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Morning Skate: A New Defensive Line

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Fredrik Modin will move up to the Kings defensive No. 3 line with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds.

Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin, acquired by the Kings on Wednesday in separate trades, will make their home debuts tonight when the Kings host the Montreal Canadiens at STAPLES Center, and the new guys are already fitting into important roles.

Modin, the fourth-line left wing in his Kings debut Thursday, will move up to the third line as a winger on the Kings’ defensive "stopper" line with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds.

Halpern will continue to center the fourth line, with Scott Parse on one wing, but also picks up Rich Clune for a line that should be scrappy and gritty. Halpern and Modin are also expected to play bigger special-teams roles.

Both players are known for their ability to kill penalties, and are expected to see increased minutes in that area going forward, but Kings coach Terry Murray said he wouldn’t simply limit Halpern and Modin to a penalty-killing role.

"They both bring the ability to play on special teams," Murray said. "I'm hoping that we can continue to push them into those kind of minutes. They know how to do it. They will relieve some of our top guys, keep them fresh as we move through. It's going to be very demanding and hectic and fun, so I'm looking not only for penalty killing but also to get them out there with some power-play time."

Halpern and Modin each had slightly more than one minute of penalty-kill time Thursday, and neither played on a power-play unit.

Murray said he would use the Modin-Handzus-Simmonds line as his top defensive line. Handzus, the Kings’ top defensive center, had previously been in a second-line role with wingers Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll.

"It's that checking mentality there for me, matching up against probably Plekanec, maybe Gomez," Murray said of the Handzus line. "We'll see how it goes. They're very responsible, big-bodied guys who, if they play well on the checking part of the game, will have possession of the puck. With their size and strength, I'm hoping they'll be able to get some stuff accomplished in the offensive zone."

Murray said the Kings will not make any changes on defense tonight, meaning that Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson will stay together as the Kings' top defensive pair.

Doughty and Johnson give the Kings a pair with the ability to play more than 25 minutes per game on a regular basis and one that is a consistent threat to opponents because of the players' ability to move and shoot the puck.

"They're big, strong players, young guys who are going to grow together and can handle big minutes in all critical situations. I think the pairing is the right thing to do. They seem to get an understanding, now, of the chemistry, what they need to do for each other. We'll just stick with it. It's working."

The Kings have a 13-3 record against Eastern Conference teams this season. The Canadiens have started their post-Olympic schedule on the road and have split, with a victory Tuesday over Boston and a loss Thursday to San Jose.

Montreal enters the game in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, with the same number of points as eight-place Atlanta (66) but having played three more games.

"There's a lot of desperation by everybody right now, to get more points on the board,'' Murray said. "We know that the Montreal Canadiens are going to come in here and play a very intense, desperate game, as we do. We need to do the same thing. Matching each other's intensity in the first period is going to be critical, so you're not going to get caught off guard. You're going to come into the game emotionally prepared the right way, to do the right things. And manage the puck the right way.

"Any time that I've coached against Jacques, it's really hard to get through the middle of the ice. You've got to make sure you're doing the right thing with hard decisions, get it through the middle of the ice and then you're allowed to play your game. Most importantly, be prepared to execute.''
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