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Morning Skate: Top Line Together Again

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
The highly successfull line of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth will re-unite tonight.

Terry Murray's coaching style can be described as "paternal," and this month Murray did something that probably hurt him more than it did his players.

Murray knew that his best option for long-term success was to play center Anze Kopitar and wingers Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams together on the Kings' first line, but Murray wasn't happy with the work ethic of the line, so he split it up.

All along, Murray had, in the back of his mind, the thought of reuniting them with the time is right. That time, apparently, is now, as Smyth, Kopitar and Williams will skate together when the Kings host the Dallas Stars at STAPLES Center.

The line was one of the league's most potent in the first six weeks of the season, and Murray has challenged the players, particularly the wingers, to be better.

"We're getting into the last few games of the season, and it's time to see it come together," Murray said. "They're two veteran players on the wings, and this is their time of the year. This is why you add veteran players to your lineup, to step up and make a difference in the game.

"They've had, obviously, some great success together this year, and I took them apart a few games ago because of not working hard for each other. I didn't think the line, in general, was on top of their game. Not enough desperation, and I'm hoping now that the time apart has brought that work ethic out. I think it has, and I'll give it another run."

Kopitar leads the Kings in goals (33), assists (42) and points (75). Smyth (22 goals, 24 assists) and Williams (8 goals, 17 assists) have had to deal with long-term injuries this season but are now healthy.

While he has made several line changes over the past couple weeks, Murray said this is the top line he would like to see stay together for the rest of the season.

"This is what I want, absolutely," Murray said. "This was a premier line in the game at the start of the year, and unfortunate things happened. That's the way it goes in hockey, and now it's time to elevate games.

"Again, the veterans need to really step up with that intensity and that tenacity that is expected at this time of the year. This is the opportunity."


On the Kings' other lines, Michal Handzus will center Fredrik Modin and Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll will center Alexander Frolov and Wayne Simmonds, and Brad Richardson will center Rich Clune and Jeff Halpern.

With Matt Greene out of the lineup for a third consecutive game with an upper-body injury, Peter Harrold will replace Davis Drewiske on defense.


Greene participated in the full morning skate Saturday, but his status for Monday's game at Minnesota remains unknown.

"I'm looking at it as a day-to-day (situation)," Murray said. "He showed improvement yesterday and is feeling a little bit better today. We'll bring him on the road trip and we'll see how he progresses."

Calgary's loss to Boston on Saturday morning reduced the Kings' magic number for making the playoffs to 8. Essentially, if the Kings win four of their last nine games, they are guaranteed a playoff spot even if No. 9 Calgary finishes its season 7-0.

At this point, the Kings can realistically start looking at potential first-round matchups, but the standings remain very unstable.

Depending on the results of today's games -- Dallas at Kings, Detroit at Nashville, Colorado at Phoenix -- the Kings could finish the night in fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth place in the West, so it's impossible to predict a first-round opponent.

"I see them all very difficult," Murray said. "I see everything in the first round as hard. I know it's hard. I've been there too many times to think otherwise.

"There has been an incredible amount of top-seeded teams go down. The expectation of having to win when you're expected to win is the most difficult thing to do in sport. So the goal for us, still, is 'Let's get in,' then it starts over again."
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