One consistent reaction from the players was their excitement at the fan support they've received. After a slow start, the Kings have improved enough to have a realistic chance to make the playoffs -- not bad for a team that finished tied for last in the overall standings last season.
"Everyone that comes up to the table sounds really excited about what is happening in the season so far," alternate captain Matt Greene said during a break. "It is good that they care enough to be here and are excited to pay me $1 for an autograph. I think it is just great."
Not all the fans were from the L.A. area. One fan on the line for Drew Doughty had come quite a distance to attend.
"I see the games I can when I am out here, but I live in Philadelphia," said the fan, named Tom. "I came for two weeks, saw six games and got some autographs. When I go home I get to see the Kings hopefully take one from Philadelphia."
Perhaps the most appreciative King was coach Terry Murray, who has the team playing its best defensive hockey in years.
"The fans are your team," Murray said. "It is the reason why we do what we do. We want to win and our ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup as players and coaches, but we want to have good fans. This whole area to me is a great hockey area, because fans are here today, they come to the game and the cheer hard for us and they sell the building out.
"It is wonderful to meet people who love hockey, who know hockey and who want to talk hockey because they know everything about the players. It is very exciting for me to come to a new area and be welcomed and appreciated by so many people."
Morrow to Return -- Officially, Dallas captain Brenden Morrow is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee a few days before Thanksgiving and undergoing surgery a couple of weeks later.
Unofficially, Morrow still hopes to get back into the lineup this season -- most likely in the playoffs, if the Stars survive the scramble in the Western Conference.
"I still hope to," Morrow told the Stars' Web site when asked about returning this season. "We've got a fight ahead of us, and I'm going to prepare to be ready for playoffs and do everything I can off-ice to help the team fight their way to get there."
Morrow's rehab after the surgery has been going well and hasn't had any setbacks, definitely a positive sign for the 29-year-old left wing.
"Good," Morrow said of the arduous process of rehabbing. "Same as every other day -- we're on schedule, but I think more than that, I can just say I feel good, I feel healthy."
He's been working out in the weight room strengthening the knee and the muscles around it, and is getting closer to being able to test it on the ice.
"Still in the weight room, waiting on the OK to start the side-to-side actions and jumping and running, so everything's pretty straight-forward right now," he said of his activity in recent weeks. "I can lift. I can work on the strength, I just can't work on cutting."
He said he expects to start skating some time in early March. "They usually say around three months and that will be March 2, so we're still a couple of weeks away," he said of a possible return date.
This is the longest injury-related absence of Morrow's career -- and it's made more painful by the fact that he's the team captain. Unlike his 33-game absence from a wrist injury two years ago, he's been able to stay closer to the team this time.
"I felt like that with the wrist injury a couple of years ago, but (co GMs) Les (Jackson) and Brett (Hull) and Tip (coach Dave Tippett) and the training staff have let me be around a little bit more," he said. "I'm on the road trips. I don't want to be in their hair every day, so game days, I try and give them the mornings to themselves and I'll do my rehab at the therapist's office, and then meet up on game night."
Whether Morrow returns this season remains to be seen, but there's no question he's been using the possibility of playing again as motivation in his rehab workouts. His teammates have also been spurred on by wanting to make sure they're still playing when he's ready to return to the lineup.
"I think if we can bring the season as long as we can and hope that he can come back," center Mike Ribeiro said. "I think it will be a boost for everyone to see him come back and bring his leadership in the room. I think everyone's anxious to see it -- but we need to be in a position so he can come back, so for us, it's working to get into the playoffs."
Jolly day for Jokinen -- Olli Jokinen's surprising lack of production has been a key reason for the Phoenix Coyotes' post-All-Star break slide. They're hoping his hat trick in Saturday's 6-3 win at Los Angeles is the start of good things for both of them.
Jokinen was the centerpiece of the Coyotes' offseason plans; GM Don Maloney felt he had acquired a legitimate No. 1 center when he landed Jokinen from Florida at the Entry Draft last June.
But after a good start, Jokinen went cold after the break -- and, not coincidentally, so did the Coyotes. He finally broke an 11-game goal-scoring drought by beating Erik Ersberg 12:34 into the second period. Jokinen added another goal before the second period ended for his 500th NHL point and completed his fifth career hat trick by scoring into an empty net with 2:04 remaining.
"Olli was solid at both ends of the rink," coach Wayne Gretzky said. "He had a really strong game. I think (Dan) Carcillo and (Peter) Mueller did a tremendous job, one of the better games they've played all season long. They were strong on the puck, they hounded pucks and got pucks to Olli, so as a tandem I thought those three played really well."
The goals were a relief to Jokinen, who hadn't scored since Jan. 20, when the Coyotes finished play before the All-Star break with a 6-3 win against Detroit.
"It's been a month without a goal but the bottom line is to get the two points and playing with good players," Jokinen said. "It's nice to score, but the bottom line is to stay in this playoff race."
Feeling better -- Don't look now, but the NHL's best team is also getting healthy.
The San Jose Sharks have climbed to the top of the overall standings despite a rash of injuries that would have laid low a lesser team. While stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have remained healthy, the Sharks have had to do without key defensemen Dan Boyle and Rob Blake for brief spans -- and without key role players like Jeremy Roenick for longer terms.
But those role players are coming back, giving the Sharks the kind of depth they'll need to close out the season on top of the overall standings.
San Jose got forwards Roenick, Jody Shelley and Tomas Pilhal back for Saturday's game against Atlanta. Defenseman Brad Lukowich returned two nights later in a 1-0 victory at Dallas.
Roenick, who missed 28 games with a shoulder surgery, earned his 700th career assist on Jonathan Cheechoo's game-winner in the 3-1 victory against Atlanta and was happy just to be playing again.
"It was awesome," he said of his return. "Right when I stepped on the ice, it felt great. Twenty games is a long time to be out."
Coach Todd McLellan was glad to get some of his veterans back, and was especially pleased with the boost the Sharks got from Roenick's return.
"He injected some energy into our lineup. He was vocal," McLellan said. "With him, you can tell he hasn't played for a while. The other guys, some of them are worn out and tired. But he's our energizer bunny; he's ready to go every shift. That will rub off on other players."
After the game, Roenick acknowledged career assist No. 700 and the teammates who have helped him reach that milestone.
"Trust me, I've played a lot of games with a lot of great players," Roenick said.
Cheechoo, who's battled injuries and slumps all season, was happy to help Roenick reach the 700 club.
"To be part of it is something special," said Cheechoo, who came has been rounding into form in recent weeks.
Roenick, 39, centered a line against the Thrashers that included 33-year-old Shelley and 43-year-old Claude Lemieux. There's no truth to the rumor that the trio will be known as the Social Security Line, but Roenick did concede with a laugh that, "We're definitely the oldest line in the NHL."
Sticking with Jiggy -- With the season down to its final weeks, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle apparently will bank on Jean-Sebastien Giguere to provide the kind of goaltending the Ducks need to make the playoffs.
Giguere was the starter and loser Friday night when the Ducks were beaten 5-2 at Detroit. Perhaps surprisingly, he was also in goal Saturday in Columbus, where Anaheim took advantage of a poor night by Calder Trophy candidate Steve Mason in a 5-2 victory against the Blue Jackets.
"We described it as the most important game of the year," Carlyle said about his decision to go with the 2003 Conn Smythe winner for the second night in a row. "So are you not going to play your best people? Simple as that. It makes the decision easy."
Getting the chance to play back-to-back games was a big confidence booster for Giguere, who was OK but nothing special in the loss to the Wings and has struggled for most of the past two months.
"This feels great. After a tough loss yesterday, tonight was a must-win game," he said. "We answered the bell. We were physical, we fought, we scored some goals. It was a big road game. We have to have that kind of effort."
The Ducks made the most of their chances against Columbus, scoring five times on 13 shots against Mason, who had been 4-0-1 in his previous five games. The Ducks scored twice in the second period on just two shots.
We scored on our chances; that's really the difference in the hockey game," Carlyle said. "We were fortunate. We made the most of our opportunities."
But the Ducks were also aggressive, playing the kind of physical hockey they have to do in order to succeed. "We talked about our identity as a team, getting back to how we used to play," forward Corey Perry said. "That's being physical, being first on the puck and playing strong defensively. Tonight, we did that."
Ice chips -- Claude Lemieux reached a milestone in his comeback effort last week when he earned his first point, a secondary assist on Milan Michalek's goal in San Jose's 4-2 home win against Los Angeles on Feb. 18. It was his first NHL point since March 9, 2003, when he had an assist in the Dallas Stars' 3-0 win against San Jose. ... Sharks rookie Lukas Kaspar scored his second goal of the season in the win against Los Angeles. Both of his NHL goals this season have come against the Kings. Kaspar was among three rookies returned to the AHL Worcester Sharks after some of the veterans returned from their injuries. ... Dallas' 1-0 loss to San Jose on Monday was the Stars' third loss this season by that score; the first time in club history they've dropped more than two 1-0 decisions. ... The Stars have lost all four meetings with San Jose this season after eliminating the Sharks from the playoffs last spring. They've been outscored 12-4 in the four losses. ... Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov continues to thrive against Los Angeles. He made 30 saves in the Coyotes' 6-3 victory Saturday to improve to 7-1-0 in his last eight games against the Kings. That includes a 4-0-0 mark at the Staples Center in L.A. ... Maybe the Coyotes should look into playing some more matinees; they've won both of their afternoon contests this season. They have two others on the schedule, both on the road -- at Los Angeles and Long Island. ... Kings captain Dustin Brown didn't accompany the team to Minnesota and didn't play Tuesday night. Brown's wife, Nicole, was close to delivering the couple's second child. Brown is expected to join the Kings later in the road trip. Teddy Purcell was called up from AHL Manchester to fill the roster spot. ... Kings forward Alexander Frolov had his 25th goal of the season Saturday against Phoenix. That's two more than he scored all last season. He's on pace for 36, which would match his career high. ... The Anaheim Ducks have frozen their ticket prices for 2009-10 -- including season tickets, packages and single-game tickets. The Ducks are also freezing food and beverage prices and parking at Honda Center. ... Defenseman Brian Salcido became the 23rd California native and the 16th player from Southern California to play an NHL game when he suited up for the Anaheim Ducks last Friday in Detroit. Sixteen of the 23 Californians have arrived in the NHL since the Ducks joined the League in 1993.
Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist