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Morning Skate: Clune in and the Marathon Man

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Rich Clune will be back in the lineup tonight, as according to head coach Terry Murray, "Colorado has a pretty gritty hockey club. They've got a couple guys, in particular, that will come at you pretty hard on the forecheck and are physical, and I think Clune is a player who can respond to that."

Terry Murray doesn't have to look long and hard to find the Kings' offense. The coach knows exactly where it starts: in front of the opponent's net.

The Kings have managed a 2-2-1 record despite totaling only six regulation goals in their last five games. Clearly that's not the path to sustained success, and Murray has spent the past few days trying to reinforce the importance of traffic in front of the net.

"I think we drifted away from the net presence a little bit," Murray said Monday morning. "Our attitude on that has been pretty good over the course of the year. Last game, against the Islanders, I saw more traffic and a better attitude about trying to get there and create some screens. Hopefully we can just follow through again with that tonight."

It's also about the shots, not just the goals.

For the season, the Kings are averaging 28.6 shots per game, sixth-fewest in the NHL, and that number has dipped further in recent games.

The Kings totaled 20 shots last Sunday against Nashville and 17 shots Thursday against Chicago. Both games, not surprisingly, were losses, but the Kings brought their shot total up to 26 in a 1-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Tonight's opponent, Colorado, has allowed the fifth-most shots per game this season, an average of 32.2 per game. The Kings allow 27.8 per game, the third-best average.

The Kings will make one lineup change for tonight's game against the Avalanche at STAPLES Center, with previous healthy scratch Rich Clune replacing Scott Parse.

The Kings' top line remains the same, with Anze Kopitar centering Brad Richardson and Wayne Simmonds, as does the line of Fredrik Modin, Michal Handzus and Dustin Brown. (Kings Lines)

On the other two lines, Jeff Halpern will center Alexander Frolov and Clune, while Jarret Stoll will center Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams.

"I'm going to put Clune in and try to keep everybody, on the forward side of it, going here," Murray said. "Colorado has a pretty gritty hockey club. They've got a couple guys, in particular, that will come at you pretty hard on the forecheck and are physical, and I think Clune is a player who can respond to that.

"At the same time, he's a player that's going to get in on the forecheck and do some good things to create some loose pucks. It's important that he just go out and show composure and play the right way and, if there's a need, do things the right way so there's no instigator involved."

No changes are expected on defense, and Jonathan Quick will start in goal.

Kings radio analyst Daryl Evans completed the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday morning, just a few hours after he finished calling the Kings' game Saturday night.

A day later, Evans talked about training for next year's event, and might he have a training partner? Murray said he has participated in long-distance running, but hadn't run a marathon since 1999, in the New England area.

"I don't even remember my time," Murray said. "Younger days."

Tonight's game starts a stretch of seven games in 11 days for the Kings, a stretch that includes two sets of back-to-back games on the road, plus two home games after long flights back from the Central time zone (St. Louis and Nashville).

Murray said he doesn't mind the hectic schedule, as long as the Kings are winning, that is.

"If things are going well, you want to continue to play, for sure," Murray said. "You want the momentum to build. It's what you have to do at this time of the year. The schedule is condensed because of the Olympics. Because of the way the NHL schedules the games, it's very focused on the conference. That's just the way it is, so you deal with it. We're looking forward to the games in front of us here.

"I think this is a great opportunity for a young hockey club to really build on, and get into, a situation where you get into the postseason. That's what it's all about, and it's new territory for a lot of guys. How do you respond? That's the fun part about it. This is the best time of the year to play hockey."
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