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No Reason For Panic

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Given that more than half of their season remains, the Kings see no reason for panic after back-to-back rough outings. Panic? No. Concern? Maybe a little.

The last time the Kings had a dip in play, it turned into a 1-7-0 eight-game skid. That can’t happen now, not with the Kings preparing to play the second game of a season-long eight-game homestand when they host San Jose tomorrow night.

A glance at the schedule shows the need for urgency. February brings a brutal, road-heavy stretch of games, while January is spent almost entirely at home. Given the tightness of the Western Conference, the Kings need to bank as many points as possible now, to avoid having to scramble for position in March.

In the short term, the Kings are also at a critical stage. They’re already staring down two consecutive losses, and their next two games are against San Jose and Chicago, teams that are a combined 4-1-0 against the Kings this season.

``We have a big homestand, and I think it's a really critical point of our season,’’ Kings center Michal Handzus said after Friday’s practice. ``We've got to get as many points on the board as we can. So we can't let a slide happen, and we've got to really focus. We've got good teams coming in. We've been playing pretty good at home, so we've just got to refocus. It goes to basics. We've got to do the little things well.’’

The Kings are coming off 6-3 and 7-4 losses to Phoenix and Philadelphia, respectively, so there’s no mystery as to what area the Kings need to improve. That’s defense.

Goalies Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier each got pulled from their respective starts, but the issues run much deeper than just the goalies’ ability to stop shots.

``The last couple games, we haven't played a full 60 and there have been lapses in our compete level, which can't happen,’’ Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``Mistakes are going to happen in a hockey game.

``That's what hockey is all about, but you can't have a lack of compete level. There's no way you're going to win if you're not working and competing. In the last two games, we've had spurts where we haven't done that, and that's not acceptable.’’


Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky, both out with lower-body injuries, skated and participated in some drills after practice, but neither player is set for an imminent return.

That means the Kings are likely to go with the same lineup Saturday against San Jose, and coach Terry Murray said Quick will start in goal.

After pulling his goalie in each of the last two games, Murray didn’t absolve the goalies for their play but said that, often, the act of pulling a goalie is more about showing his dissatisfaction with the team’s play in general.

``Usually, it's more that, than (being) not happy with the goaltender,’’ Murray said. ``You're just trying to get something changed up. That's why you change lines and you change D pairs. Pucks are going in, and it's guys standing in the shooting areas, wide open, and they're picking top corners. Then you're trying to get the attention of the team, rather than saying (to the goalie), `It's your responsibility. You should be giving us grade-A saves, time after time.'

``That's the case in the last two games. We've just got to be more aware of our game in front of the goaltenders. Then, on the other side of it, the goaltenders take on their share of it too. There are times when they have to make great saves. Maybe that just didn't happen in the last couple games.''


Murray has been known to raise his voice on the ice at times in practice, but it never rises to the level of yelling and screaming.

So on Friday, after consecutive games with poor results, Murray remained consistent with a fast-paced, 45-minute practice, and eschewed the type of ``bag skates’’ that coaches sometimes turn to as punishments for players’ poor efforts.

``Those only make me feel better,’’ Murray said. ``They don't make the players feel better. No, I didn't consider that. I don't believe in that, but I do believe in getting back to fundamental work and executing the basics of the game on a consistent basis.

``To me, that's a part of the problem. I think we've gone a long time without any quality practice time, to get into that part of it. The other part, I think also, is just the mental approach to the game, the 60 minutes of total concentration. We got casual at times, and you do that against good hockey players, good teams, and they're going to take advantage of it.’’


Because of the earlier-than-usual start time -- 6 p.m., at STAPLES Center -- the Kings will not have a morning skate on Saturday. Monday’s home game against Chicago also has a 6 p.m. start time

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