Entering tonight’s game against Calgary at STAPLES Center, Kopitar has three goals in his last four games. In his last game, Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings, Kopitar had nine shots on goal, the highest total for any Kings player in a game this season.
It’s the latter number that is catching Murray’s eye.
The Kings enter tonight’s game with an average of 28.6 shots on goal per game.
That’s down, slightly, from last season’s average of 29.1, and it ranks the Kings 23rd in the NHL. That’s too low for Murray, and the coach believes the rise starts with Kopitar.
Kopitar leads the Kings in total shots on goal this season, with 292, and his average is up slightly from last season, but Murray would like to see more in that area.
``Yes, I would like to see his shot count -- as compared to the rest of the league -- get to a higher number,’’ Murray said, ``and that's how it's going to happen, by putting those pucks to the net like that. Our team shot-on-goal average is about 28.6, which puts us at (23rd) in the league.
``The conversation that we had, from the day that I got here, was (about) having a shot mentality and net presence. We want to get up into the top half of the league, for sure. So there's a need for an improvement and focus in that area.’’
Tonight, the Kings face a Calgary team that has allowed an average of 29.7 shots on goal per game this season, the 14th-lowest total in the league. In the teams’
first meeting this season, the Kings had 22 shots on goal and lost to the Flames 3-1.HAPPY RETURNS
After missing 12 games with a broken finger, Alexei Ponikarovsky will be back in the Kings’ lineup tonight, reclaiming his usual spot on the third line alongside center Michal Handzus and right winger Wayne Simmonds.
Before the injury, Ponikarovsky was also a valued member of the Kings’
penalty-kill unit, but Murray said it might take some time before Ponikarovsky returns to that role as well.
``I'm going to watch that one closely, see how he's doing in the first few shifts,’’ Murray said. ``I like our penalty killing, the way it's set up right now. He will get back in, because he was a good penalty killer for us. Whether we use him tonight or not, I'm not sure, but he finished off, before the injury, as a big part of that.’’MARTINEZ GOOD TO GOAlec Martinez
missed practice Wednesday because of flu symptoms, but was able to return for Thursday’s morning skate and is expected to play against the Flames.
As he previously announced, Murray will go with a fourth line of Kyle Clifford
, Brad Richardson
and Kevin Westgarth
, leaving defenseman Davis Drewiske
and forward John Zeiler as the healthy scratches.
HARROLD EARNING HIS KEEP
With defenseman Willie Mitchell
(broken wrist) still on the mend, the Kings will stay with the same defensive lineup they used in the previous two games.
That means Peter Harrold will retain his spot in the lineup, as Jack Johnson’s partner, for a third consecutive game. Harrold’s ice time did not top 10 minutes in either of the previous two games, but Murray expressed satisfaction with the pair’s recent play.
``What we like about it is the lefty-righty, on the three pairs,’’ Murray said.
``For handling the puck, seeing the ice, making plays out of own zone on your breakouts, your faceoffs, it works real well. And I think both guys are pretty mobile puck-handlers, skill players who can make some plays and work well together in tandem.
``They work hard to get open for each other. There's a common theme there, with the U.S. players, and I think they like it. They really feed off of each other, in their play, and it's working for us right now.’’A BURNING SENSATION
The Kings will try to get some momentum going against the Flames, a team that has had their number since the end of the lockout. The Flames are 8-1-0 against the Kings in their last nine meetings, and have allowed only 12 goals in those nine games.
It’s been an inconsistent year for the Flames, who are 14th in the Western Conference but are still essentially a .500 team. Given that, and the Flames’
recent domination of the Kings, Murray, not surprisingly, had plenty of praise for the Flames.
``I watched their last two games, and they played very well,’’ Murray said.
``They played with tempo, with pace in their game. They put pucks on the boards, that make it difficult for you to go back under pressure as a defenseman to break the puck out. So you have to have great support right away. There needs to be three, immediately low, to break the puck out.
``Their goaltending is very good. (Miikka Kiprusoff) can win a game himself, on any given night, so we're going to have to make sure we're just executing properly, getting pucks to the net. But the big key is what we're going to do in our own end. We've had trouble against those guys in our D-zone coverage, in our breakouts and our puck-possession plays, because of their reads and their quickness to recover back over top. You just have to make the right decision on a consistent basis.’’