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KINGS NOTEBOOK (Oct. 9)

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
The team hit the ice today for practice at 10 a.m. Patrick O’Sullivan again skated in the green practice jersey with Brian Boyle, as both look to move up the depth chart. He did appear to be smiling a lot and joking with teammates…and, he bought the team lunch today.


Some notes from practice.

KINGS GET YOUNGER…
According to Elias Sports bureau, based on the rosters at the moment (Thursday afternoon), the Kings are the third-youngest NHL team, with an average age of 25 years, 345 days. Phoenix (25-196) and Chicago (25-247) are younger.

…AND BIGGER ON THE BLUE LINE
The Kings have basically rebuilt their blueline from a year ago. Young rising star Jack Johnson (6-1, 225), veteran Tom Preissing (6-0, 197) and Peter Harrold (5-11, 188) return as the lone holdovers from the defensive core a year ago.

This season, the Kings added highly touted rookie Drew Doughty (6-1, 203), free agent veteran Denis Gauthier (6-2, 200) and trade acquisitions Matt Greene (6-4, 234) and Sean O’Donnell (6-3, 234), while Johnson added 20 pounds this offseason bringing the Kings average height and weight to a gaudy 6-1.5, 215 lbs.

Last season, through trades and injuries, the Kings finished 2006-07 with a top-six averaging 6-0, 199, with Johnson, then at 201 lbs, Preissing and Harrold being joined by the departed Lubomir Visnovksy (5-10, 188), Rob Blake (6-4, 225) and Kevin Dallman (5-11, 195).

Terry Murray spoke about the advantages with added size to the blueline.

“The bulk is a very important part of it, big players that can handle low play, front of the net play,” Murray said. “The NHL is really letting the competition continue again, battling is a part of the game again in those situations. Those [bigger] guys have an edge.”

Gauthier agreed.

“With the way things are going right now, forwards are getting smaller and faster, it is nice to be a little bigger in the corner to help when battling for pucks.”

Murray is just comfortable with the back end.

“It is nice to have and it is very comfortable to have big players back there that make sure goalies can see the puck at the right time and clearing the front of the net when a point shot is coming through and also being able to block shots.”

Murray is particularly pleased with his defensive pairings:
Greene – Johnson
O’Donnell – Doughty
Gauthier – Preissing
with Harrold pressing for ice time.

“Management has done a great job of adding some size, some bulk to match up with [the puck movers].”

FLEXIBILITY ON THE FOURTH LINE
Since the roster has been finalized, the fourth line has had new-comer Brad Richardson centering a line with Raitis Ivanans and Derek Armstrong on the wings. Boyle has been wearing the green jersey looking to crack the lineup.

The four could make it interesting with different line combinations depending upon the opponent, perhaps injecting Boyle for a little more size.

“There is a lot of flexibility, with size in particular,” Murray said. “Boyle does bring that. He is a big man. We want him to be a really assertive player. It is a mindset with him and we want him to adjust his mindset to go after it on the forecheck and be strong and use his size to his advantage.

“To be able to make that lineup change is a nice flexiible option for us coaches to have if we need it.”

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY BEGINS
For the last two practices, the Kings have been beginning work on the special teams as they prepare for the season-opening back-to-back, home-and-home with San Jose this weekend.

“Special teams are a big part of the game since the lockout. The opportunity to work on your special teams in training camp is really only during the games themselves,” Murray said. “Especially with such a large group, now that we are down to our roster, we can work on it, get the personnel in place.”

Last season, the Kings were tied with the Dallas Stars for third in power-play goals in the Western Conference with 64 but surrendered 68 on the penalty kill and even worse, finished dead last in the NHL willing off just 77.9 percent of its opponent’s power plays.

Murray is looking to improve on that, and a good step in dowing so was bringing in Mark Hardy, whose role will be instrumental in the work with the special teams.

The last time that Hardy was in Los Angeles, his penalty killing unit ranked third in the NHL for the 2001-02 season with an 86.6 percent success rate (the second best in Kings history).

“There are not dramatic changes, but our off ice pressure and our attitude toward pressuring in the offensive zone and through the neutral zone will have a bigger push, a bigger focus," Murray said.

“On the PK, most systems are just looking to limit the amount of quality chances. Do the right thing and protect in front of the net.”

FOXY’S PICKS
Veteran Kings color analyst Jim Fox is widely respected throughout hockey for his analysis and knowledge of the game. Foxy used his expertise last week on yahoo.com, picking his selections.

Check them out:
Eastern Conference Predictions
Stanley Cup Predictions
Western Conference
Can Red Wings Repeat?
Five Rising Stars
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