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Morning Skate: Reunion and Debut in Big D

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth have combined for 61 points (23-38=61) in 18 games together. The trio is reunited on Friday night in Dallas.

DALLAS - A total of 33 players have appeared in at least one game for the Kings this season, but a 34th player has drawn attention from the other side of the country.

Jonathan Bernier has had a standout season in goal for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League. Tonight, Bernier gets a chance to show his wares in the NHL when he starts for the Kings, against the Dallas Stars. ( Murray on Stars | Sean O'Donnell on Stars)

Bernier will be filling in for Jonathan Quick, whose wife, Jaclyn, delivered the couple’s first child - a daughter named Madison Mychal - early Friday morning.

The Kings called up Bernier from Manchester on Thursday, and after a day of internal debate, coach Terry Murray chose Bernier to start against Dallas over Erik Ersberg, who has seen little action as the Kings’ backup goalie this season.

Bernier, in 50 AHL games this season, is among the league leaders in goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage (.937). Ersberg has appeared in only eight of the Kings’ 66 games (six starts) with a 2.99 GAA and a .890 save percentage.

"I want to see him [Bernier]," Murray ( Interview) said after Friday’s morning skate. "'I think he has played very well this year in Manchester and he is very deserving of the opportunity. When you move by another goaltender, Ersberg, in this situation, it's not to be viewed as an, 'I can win with one and not the other' kind of an attitude.

"That's something that I was concerned about yesterday. I thought about it. I talked with Ersberg after the skate here and explained my reasoning, and I think at the end of the conversation there was an understanding between us, what the reason was."

Bernier, 21, will get a second crack at the NHL. Two seasons ago, he surprisingly made the Kings’ roster coming out of training camp. He won his NHL debut, against the Anaheim Ducks in London, but then lost his next three starts.

Bernier was returned to his junior team after losing to Detroit on Oct. 14, 2007, and has not been in an NHL game since.

Bernier, by his own admission, had a rough 2008-09 season. Upset after being assigned to the AHL during training camp, Bernier didn’t play well at the start of the season. When the Kings needed a goalie in midseason, Quick got the call instead of Bernier, and Quick, through his strong play, became the Kings’ long-term No. 1 goalie.

This season has gone better for Bernier, as he has been among the AHL’s statistical leaders all season. It’s likely that Bernier will accompany the Kings back to Los Angeles tonight, even if Quick is able to return to the line for Sunday’s game against Nashville.

"I'm just going to go day by day," Bernier said. "I'm just happy to be here. I've been focusing to have a good season down there, and I think I've done that so far. Right now, it's just to be here, get the win tonight and show what I can do.

"Last year I wasted a season. I understand that. After the first two months of the season last year, I think I started playing better. I just said to myself, 'Don't do the same mistake again.' They asked me to go down and show that I can be the best. I've just been really focused on every game and just try to give a good chance for my team to win every night."

As expected, Justin Williams will be in the Kings’ lineup tonight for the first time since he broke his leg in a Dec. 26 game against Phoenix.

Williams had eight goals and 16 assists in 33 games before his injury. Tonight, he will reclaim his role as the Kings’ first-line right winger, alongside left winger Ryan Smyth and center Anze Kopitar. That trio, when together this season, totaled 23 points and 38 assists in only 18 games.

"It's been a while since we played together, but you can't just lose chemistry," Kopitar said. "I know it's been a while, but I'm pretty sure that everybody is still familiar with each other. I'm looking for a strong game. I think he's pretty anxious to get back and start playing again, so that's definitely going to help the energy on the line, and we'll go from there.

"He makes the simple plays that turn into big plays. The little plays in the corner or getting open in the slot for us, so we can have a little more space down low. He's obviously a great shooter and a good play maker too, so it's just a mix, and the mix within the line is the biggest thing for me."

Kopitar and Smyth regularly play more than 20 minutes per game, but Murray said he would not hold back Williams, even though Williams has not appeared in a game in almost 11 weeks.

"I'm going to let him play," Murray said ( Interview). "I think there's some things that he has to work through, going into the game, but conditioning, intensity of play, stamina, that's just something that you have to suck up and get through right now, as a player. There's not a lot of practice time. Obviously I will be watching him and making sure he's comfortable, but at the same time, I want to let him get going."

In addition to the Smyth-Kopitar-Williams line, the Kings will make only a couple minor adjustments to their forward lines tonight. (Kings Lines)

Jarret Stoll will center Alexander Frolov on his left and Dustin Brown on his right, while the line of Fredrik Modin, Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds will remain intact. Jeff Halpern will center Brad Richardson and Rich Clune on the fourth line.

Davis Drewiske, Peter Harrold, Raitis Ivanans and Scott Parse are expected to be the healthy scratches tonight. Because there are no limits on roster size after the trade deadline, the Kings did not have to make a corresponding roster move when they activated Williams from injured reserve today.

The Kings are 13-for-14 on the penalty kill in their last four games, a period that followed the additions of Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin to the lineup.

Both new players have seen time on the penalty kill, and Murray said their additions have helped the Kings manage their minutes better, on the penalty kill and at full strength.

"I'm really happy that both of the players are good penalty killers," Murray said. "I knew that about Modin. I wasn't real sure on where Halpern was on the penalty kill. Both are going to take some minutes, and they're going to be important as we move through this. The intensity really heats up as you get to this time of the year, and Kopitar is a player, on a line, that I ask a lot of. If I can back off from those minutes that he puts in on the penalty kill, with Modin and Halpern, I think it's going to be beneficial to his game."
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