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Morning Skate: Lineup Changes

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Wayne Simmonds will be moved to the Kings top line

VANCOUVER - Three young players will get their introduction to playoff hockey tonight. One veteran player, surprisingly, will not be on the ice.

Kings coach Terry Murray announced three lineup changes for tonight’s Game 2 of the first-round series against Vancouver. Out will come Justin Williams, Raitis Ivannas and Randy Jones. In will come Rich Clune, Scott Parse and Peter Harrold.

The attention-grabbing move is the removal of Williams, who, when healthy, has spent almost his entire season as the Kings’ first-line right winger. Williams, a nine-year NHL veteran, won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and has played 43 playoff games.

In the second period of Game 1, however, Williams made a turnover that led to Vancouver’s second goal. Similarly, Jones made a neutral-zone turnover in overtime that led to Mikael Samuelsson’s game-winning goal.

Neither player will get a chance at redemption tonight.

"I feel the reasoning applies to Jones and Justin Williams," Murray said. "I need them to have a bigger bite in the game. Both players are veteran guys. We added players such as Williams and Jones to be important players at this time of the year. I think, on Williams' side of it, unfortunately with his severe leg injury, he has worked very hard to get himself back to the level of game that he was playing before the injury. There have been games that I have seen that play, but it's just not there right now.

"It's a very drastic move, I know. It's a hard move for a coach to make. It's one of the hardest things you do as a coach, is take a veteran player out of the lineup and try to get the player to understand why. But it's Game 2. Right now, it's about winning the game. It's not about feelings. I'm trying to do the right thing to help the Los Angeles Kings win this second game."

Williams missed 2 1/2 months of this season with a broken leg. After Saturday’s morning skate, he politely declined to discuss his benching.

"It’s about the Kings and the Canucks tonight. It’s not about me," Williams said.

Wayne Simmonds, typically the Kings’ third-line right winger, will replace Williams on the first line, alongside Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar. The Kings’ second line of Alexander Frolov, Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown will remain intact.

On the third line, Michal Handzus will center Brad Richardson and Fredrik Modin. On the fourth line, Clune and Parse will make their playoff debuts alongside Jeff Halpern, as the Kings’ "enforcer," Ivanans will be scratched.

"I liked Raitis' game," Murray said. "I like what he's been doing in the last several games that he has played. He has actually calmed down, settled down, relaxed, handling the puck more, making plays. In fact, I liked what he did in the first period. He had a scoring opportunity, screening the goaltender.

"I'm looking at making a change there, on the fourth line, to give me an opportunity to play some more minutes from that group. It's four minutes, five minutes with Raitis, only, and I think I can go deeper into the game with that kind of a look.''

Simmonds has offensive potential of his own – he had 16 goals in 78 games this season – but his most important task tonight might be opening up some ice for Kopitar.

Kopitar, the Kings’ leading scorer during the regular season, had only three shots on goal in Game 1 and few memorable scoring opportunities. The hope, on the Kings’ end, is that Simmonds’ forechecking and gritty play can open up space for Kopitar.

"Guys are keying in on him," Simmonds said. "I feel like if I go out there and play my game, I can rattle a couple of guys. I know, for sure, that I'll be getting yapped at a lot, so that will take a little bit off Kopi. When Kopi has just an extra split-second, it makes a huge difference. He works wonders and he's a great player. So that's all I'm trying to do."

Clune, a late-season call-up from the AHL, appeared in 14 regular-season games and will get his first taste of NHL playoff hockey tonight in Game 2.

Clune fills an "agitator" role for the Kings but can also be a strong skater and forechecker. With the big-bodied Ivanans out of the lineup, Clune will be counted on for support if play gets physical with the Canucks.

"It's going to be fun," Clune said. "I don't want to say too much. I think you guys [reporters] know what I'm going to bring. I'll keep that to myself, the stuff that I'm going to do or say. It's going to be a battle. When I watched the last game, you'd do anything to get out there. If there's anytime for me to kind of step up, it's now."


After tonight’s game, the Kings will return to Los Angeles, where there will no doubt be excitement, but not nearly the amount of media attention and scrutiny as in Vancouver.

Games in Canada attract a large, passionate media following, which could be overwhelming for a young Kings team with 13 playoff rookies, but Murray said today that he felt that starting the series in Vancouver was good for his young team.

"I'm not sure how they're feeling, particularly, about it, but I personally like it a lot. I think it's a great atmosphere and it's a great way to kick off your career in the National Hockey League in the playoffs. You get the attention from the media. You're put under the microscope more than normal. The energy, the environment, the buildup going into the first game is a real big test for the young players. How are you going to handle it? How are you going to deal with it emotionally and physically?

"And I liked the way they responded. I thought the composure was excellent. I thought their attitude about playing the game the right way was there, without any jitters or nervousness. This is a series that they're going to remember their whole lives.''
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