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Kings Notebook (Oct. 18)

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Defenseman Matt Greene is very close to returning from his summer shoulder surgery.

EL SEGUNDO -- It's been a long wait for Matt Greene, but one that appears to be coming to an end.

Greene, recovering from July shoulder surgery and a recent nasty bout with ``lace bite,'' is participating in practices with the Kings this week, is expected to be cleared for contact any day and is likely to return to the lineup sometime during the Kings' upcoming five-game road trip.

Greene underwent surgery after an examination revealed problems with his shoulder labrum and other areas. Greene was not able to participate in training camp. He did start skating in September but had to stop when he fell victim to a foot infection caused by ``lace bite'' and skate problems.

General manager Dean Lombardi said that Greene is expected to be cleared for contact on Wednesday, and given that Greene has drawn significant praise for his conditioning work during his recovery, it's not a stretch to think that Greene could be in a game a few days later.

``We’ll see what happens,'' Green said. ``I think it just depends on taking a hit, too. I haven’t really gotten a heavy bump yet, or any of that. The guys have been pretty nice to me (in practice), so that’s what it depends on right now.''

Given that the Kings have a clear top four on defense, with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi, Greene's return almost certainly means a bump for either Davis Drewiske or Jake Muzzin, who have formed the Kings' third defensive pairing so far.

For Muzzin, a rookie, that might mean a ticket to Manchester of the American Hockey League. Drewiske had consistency issues last season but had a strong effort in Friday's victory over Vancouver and drew strong praise from coach Terry Murray.

``(Drewiske) has played well,'' Murray said. ``I like a lot of Whiskey's game right now. He's coming back from a finish that wasn't where it needed to be, and he's showing a lot of confidence in his play. It's not going to be a hard call [returning Greene to the lineup]. Greener will be in whenever he gets the green light and we feel that he's physically on top of his game.''

Three full days of practice -- the Kings next play Wednesday against Carolina at STAPLES Center -- has given the Kings an opportunity address their biggest shortcoming so far: the power play.

While the KIngs have been strong on the penalty kill, and mostly solid in 5-on-5 play, they are just 1-for-16 with the man advantage, including 1-for-10 in their last three games.

Next up is a Carolina team that, entering Monday's game, had the second-least-efficient penalty-kill unit in the NHL this season, so the Kings spent a large amount of time in Monday's practice working on special-teams drills.

``It's more about the repetitions and the consistency and execution away from the puck that we were giving a focus to today,'' Murray said. ``We had gone through a video review before the practice started, to point out some things from the Vancouver game, what needed to be better. That's what the focal point was. It's people away from the puck, off the puck, the movement and recovery of pucks before you go to position. We'll go back at it again tomorrow and the morning of the game.''

In practice this week, the Kings have stayed with the same lines they used in Friday's victory over Vancouver, meaning rookie Andrei Loktionov remains on the first line, at left wing, with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Dustin Brown.

That consistency probably has more to do with the success of the second line -- Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth -- which has been strong over the past two games, but Murray said he wants to continue to get a look at Loktionov on the first line.

A healthy scratch for the first two games, Loktionov has played on the first line in the last two games. He has not yet recorded a point and has a total of three shots on goal while averaging 17 minutes of ice time per game.

``I like what I'm seeing, as far as the chemistry with the line,'' Murray said. ``I think Kopi and Brownie are working and doing their part to help him settle in and making the game as easy as they can for him. He's got great composure. Great things will start to happen, I think, as we stick with it over the next little while.

``The one thing that's very hard for young players, coming in, is the speed of the game. You had a very fast game against Vancouver, and a very close-checking game. There was not much room in any of the ice to carry the puck. You had to make quick plays, and that's an adjustment these young guys have to make a little faster in order to have some success.''

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