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Kings Trio to Help on Both Ends

by Thomas LaRocca / Los Angeles Kings
Over the last two weeks, the Kings have bolstered their defense with the addition of veteran blue liner Rob Scuderi and have added some grit and scoring to their offense in the form of forward Ryan Smyth.

Somehow forgotten amongst those significant additions is last season’s trade-deadline acquisition of Justin Williams.

The three players should make strong contributions to the Kings in 2009-10.

"In the past the additions that were made were, to steal Dean Lombardi’s line, were bridge players," Kings veteran broadcaster Jim Fox said. "These are not bridge players. These players are expected to be major cogs on a team that is improving and expects to compete."

The addition of Smyth improves the entire crop of forwards, a talented, but young group that includes Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov, Jarret Stoll, Oscar Moller and Teddy Purcell.

Smyth is a gritty player that gets in front of the net, uses his big body to screen goaltendersand scores his goals by redirecting shot attempts and knocking home rebounds and creating second-chance opportunities.

"Everything Smyth does is within 10 feet of the net," Fox said. "That is something every team needs. Have we been lacking that toughness in front of the net? Probably. Ryan Smyth adds another guy who will drive to the net and score 30 goals."

The Kings will no longer have to deal with forward Ryan Smyth in front of their own net.

Kings fans that need to be reminded of the physical presence in front of the net that Smyth embodies can look to Dec. 1, 2007, a 5-2 win for the Avalanche over the Kings. With the score tied 2-2 in the third period, Smyth raised havoc in front of the Kings net, scoring twice from in tight and even knocking Jason LaBarbera out of the game after the former Kings net minder sustained a rib injury during a goal-mouth scramble.

Combine the presence of Smyth with that of Brown and the Kings suddenly have two potential 30-goal scorers on each of the Kings top-two lines, each causing chaos in front of opposing net minders.

"With the level of goaltending in the NHL, the goalies are so strong and athletic, very rarely can you score on a point-blank opportunity. Basically, if the goalie sees the puck he is going to stop it," Fox said. "With a front-of-the-net presence, it has a two-prong effect, lowering the chances of the goaltender seeing the puck and creating second chance opportunities off of rebounds.

"The Kings haven’t really had that since Adam Deadmarsh."

Smyth has reached the 30-goal plateau four times and has scored at least 20 or more goals nine times, potting 310 goals in 920 games with the Oilers, Islanders and Avalanche.

"Smyth was not brought here to just be a locker room leader, he is expected to produce on the ice. Throughout his career, the way he has produced has been in a specific style, driving to the net. He is not being asked to do anything that he hasn’t done before, he is not stepping outside of his comfort zone. The Kings are asking him to go to that comfort zone and continue doing what he is doing and be that front of the net presence."

That should help a Kings power play that tied for 13th in the NHL in 2008-09 with a success rate of 19.2 percent (69-for-360).

And don’t forget about the addition of Williams.

Kings fans seem to forget and for the most part so does the mainstream media, about the addition of Williams, a two-time 30-goal scorer who will have a full season with the Kings.

The Kings will have a full season with forward Justin Williams on the roster.

After being acquired from Carolina for Patrick O'Sullivan and a 2009 second-round draft pick on March 4, 2009, Williams, recovering from a hand injury, played in 12 games with the Kings but seem to find his rhythm and establish a connection with Kopitar over the last five games of the season in which the 27-year-old forward scored 1-3=4.

With a healthy off season of training, Williams should contribute heavily on the offensive end.

"From what I have seen in his game, it his 10 to 20-foot quickness and his ability to pounce on a loose puck impresses me," Fox said of Williams. "End to end, he may not be the fastest player on the ice, but he has that quickness that gets him to a lose puck. Those are second chance opportunities.

"Retrieving pucks and maintaining puck possession are big parts of his game."

Those two additions plus the continued improvement of the young Kings core should result in more goal scoring for a team that finished 27th in the NHL in that category in 2008-09 with an average of 2.46 goals scored per game.

While improving the offense, the Kings also improved the defense adding Scuderi from the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The addition of a shutdown defenseman to a roster that finished 11th in the NHL with a goals-against average of 2.76 per game should only help the Kings defensive efforts.

"The Kings have not had a shutdown defenseman since Matty Norstrom," Fox said. "This guy is a shutdown defenseman. He is an impact player. If you are holding a lead, he is the guy you want on the ice."

Shut down defenseman Rob Scuderi should help cut down on the Kings goals allowed.

Last season, Scuderi finished with a +23 rating, adding 1-15=16 in 81 games. He led Pittsburgh with 164 blocked shots and led the Pens with 3:47 average short handed time-on-ice.

"Don’t let his lack of offensive numbers make you think he is a role player, he is an impact player. He impacts the game on a defensive side of the puck."

The addition also gives the Kings flexibility on the back end.

Scuderi could be paired with Sean O'Donnell or Matt Greene, who blocked 167 shots to lead the Kings, when the Kings are protecting a lead and killing off penalties. But the 30-year-old blue liner could also see time with puck-moving defensemen Drew Doughty or Jack Johnson, both of whom tied for the Kings lead amongst blue liners with four each.

"If Scuderi is paired with a Doughty or a Johnson, it frees up their games in the offensive end. They can pinch offensively and feel more confident joining the rush knowing that they have a safety net back there."

If scoring more goals than your opponent leads to wins (and I think it does), then acquiring these three players, two that score goals and one that prevents goals, should be very good additions for the Kings.

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