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Kings to Host Streaking Oilers

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

The Kings host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Who would have guessed that the game against the Oilers might arguably be the more intriguing of the two?

The Oilers have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL. Entering Tuesday’s game, they were tied for the top spot in the Western Conference with 16 points (a 7-2-2 record). Veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has looked rejuvenated, as the Oilers have allowed the fewest goals in the league (18) thus far.

Up front, it’s a tale of young and old(er). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 18, has five goals and a team-high 11 points. Former Kings winger Ryan Smyth, 35, has five goals and 10 points.

The Oilers come into STAPLES Center on a five-game winning streak.

"We know there’s a lot of skill on that team,’’ Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of the Oilers. "They’re fast and they’re going to be good on the power play, stuff like that. We’re not going to take them lightly. Even though they’re young, they’ve got a lot of skill and they can put the puck in the net.

"As a D core, I know we’re going to take a lot of pride in shutting them down in the next game, and I know Quickie [goalie Jonathan Quick] is going to do a great job as well. So we’re looking forward to that game, to play Smytty again, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.’’

Simon Gagne, who missed the last two games with what coach Terry Murray called a "middle-body injury,’’ returned to practice Tuesday and is expected to play Thursday against Edmonton.

"He felt good coming in this morning,’’ Murray said. "I’ll check in before he gets away here today, but I hope everything was fine and he is back on the ice to get ready for the game against Edmonton.’’

Gagne returned to his regular spot, as the first-line left winger alongside Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.

With Gagne’s return, the Kings went back to the lines that seemed to work well in last week’s victory at Dallas. Mike Richards centered Scott Parse and Dustin Brown, while Jarret Stoll centered Dustin Penner and Brad RichardsonTrevor Lewis meanwhile centered Kyle Clifford and Ethan Moreau.

That’s good news for Parse, who has two goals in three games since returning to the lineup.

"I kind of liked what Parse has given me here,’’ Murray said. ``The line started to show a little bit of chemistry. He’s a player who, I think, has a great skill set and can give us that secondary scoring that we’re constantly looking for as a team. So it’s moving in the right direction.’’

During Gagne’s two-game absence, Penner moved up to the first line, but it wasn’t a productive move. In Sunday’s loss to Colorado, Penner was the only Kings forward not to record at least one shot on goal.

Now, Penner returns to the third line with Stoll and Richardson, a look with which he had one of his better games of the season last week in Dallas.

"I don’t know if it was the fact that he started to play with Stoll and Richardson, or exactly what it was, but there seemed to be a little more work involved on his part of the game,’’ Murray said. ``I think there was more movement in the offensive zone, using his size. I liked the way he got involved in the physical part of the game, in several of those looks in the offensive zone in the past couple games.’’

Doughty played Saturday in Phoenix and Sunday in Colorado, after he missed five games with an upper-body injury, and reviews were mixed at best. Doughty said he’s hoping for more starting Thursday, when he plays his first game of the season at STAPLES Center (FS West, AM 1150, 7:30 p.m.).

"I thought I wasn’t my best in the first game," Doughty said. "I struggled a little bit, maybe tried to do too much. But in the second game, I thought I played well. I felt a lot better in that second game. I’ve still got a lot of room to improve and get better, and I know I’m just going to get better with time. It takes a while to get back into the game after being injured, so I’ll be fine and I’ll get a lot better.’’

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