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Lokti, Simmonds on Rise for Kings

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
A few feet on the ice can make quite a difference, it seems.

Andrei Loktionov had acquitted himself fairly well while playing left wing for the Kings, but by all accounts, Loktionov has looked like a much different, and more confident, player while moving back to his natural position of center in the last two games.

The Kings decided to put Kyle Clifford and Dustin Brown on Loktionov's wings, and Loktionov has created a handful of potential scoring chances for himself and his linemates in the last two games, drawing the praise of coach Terry Murray.

Center Andrei Loktionov bangs away at comrade Sergei Bobrovsky in Sunday's 1-0 win in Philadelphia.  Loktionov's stock has risen significantly for the Kings this season.
A fifth-round draft pick of the Kings in 2008, Loktionov was on a point-per-game pace with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs when he was recalled by the Kings in late January and, out of necessity, moved to left wing in a first-line role.

Loktionov happily accepted the role, but still noted that he had only a handful of games of experience as a winger. HIs comfort level, playing back at center, seems obvious.

``He's an instinctive hockey player,'' Murray said. ``The high-skilled guys need to play the game that way, with their instincts, and just kind of let it flow. He certainly feels much more comfortable in the middle of the ice than on the wing.

``It's more of a flow game for him in the middle of the ice. His reaction to what's going on when they have possession of the puck, his reads without the puck are different and come instinctively for him. I think he has just stepped it up to a different level here, with the change.''

Loktionov has three goals and two assists in 17 games with the Kings this season, but his stock is rising, raising the question of what will happen when Marco Sturm returns.

Sturm is on injured reserve because of knee tendinitis but is skating vigorously in practice and is eligible to return at any time, and Loktionov is the Kings' only forward who is not subject to waivers and who can he assigned to the AHL.

Murray didn't go too deep into the question of what might happen to Loktionov when Sturm is deemed ready to play, hinting that the decision might not come in the near future.

``Well, with Marco, I don't want to say that they're tied at the hip, when it comes to that decision,'' Murray said. ``But right now with Marco, going back to the start of the road trip, the plan was to have two days of practice here in Columbus, certainly for Marco, in particular. But with today being a day off, he will have to get it in tomorrow.

``It really comes down to Marco getting himself ready to play. We've got to push him in the practice and get him in competitive drills and battling drills, so he feels the game and getting accustomed to that part of the game again. Once we get him going there, then we have to make a decision as to whether we're going to get him in or not. But I need to see that in his practices, first of all.''

With the Kings coming off back-to-back games, and facing three games in four nights to end this road trip, Murray decided to give the Kings the day off Monday from all on- and off-ice work. The Kings will return to practice late Tuesday morning in Columbus.

The Kings face the Blue Jackets on Wednesday and the New York Rangers on Thursday, which is typically a situation in which they would split the games between goalies Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. But this time, perhaps not.

Murray said he hadn't yet decided what he would do. The Kings conclude the road trip with a game Saturday against the New York Islanders.

``I'm not real sure yet,'' Murray said. ``We could possibly (split the games), yeah, but I'm not going to say anything right now, because I'm really not sure of that myself. I'm just going to take today and finish up our review last night, and watch Columbus play and then make a decision as we get ready for the practice tomorrow.''

Winger Wayne Simmonds celebrates a goal with linemate Anze Kopitar on Saturday.  Simmonds' play has thrived under the newest line combinations.
Murray had solid praise for the play of winger Wayne Simmonds, who seems to be thriving in a role with center Anze Kopitar and left winger Michal Handzus.

``Simmonds, his play has been really big,'' Murray said. ``But it's really big because it was really off at one time. He's back to showing the kind of play that we saw through most of last year and his first year. He was a hard, gritty player. He was a very physical player that played a north game and did the right things with his skill.

``He has a high-end skill in the offensive zone and he's allowed to use that skill in the right areas of the ice. When he gets in, and does the things that he did again yesterday, with his forecheck and his physical play, and creates plays through hard effort, picking up a loose puck and getting to the net with proper positioning, he's a very effective hockey player when he plays with that attitude.''

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