Oscar Moller didn’t need directions to the practice rink and, with one notable exception, didn’t need to be introduced to any of his Kings teammates, coaches or staff members.
Moller, at the young age of 22, has a veteran feel when it comes to being around the Kings. He is now embarking on his sixth stint with the NHL team, but none have been nearly as important as this one, both for Moller and for the Kings in general.
The Kings on Wednesday officially called up Moller to replace winger Justin Williams
, who is due to miss perhaps 3-4 weeks with a dislocated shoulder. Moller is expected to play a first-line right-wing role when the Kings host San Jose on Thursday night.
Moller ranked second on the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs in points at the time of his call-up, and to be certain, he won’t be eased into the Kings’ lineup. He will be dropped into the fire, in a huge role alongside center Anze Kopitar
and winger Dustin Penner
|Oscar Moller carries the puck through San Jose defenders in 2008. He will play on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Penner against the Sharks tomorrow. |
``No pressure, right?’’ Moller joked Wednesday. ``It's fun, for sure, playing with two great players. Obviously I'll try to bring my `A' game. My compete level has got to be high and I have to do all the things right, starting in our own end, all the way down to their end.
``I'm pretty familiar with all the guys around here, the trainers and the coaching staff and everybody. It's a great organization, I think, and it's a big push now, with the last nine games that are left, so I just have to make sure I play real well.''
A second-round pick of the Kings in 2007, Moller has played 78 NHL games over the past three seasons, so he’s familiar with his teammates and coach Terry Murray.
Other than new linemate Penner, Moller has played with every guy on the Kings’ roster, so the transition won’t be difficult, but the stakes and intensity will be high.
Moller is revered for his attitude, courage and intelligence, but the questions have been whether or not he is strong enough -- he is listed at 5-foot-10, 189 pounds -- and consistent enough on the offensive end in order to play a top-six forward role.
That’s the opportunity he will get starting tomorrow, and Murray indicated that Moller will also get some power-play time alongside Kopitar and Penner.
``One thing about Oscar, his attitude is fantastic,’’ Murray said. ``He's got a great personality. He has worked very hard on his game in Manchester and he's gotten better. You can see his jump, his strength on the puck, awareness on the ice. His game has improved. So he will fit on the right side tomorrow, with Kopitar and Penner, and he will have a good opportunity to give us a look at his game.
``This is a great opportunity for Oscar, and I think he's very aware of it. We're coming down to the final games of the season, a critical time, a big push every night. You've got to play with a playoff attitude, and he's going to be on a top line with lots of responsibilities to play 5-on-5 and also get on the special teams. So his time is now. It's three years in, and this is a time when we will be watching him very closely, as an organization.''
NO BIG CHANGES
|Kyle Clifford fights Branding Mashinter in a 2009 preseason game before he wore number 13. Clifford will return to the ice against San Jose tomorrow after a head injury he sustained last Thursday against the St. Louis Blues. |
With Moller replacing Williams on the first line, the Kings’ second and third lines will remain the same, with Michal Handzus centering Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown
, and Jarret Stoll
centering Alexei Ponikarovsky and Wayne Simmonds.Kyle Clifford
, who missed the previous two games with a head injury, is set to return to the fourth line with Trevor Lewis
at center, and the Kings will go with either Brad Richardson
or Kevin Westgarth
on right wing.Jonathan Quick
is scheduled to start in goal against San Jose. LOMBARDI LEADING USA
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is among seven NHL executives who will be in charge of selecting the players and staff for the United States’ team in the 2001 IIHF World Championships, which will be held April 29-May 15 in Slovakia.
Lombardi, along with fellow GMs Brian Burke (Toronto), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), David Poile (Nashville), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh) and Dale Tallon (Florida), plus Atlanta team president Don Waddell, will pick the team, along with Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director for hockey operations.
Scott Gordon, former coach of the New York Islanders, will coach Team USA. Lombardi served on the U.S. advisory group for the 2010 Olympics and World Championships. SHARKS SHOWING SOME BITE
The Kings haven’t faced the San Jose Sharks since Jan. 26, and by all accounts this is now a different Sharks team.
In the early part of the season, the Sharks were on the fringe of the Western Conference playoff scenario, but they have charged into first place in the Pacific Division thanks to a 21-4-3 record since Jan. 13.
``As you go through it, the process of maturing as a team,’’ Murray said, ``it does come down to the execution, when you come down to a time, in playoff situations, where you get tested time and again. You get great awareness of what it is that you need to do every night in order to make a big push.
``It's just a process. You see it so many times with young hockey clubs. You take a step backward, you take two ahead, and you just go through it. They seem to be coming to their time right now, where it is their opportunity to put it all together. They've got a lot of experience, world-class players, a top line, a good back end, and they're just making the big push and they know how to do it right now.’’