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Morning Skate: Jones is Back, Captain America?

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Randy Jones is scheduled to return to the lineup tonight.

His head clear and his neck free of pain, Randy Jones got the thumbs-up to return to the Kings' lineup and is scheduled to play tonight against St. Louis at STAPLES Center.

Jones, out since a Dec. 15 collision with Edmonton's Dustin Penner, which had caused dizziness and pain, will return to the lineup in place of rookie Alec Martinez.

"He has gone through a couple days of good, hard work," Kings coach Terry Murray said of Jones. "He feels good and we'll get him started."

Jones, claimed off waivers by the Kings from Philadelphia on Oct. 29, has stamped a reputation as a strong offensive defenseman, with four goals and eight assists in 18 games. Jones is also a contributor to the power-play and penalty-kill units.

Martinez, a rookie, played in place of Davis Drewiske (shoulder injury) on Thursday and, by all accounts, did a solid job, but Murray wants to get a look at Jones tonight.

"He needs to be a good player for us," Murray said. "He might not be right at the top of his game, but we'll have to manage his minutes and get him in some situations where we feel he's going to be a contributor. I hope that he's not too far off that game that he's been showing us from the time he arrived.

"His involvement in the offensive part of the game has been very good. We want more of that. The area that I think we'll watch closely is the low defensive-zone coverage, battling the 2-on-2. Hopefully it's OK, but we'll manage that."

The Kings will need to make a roster move before the game in order to make room for Jones. Drewiske, expected to be out of the lineup at least another 10 days, could be put on injured reserve, retroactive to Tuesday.

The captain, and alternate captains, for the United States Olympic hockey team will be announced Monday. There's a possibility that Dustin Brown will be among them.

Brown, the Kings' 25-year-old captain, made the team last week, along with teammates Jack Johnson and Jonathan Quick. Brown served as captain of the U.S. team in last year's World Championships and also has represented his country at the World Junior Championships.

"I think Brownie would be a great choice for one of the captains of the team," Murray said. "He's been a big part of that whole program, from the very beginning. You probably go back to his junior years.

"When you get into a short tournament like that, you're looking for a high standard of play, a work ethic, coming to the practice every day with a great attitude and preparing for the next game, and Brownie has always showed that. So I certainly think he'd be highly considered for one of the captains."

In the 15 games, in November and December, that Ryan Smyth missed with his upper-body injury, the Kings went 6-for-49 on the power play. In the seven games since Smyth has returned, the Kings are 8-for-26 on the power play.

Coincidence? Probably not.

Smyth brings tremendous value on the power play, because of his ability and willingness to stand in front of the net and absorb punishment for the right to get rebounds and tip-ins. Smyth has scored a power-play goal in four consecutive games.

Both Murray and Smyth, of late, have pushed power-play praise upon the entire unit, not just Smyth, but it's clear that Smyth's front-of-net presence has elevated the unit.

"Obviously, I have established that for a long time, and I know Zeus [Michal Handzus] is in on that too," Smyth said. "I think it's important to know that that's where the puck usually ends up, so if you want to score, you have to get the puck to the net but you also have to be there and work for the rebounds and tips. For the most part, I think the key is moving around, and then getting shots."

Nine of Smyth's 13 goals this season -- and 139 of his 313 career NHL goals -- have come on the power play, so while Murray doesn't want to give disproportionate credit to one player, he certainly realizes the value of having Smyth on the power-play unit.

"I think he contributes in several different areas on the power play," Murray said. "His composure with the puck. He can handle the 1-on-1 battles down low, to absorb some punishment and still have the composure to make some plays. Certainly his net presence is a big part of the reason he's out there. He's got hand-eye coordination that's second to none in the league, in my opinion, and that doesn't come naturally.

"He worked very hard at it, throughout his whole career. Then just the experience of being in that situation many times. He reads, he reacts, he gets into position to give outs, little give-and-go plays. He knows when support is needed, when another player is under stress. So he's a very valuable player, and he comes through for us most times."
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