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ROYAL ROAD REPORT: A KINGS SWEEP?

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
ST. LOUIS -- As they prepare to play the fourth game of a six-game trip today against the St. Louis Blues, the Kings will be looking for the season sweep.


The Kings, who are desperately fighting to remain in the Western Conference playoff race, come into today's 5:30 p.m. clash with St. Louis on the heels of back-to-back 4-1 losses at Pittsburgh and Chicago. They come into the game with a 30-32-10 record, good for 70 points and 12th place in the West, seven points behind eighth-place Nashville.

But the Kings, who move on to Dallas and Nashville to wrap up the trip, are 3-0 against the Blues this season, winning 4-0 here on Oct. 24, then winning 5-3 on Nov. 8 and 6-2 on Dec. 11 in Los Angeles.

"Any team on any given night can win and that's what's great about the league right now," Kings center Derek Armstrong said. "We just come out and we try to compete against these guys as hard as we can. Hopefully, the bounces will go our way (tonight)."

The Kings' win here in October came on the heels of a visit from Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who dropped the celebratory first puck prior to faceoff.

"It was one of the best games we played this year," Kings winger Michal Handzus said. "We probably caught them at a good time."

SPECIAL TEAMS KEY

The two wins by the Kings over the Blues at STAPLES Center were a direct result of impressive special teams' play, particularly the power play.

The Kings were 3-for-6 in each contest.

"We got a few power-play goals against them, which was the difference," said Kings captain Dustin Brown, who has five goals and seven points in three games against the Blues. "We've had good goaltending, and I think against us, they had shaky goaltending which in today's game is a huge part of it.

"At the end of the year, it comes down to special teams and goaltending. Everyone's playing at a high level."

FROLOV OUT
The Kings will be without leading goal scorer Alexander Frolov, who returned to Los Angeles following Sunday's loss to the Blackhawks with a lower-body injury.

Frolov, who leads the Kings with 28 goals and is second to Anze Kopitar in points with 55 points, was hurt in the waning moments following a collision with Chicago's Brent Seabrook.

"Obviously, he scores goals and lately, we've been having trouble scoring goals," Brown said. "It's one of those things where we have to learn to play in games like this when we don't have one of our better players. It's just another challenge we have to take on."

HOMECOMING FOR HANDZUS
Handzus, who is having a solid year in his second season with the Kings, returns to the place he first called home in the NHL.

Handzus, 32, was a fourth-round pick (101st overall) by the Blues in 1995. He played three seasons in St. Louis before being dealt to Phoenix in a deal that brought Keith Tkachuk to St. Louis.

"It was my first NHL club, so that's always special," Handzus said. "We had some very good teams here. We won the Presidents' Trophy one year. It was a lot of fun for me for sure. It was a long time ago, but it's always nice to come back here. You have a lot of memories but that's it."

Handzus' best season came in in his second with the Blues in 1999-2000, when he scored 25 goals and 53 points, both career-highs. But the veteran has since been with Phoenix, Philadelphia, Chicago and now LA since leaving St. Louis in 2001.

"I'm more experienced and I think I know the game better," Handzus said. "Back then, I was still learning. That was my first three years in the league. I had a lot of maturing to do."

It's also a homecoming of sorts for Kings assistant coach Jamie Kompon, who previously was the Blues' assistant/video coach for nine seasons. He was also the strength and conditioning coach as well.

MURRAY STILL REMEMBERED
There are only three holdovers from Blues coach Andy Murray's days coaching the Kings: Brown, Armstrong and Frolov.

Murray, who coached the Kings from 1999-2006, was 215-176-89 in 480 games. He was also the last coach to take the Kings to the postseason in 2002. Murray was 10-14 in the postseason.

"Andy was always great to me," said Armstrong, who was Murray's No. 1 center at one time. "He's one guy that loves the game of hockey and you've got to appreciate that. Some days, he might love it a little too much, but he's always been great to me. I've always looked up to him because he's one of those guys that's an ambassador to the game. He likes to teach the game and he's always focused on the game.

"He taught me how to be a professional at the NHL level. He always pushed you every day. You show up to the rink and you have a job to do. He always had you on the seat of your pants. He's very detail-oriented. He's a great coach."

Brown, who broke into the league under Murray, won't forget that Murray gave him the chance to play.

"He's a pretty demanding coach, but he gave me the opportunity to play," Brown said. "I was 18 coming into the league and I earned a spot on the team. That first year, I was injured but the games I played, he gave me 10 minutes of ice time (per game) and that's not always the case for a young guy coming in."

Murray was fired by the Kings late in the 2005-06 season and was replaced on an interim basis by John Torchetti. He still holds high praise for them.

"I think the Kings are a really good team," he said. "I'm not speaking as a guy that used to coach there. I think their team is a playoff-caliber team. I'm surprised at where they are right now. They've got a lot of talent.

"I think they're a tough team to match up against. They've played good against us. Maybe we haven't played as well as we wanted, but they've played really good against us. If we want to be successful, we gotta raise the level of our game. ... They've played better than us in the three games. That's why they've beat us.

"They've got four real good lines. When Derek Armstrong's playing on your fourth line, Derek Armstrong -- when I was in LA -- was our first-line center. He's on their fourth line. When Derek Armstrong's your fourth-line center, you've got a pretty good team.

"They've got a guy like Sean O'Donnell, who's a warrior. He brings great veteran experience. They've got arguably two or three of the best young defensemen in the league."

TONIGHT'S LINEUP
With the absence of Frolov and the Kings' offense stagnant at the moment, coach Terry Murray has juggled his offensive and defensive pairings around once again.

Brad Richardson will take Frolov's spot in the lineup and will center the third line.

The Kings' offensive lines will look like this tonight:

Handzus-Kopitar-Williams
Brown-Stoll-Purcell
Calder-Richardson-Simmonds
Ivanans-Armstrong-Harrold

Harrold will be playing in his 100th NHL game. Kopitar has six points against the Blues in three games. The defensive pairings will have:
Quincey-Doughty
O'Donnell-Johnson
Greene-Drewiske

Jonathan Quick, who has never faced the Blues, will be in goal.

Compiled by Louie Korac/Special to lakings.com
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