie is going to be more of a power-forward guy on the line, so that's nothing new. We'll see what happens tonight.’’

The Kings’ last vision of the Atlanta Thrashers was not a pretty one. The Kings played in Atlanta last season and suffered their worst loss of the year, 7-0, on Nov. 13.

Much has changed for the Thrashers since then, though. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had four points in that game, has moved on to New Jersey and the Thrashers went through a coaching and roster upheaval during the summer.

The Thrashers have split their first two games this season, with a surprising victory over Washington and a loss to Tampa Bay. Atlanta is without goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who had a frightening on-ice fainting spell during the first game. Chris Mason will start in goal.

``He played them last year and we got quite a lesson,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``Atlanta is going through a big change, with coaches, managers and a lot of new players coming in, players from the Stanley Cup champions. They know how to win. They're going to have an attitude adjustment in the locker room as a result of all of that.

``So there's a lot of positive stuff, and we're going to have to make sure, most importantly, that we're focused on the L.A. Kings and playing our game, playing the right way, staying with structure. Out of that, good things will happen.’’

The Kings announced that former team captain Mattias Norstrom will be honored in a tribute before the Oct. 30 home game against New Jersey.

Norstrom played 780 games for the Kings, second all-time among defensemen and fifth overall. From 1993-2008, he also played for Dallas and the New York Rangers.

``Matty Norstrom was an exceptional teammate, a standout player and leader, and a fan favorite for the Kings for a number of years, and we are thrilled to recognize him in this special manner,’’ said Kings president Luc Robitaille, a teammate of Norstrom for seven years.
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