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Loktionov Adjusting to the Wing

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

A surplus of centers is never a bad thing to have for a hockey team.  Having centers who feel comfortable on the wing, though, would be a slightly better situation for the Kings right now.

The Kings have been pleased with the progress of rookie Andrei Loktionov since they called him up from the AHL last week, but Loktionov is a natural center who is playing left wing on the second line alongside Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. Is that where Loktionov’s talents can be best utilized?

During Loktionov’s previous brief stints with the Kings over the past two seasons, coach Terry Murray has indicated that Loktionov is more effective at center. Loktionov, while not complaining about playing on the wing, has also pointed out his lack of familiarity with the nuances of the position.

The options are slim, though. The Kings have three veteran centers in Anze Kopitar, Richards and Jarret Stoll, and they are thin on the wing after recent injuries to Dustin Penner and Scott Parse.

So, Loktionov’s move to the left side is a marriage of convenience, but how long will it last? Looking for a spark Saturday, in the third period of a dismal game against Detroit, Murray moved Loktionov to center and shifted Stoll to right wing, something he did briefly toward the end of last season.

Immediately after the game, though, Murray said he felt confident in playing Loktionov on the wing and that the rookie would go back to the left side for Tuesday’s game at St. Louis.

"I’ve thought about that a lot,’’ Murray said. ``Before we got him back up there, that was part of the thought process, where I was going to play him. Was it going to be left wing? I felt good about putting him on the left side, and I still do. I just think that the (Detroit) game was a very difficult one to evaluate individual players. I can evaluate our team play, but when you get away from your structure, like we did, all players will get exposed.

"Loktionov, he was right in there in that category. There were some turnovers in the neutral zone that you don’t want to see against that hockey club. So I’ll leave that line, with him on the left side, the way it is for the game tomorrow. I know I have an option, and I know I can make some moves there. He would be one of those players who I can move to a different position if I feel I need to.’’

Murray said he hadn’t discussed with Stoll, at length, the idea of playing right wing on a more regular basis. Stoll is perhaps the Kings’ best faceoff man and a strong defensive center.

"We kind of pushed it around last year a little, when I did it near the end of the season,’’ Murray said. ``He seemed to be OK with it.  He prefers to be in the middle of the ice, but sometimes you’ve got to make those kinds of changes. We’ll see where this all goes. Loktionov might be fine on left wing and we’ll just leave him there. So I don’t want to put any doubt in anybody’s head here as to what I might do.’’

The Kings face back-to-back games on Tuesday (at St. Louis) and Wednesday (at Dallas). Not surprisingly, Murray said goalies Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier would split the games, but Murray declined to say who would get the call against the Blues.

Murray said he does take a goalie’s history against a certain team into account. Quick shut out the Blues last month but also didn’t have much success against them in four games last season. Bernier has yet to the face St. Louis.

"Their history in the league against certain teams, yeah, I (look at) that all the time,’’ Murray said. "I’m constantly looking at that kind of stuff, because I really believe that holds true, through the history of the game. Players have big games against certain teams.’’

The Kings shifted things around a bit in practice Monday on the third and fourth lines, with Trent Hunter joining Kyle Clifford and Stoll on the third line, and with Kevin Westgarth joining Ethan Moreau and Colin Fraser on the fourth line.

For now, that leaves Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson, both of whom have been struggling offensively, on the outside, but Murray said he hadn’t decided whether to stay with that look tomorrow in St. Louis.

"I don’t know what I’m doing there yet,’’ Murray said. ``I don’t know. I put it together for practice, to take a look at things, but I don’t know yet what I’m eventually going to get to.’’

Alec Martinez and Dustin Penner are both able to return from injured reserve, but Murray said neither will play during the two-game road trip. Penner is recovering from a hand injury and Martinez hasn’t played since going shoulder-first into the boards on a big hit against Minnesota.

"(Penner is) able to get involved in part of the practice, handling the puck, shooting the puck. He’s not shooting the puck the way he can,’’ Murray said. ``He’s still a ways away (from playing).

"(Martinez is) skating. He’s not able to participate in the practice, no contact. It’s improvement, but he’s not going to be ready for these two games, and still a little bit away from playing.’’

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