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Morning Skate: Jack & Drew Together in Big D

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty will be paired together on the Kings Blueline.

DALLAS – The gold medal stayed in Canada, with Drew Doughty’s family, for safe keeping. The excitement and the memories? Those stayed with Doughty, and the Kings hope he can use his Olympic experience to push them toward the playoffs.

Doughty, fresh off his highly successful stint as the youngest member of Canada’s gold-medal winning hockey team, was back on the ice for the Kings in preparation for tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Canada beat the United States on Sunday afternoon for gold, then on Monday, Doughty flew with Kings teammate (and American opponent) Jack Johnson to Dallas. Not much rest, but both players said they didn’t believe fatigue would be a factor.

"I guess it would have been nice to have had a little break, but obviously we'd rather win the gold medal," Doughty said. "Now that we're back here, we're excited to get going again. The Kings haven't been in the playoffs for a while, and it would be nice to get them there."

Both players were seen as standouts in the Olympic tournament. Doughty started the tournament as Canada’s seventh defenseman but played himself into a much bigger role, and Johnson was one of the United States’ leaders in ice time.

Johnson expressed bitter disappointment in the immediate aftermath of the American’s overtime loss, but seemed to be able to put the tournament in perspective after he marched in the closing ceremony Sunday night and flew to Dallas.

"It was probably the most fun I've ever had playing hockey, that experience," Johnson said. "Even though it was a tough loss in the end, looking back on it I have to smile. It was a great time. I had the privilege of playing with some awesome guys, some awesome players, and it was worth every minute."

Doughty and Johnson will remain linked, as they will be defensive partners for the Kings. The pairing has been tried, on and off, by coach Terry Murray in the past two seasons, but perhaps the two defensemen can feed off their shared Olympic experience.

"Jack is better on the left side, in our opinion," Murray said, "and it's two young guys that can match up against any player, any line that's in the league, as far as we're concerned. They can take a big part of the minutes. They can play upward of 25-plus minutes. Young and strong and durable, and hopefully they just grow together."

Marc-Andre Cliche, called up from Manchester of the AHL during the Olympic break, is expected to make his NHL debut tonight as the Kings’ fourth-line center.

Cliche, 22, came to the Kings in the 2007 trade that sent Sean Avery to the New York Rangers. Cliche had to deal with shoulder injuries in the previous two seasons but has been mostly healthy this season and had 21 points in 50 games with Manchester.

Cliche is expected to play a strong defensive game and is likely to be a part of the Kings’ penalty-kill unit tonight.

"When you're young, it's a dream, and now it's coming true," Cliche said of his NHL debut. "It's becoming a reality. I still have no words for that. I'm going to be so nervous. I'm going to have a hard time having a nap this afternoon, probably."

For the most part, the Kings will skate the way they did before the Olympic break.

Anze Kopitar will center Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown on the first line. Michal Handzus will center Alexander Frolov and Jarret Stoll. Brad Richardson will center Rich Clune and Wayne Simmonds. Cliche will center Raitis Ivanans and Oscar Moller.

The other two defensive pairs are Sean O’Donnell with Rob Scuderi, and Randy Jones with Matt Greene. Jonathan Quick will start in goal, and Davis Drewiske, Peter Harrold and Teddy Purcell are expected to be the healthy scratches.

Given the tightness of the NHL playoff races – four points separate seventh-place Nashville from 11th-place Anaheim in the West, for instance – teams that can come out of the two-week Olympic break strong might get a huge leg up on the competition.

It’s impossible to predict which teams will start strong. Four years ago, the Kings won their first three games after the break, then fell into a terrible slump that cost then-coach Andy Murray his job.

Terry Murray was an assistant coach under Ken Hitchcock four years ago in Philadelphia. After the break, the Flyers went 0-2-1 in their first three games but eventually got back on track and finished fifth in the Eastern Conference.

"Everybody certainly was refreshed coming back from the Olympics," Murray said of 2006. "I think it took -- if I remember correctly -- it took a couple games to get to that pace that you left the game with. Everybody will be trying to do a lot, and that's maybe a bit of a dangerous thing sometimes. We just want to make sure we're doing the right things. Keep the shifts short, keep the energy high and manage the puck the right way.

"That's the one thing, as a team, that we've really been pushing over the year and a half, is the decisions we make through the middle of the ice. Those are critical. We can talk about even what we saw in the Olympics, in these important games in the medal rounds. These turnovers that happen usually come back, and you're going to pay a price. That's something that we have to be aware of here tonight."
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