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Preseason World Tour Finally Reaches Its End

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

The preseason world tour -- stops in El Segundo, Phoenix, Kansas City, Denver, Las Vegas and Hamburg -- has reached its conclusion. When the puck drops Friday morning, the games count. Finally.

"The time is upon us. Enough make-believe. It’s time for the real thing," winger Justin Williams said with a laugh. "We’re excited. Our summers have been too long and there’s been too much working out and too much waiting for the season to start. I’m really excited to get going."

The Kings open their season on Friday -- 10 a.m. Pacific time -- with a game against the New York Rangers at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. It’s the first of a two-game European set, with a game against the Buffalo Sabres in Berlin coming up Saturday morning.

And so a season of great expectations begins, one that sees the Kings potentially contending for the Pacific Divison title if things break correctly. It didn’t take long, though, for the first hurdle.

After Thursday’s practice, coach Terry Murray said first-line winger Dustin Penner would be unavailable for Friday’s game. Penner has been in and out of practice -- he also missed Tuesday’s exhibition game -- with what Murray will describe only as a "lower-body injury."

Penner skated in the early part of Thursday’s practice but left the ice early.

"Dustin Penner is still feeling, not feeling great,’’ Murray said. "He’s probably about 80 percent. It’s going to take some time. He’s not going to be ready for tomorrow. We’ll just continue the rehab and get him some ice time and continue to push it until he feels comfortable."

The rest of the team, it seems, is ready to go. The Kings will go with lines of Anze Kopitar centering Simon Gagne and Williams, with Mike Richards centering Brad Richardson and Dustin Brown, with Jarret Stoll centering Scott Parse and Trent Hunter, and with Trevor Lewis centering Kyle Clifford and Ethan Moreau.

On defense, the Kings will go with the pairs they used for much of last season: Willie Mitchell and Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi and Jack Johnson, and Alec Martinez and Matt Greene. Jonathan Quick gets the start in goal.

Other good news: the jet lag appears to be wearing off. The Kings arrived in Europe on Sunday night, played Tuesday night and had a day off Wednesday, which appears to have done the team good.

"I think yesterday was a good day for me," Williams said. "I got to bed at midnight, got some good rest, got up at a decent hour today and I feel like I’m kind of on schedule now. I think they say it’s an hour per day per time zone, or something like that. We’re ready to rock."

The Kings face back-to-back games the next two days, then don’t play again for five days, which will make it interesting to see who Murray goes with in goal against Buffalo on Saturday.

Normally, the Kings might split the games between Quick and Jonathan Bernier in goal. But given the extra days off, and Murray’s recent declaration that he wouldn’t maintain a strict schedule with the goalies, the coach wouldn’t tip his hand in terms of Saturday’s starter.

"The only thing I’m going to say is that Quick is going to start the game tomorrow, will play the game tomorrow," Murray said. "We talked back home, in the early part of the training camp, where I’ve said that I’m not going to lock myself in, to where i have designated games for the goaltenders. I’m going to play it out right here at the start of the year. Everything is so critical. If we get a goaltender that’s on a roll, to me that’s going to be the right way to go."

Doughty missed the first two weeks of training camp, as he didn’t have a new contract until Sept. 29, and appeared in only one preseson game and a handful of practices, but Doughty seems ready to go.

Murray said he would not limit Doughty’s minutes in the season opener or hesitate to use him in any situations, particularly as the quarterback of the top power-play unit.

"I had a conversation with Drew the other day, after his game (in Hamburg) and asked him how he was doing, how he was feeling," Murray said. "He felt very comfortable in the exhibition game against Hamburg. I have confidence that he’s going to be able to log the minutes that we need to have from him. He’s energized. He’s really enthusiastic.

"He’s excited about his new deal, about being part of the team again with a long-term commitment. Again, he’s very energized, and we’ll take advantage of that. He’s a great player and we’ll get him the minutes that we feel we need to get from him in this first game against the Rangers."

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