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Morning Skate: Raitis In; Williams Close

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Raitis Ivanans is expected back in the lineup tonight vs. Chicago.

CHICAGO – Justin Williams won’t play tonight, when the Kings face the Chicago Blackhawks. Friday at Dallas? It’s quite possible.

After Wednesday’s morning skate, Kings coach Terry Murray said Williams – out since Dec. 26 with a broken leg – would practice tomorrow as scheduled, after which Murray would determine whether Williams might be able to play Friday.

The initial timetable for Williams’ injury had him possibly returning at the end of this month, but Williams’ recovery has been much stronger than expected.

If Williams is able to play Friday, and stay in the lineup for the rest of the regular season, he would have 16 regular-season games to tune up for a possible playoff run.

"I'm watching him day by day, but I believe it is very close," Murray said, of Williams, after Wednesday’s morning skate. "Just speaking with him before the start of the battle drills that he was doing out there, (he is) feeling good, feeling comfortable and he wanted to give himself a good test in that part of it.

"So I'll talk to him after he's finished today. He'll get another practice in tomorrow, and then we'll make a decision as to if he feels comfortable or not."

Williams had been cleared by team doctors on Monday to participate in "battle drills" in practice. He has been skating since the Kings returned from their Olympic break.

This week, Murray said that upon Williams’ return, he would reclaim his spot as the Kings’ first-line right winger, next to center Anze Kopitar and left winger Ryan Smyth. Williams has eight goals and 16 assists in 33 games this season.

LINEUP CHANGE
The Kings are expected to make one lineup change tonight, with winger Raitis Ivanans returning to the fourth line in place of Scott Parse.

Ivanans had been a healthy scratch from the previous three games, as Murray indicated that he was less likely to play a traditional "enforcer" late in the regular season. Ivanans will play on a line with center Jeff Halpern and winger Rich Clune.

"This is a pretty intense building to play in," Murray said of Chicago’s United Center. "I know (the Blackhawks) have a couple guys that are physical and play heavy, play hard. They do their job. I'm going to put Raitis in to give us a little bit of a comfort zone here tonight. He's going to play with Halpern and Clune.

"It gives us two guys that will give the skill players a comfort level, the way they're going to play their game. I know they have (Adam) Burish coming back into the lineup, and they have Ben Eager there. I know Ben pretty well from Philadelphia. He can get on the move."

Burish, out all season after recovering from ACL surgery, is expected to play tonight.

RULE CHANGES SUGGESTED

The NHL’s general managers met in Boca Raton, Fla., and came up with three suggested rule changes that, potentially, would be put into place next season.

The highest-profile discussions had centered on whether – and how – to regulate hits to the head and/or blindside hits, in the wake of recent devastating injuries in the NHL.

After lengthy discussions, the GMs proposed the following:

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

The GMs also recommended that the first tiebreaker, in terms of determining playoff standing at the end of a season, not include shootouts. The GMs recommended that only regulation and overtime wins should count in the "most wins" first tiebreaker.

Finally, the GMs recommended that the American Hockey League use four officials in 40 percent of its games starting next season, instead of three as it currently uses.

The recommendations will go to the league’s competition committee, which will decide on them in June and, if they’re approved, present them to the NHL Board of Governors for final approval.

TOUGH CHALLENGE
The Kings face the Blackhawks for the third time this season, following a 4-1 loss on Nov. 9 in Chicago and a 2-1 shootout victory on Nov. 28 at STAPLES Center.

In both games, shots were hard to come by for the Kings. The Kings had 18 and 22 shots, respectively, in the two games against a Chicago team that is tied for second in the NHL this season with 217 goals.

"They don't want to let anybody else have the puck," Murray said. "Their play with the puck is a big part of their checking game. Their back end is outstanding, with the puck possession, mobility, agility, joining from all areas and all sides. The other part of it that is very impressive is their balance in their lineup.

"They have four lines that are well-defined in their roles, and their leader, as I think we saw in the Olympics, is just a tremendous hockey player, in (Jonathan) Toews. He sets the example, I'm sure, in practice, based on what I see in games. They have a strong sense in believing in each other right now."
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