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Richardson Summoned in Lineup Tweak

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Empire State has been kind to Brad Richardson's fortunes.

Upon arrival in New York, two days ago, Richardson had been a healthy scratch from the previous four games. Now he's once again the Kings' first-line left winger.

The Kings tweaked their lines again in practice Friday. As he did in the third period of Thursday night's game against the Rangers, Richardson skated on the first line alongside center Anze Kopitar and right winger Wayne Simmonds.

Jarret Stoll's line, with Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams, removed intact. Michal Handzus, who had been in that first-line left-wing role, moved back to center on a line with Kyle Clifford and Dustin Brown. That left five players in a fourth-line pool, and the Kings are likely to go with a line of cener Trevor Lewis with wingers Alexei Ponikarovsky and Kevin Westgarth when they face the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

Brad Richardson celebrates a goal against the Islanders last year.  He will return to the lineup Saturday night after a four-game absence.
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Richardson has been in that look, with Kopitar and Simmonds, a handful of times before, most notably during the Kings' playoff series against Vancouver last season.

``I think, with him and Simmonds on the wing, it allows more offensive-zone play where, again, we're recovering those pucks faster, we're in on the forecheck to get it stopped,'' coach Terry Murray said. ``It seems like, when I go back in my memory bank, as to that line being together last year, it was successful, with good things happening.

``I remember talking about it, that it was to bring the work back to the line, when I did that last year. That's part of the reason. The other part is just that speed, and getting in on the forecheck and recovering loose pucks and making plays happen. I liked his game a lot, at the end of the night, so we'll start with that look tomorrow.

In his first game back in the lineup, on Thursday, Richardson fared well, as he recorded one assist and three shots on goal and seemed to be skating with great energy.

Richardson has had three different stints as the first-line left winger this season, for a total of seven games, but has also been a healthy scratch from five games this season. Richardson has six goals and seven assists in 48 games this season.

``I talked to Terry recently, and he wanted me to carry the puck more, using my speed,'' Richardson said. ``Those are things that I tried to key on last night, and in practice and in watching some of the games I've sat out for, is trying to do those things. Last night, I was trying to get open every time I could, and get the puck and skate with it.''

Unless Murray changes his mind, rookie Andrei Loktionov will come out of the lineup. Loktionov had looked better in many areas of the game since returning to his natural position of center during the road trip, but Murray has been increasingly concerned.

Loktionov has four goals and three assists in 19 games with the Kings this season.

``Lokti, I thought the game got a little heavy for him there at times,'' Murray said of Thursday night's game. ``I'm just seeing an NHL level of play, right now, starting to expose a young player. The games are big, they're intense, they're close. Everything really matters. Every play is critical, those 1-on-1s, those 3-on-3 -- whether it's in your D-zone or the offensive zone -- there are situations right now that are happening a little too fast.

``In the middle of the ice, though, he's good. He's getting back, tracking back. He is very strong on his stick. He did recover some pucks last night, what I call stealing the puck from behind. But in other areas, there's just some other stuff that is happening that is not what I want to see right now. So, it's just coming too fast for him, maybe. It's a long road trip, intense play. Everything is just exposing him in some situations that are kind of a constant for me.
That was some of the drills we did today, to bring a focus and attention to it, but I'm going to back away probably, tomorrow, and get a more experienced player in that situation.''

Defenseman Jack Johnson got the day off today.  Johnson has played in all 58 games so far this season.
(Noah Graham Getty Images)
Jack Johnson and Willie Mitchell both got ``therapy days,'' according to Murray, and did not practice Friday.

Murray said Johnson had ``a little strain'' and that Mitchell had suffered a lower-body bruise in the early part of Thursday's game. Both defensemen are expected to be able to play, but will be evaluated again at tomorrow's morning skate.

With one game remaining in this six-game leg of 10 consecutive road games, the Kings are 5-0-3. In the Islanders, the Kings face a team with the third-fewest points in the NHL this season, but also a team that can be dangerous at times.

The Kings beat the Islanders 5-1 at STAPLES Center on Nov. 13, but the Islanders are 4-1 in their last five games. They totaled 24 regulation goals in those five games and have scored at least three regulation goals in eight consecutive games.

``Terry said this morning that this game is going to make the difference between a great road trip compared to a good road trip,'' Drew Doughty said. ``We want to finish it off on a great note. It's tough to come into this building. You go through games in Washington and Philly, which are the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and huge games, and then you come here. It's no knock against them or anything, but they're obviously not as high in the standings as the other two teams.

``So it's going to be, I think, the toughest game of the road trip. As the road trip goes on, you kind of get lackadaisical. You start developing bad habits, but we've got to make sure we're at our best tomorrow night.''

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