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Morning Skate: Home Ice (Dis)Advantage?

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Raitis Ivanans, who was a healthy scratch on Sunday vs. New Jersey, will rejoin the lineup.

The Kings seem to be occupying some alternate universe this season, one in which road games are welcomed and home games are approached with a level of anxiety.

The Kings have five more road wins (19) than they have home wins (14), although at this point in the schedule they have played five more road games than home games. No other team in the NHL, though, has even one more road win than home win.

Coming off a 5-0 road trip, and with a seven-game road winning streak, the Kings need to find a way to maintain that momentum when they host the New York Rangers tonight at STAPLES Center. The Kings play five of their next six games at home.

That's either good news or bad news. Home games typically bring more rest, more practice time and the ability to get into a positive routine, against an often road-weary opponent. Yet the Kings are 3-4 in their last seven home games.

The message then, from coach Terry Murray to his players, was to keep it simple.

"The home games are a time not to put on a show," Murray said. "It's a time to keep it simple, to do the little things, to stay on the same page, to do the same, shift after shift, every shift. That kind of an attitude, we're starting to learn that.

"With that kind of an attitude, the consistency of performance starts to be there, and you do have good results at home. That's all that we can do right now, is talk about the importance of bringing that to us."

The first periods of home games, in particular, have caused the Kings problems. Murray has talked about the Kings' tendency to sit back at the start, rather than dictate the pace of the game, and center Jarret Stoll agreed that preparation is key.

"It's all mental; it's all focus," Stoll said. "We've got to make sure we're talking about it a lot before the game and making sure everybody is ready and prepared. It's about preparing yourselves. Everybody has to take it upon themselves to make sure they're ready to start the game. However they get into the game, do it, and make sure you're ready."

Fourth-line forwards Raitis Ivanans and Brandon Segal, who were healthy scratches for Sunday's game at New Jersey, are expected to return to the Kings' lineup tonight in place of forwards Peter Harrold and Teddy Purcell.

The defensive unit will remain the same. Murray previously spoke about his desire to get defenseman Davis Drewiske -- out since Jan. 4 with a shoulder injury -- back into the lineup during the road trip, but Drewiske will remain out.

"I find it hard to make a change in the back end, with the way things are going," Murray said. "The guys who are in the lineup are doing the job. We've come away with some big games from those guys, especially on the penalty-kill side of it. Drewiske, he's ready.

"I know he's got the green light (to return), but I'm just a little uncomfortable right now to make a change for the sake of a change. I like what's happening with the six guys that are in the lineup."

The Kings now get a second chance to show they can handle pressure.

After a Dec. 12 victory over Dallas, the Kings had won seven of eight games and climbed to the top of the Western Conference standings. After that, they lost two of three on a Canadian road trip and, after the holiday break, lost three consecutive games.

Now the Kings are back on a major upswing -- an 8-1 record in their last night -- and have climbed into fifth place in the tight West. So tonight they face another test, in trying to sustain that momentum at home.

"It's a different kind of test, because the later you get in the schedule, there's more urgency in everyone's game," Murray said. "You can tell, by the (trade) activity around the league in the last several days here, the pressure that's now on. It's coming not only from in the room, the players, the coaches, but from management, when there's a lot of deals like we're seeing.

"There is a greater urgency. The game gets harder, gets tougher. The checking becomes more intense. Every play matters now, and we understand that, I believe."
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