Los Angeles skated for almost an hour in advance of its 5 p.m. PST game vs. the Wild, which played last night in Chicago, and the Kings will look to build on what they thought were some positive signs in grabbing a point Saturday in Dallas.
"We're a young team, but we're growing," Kings Captain Dustin Brown said after the skate. "There are ups and downs, but it's matter of linking some games together. We had a good game in Dallas, though we didn't get the result we wanted, but if we can build on top of that, it's a plus for us."
Brown, while not much of a scoreboard-watcher by nature, does, however, understand the significance of facing three straight opponents who are just ahead of the Kings in the standings.
"This is a huge road trip," he said. "We have a chance to get five out of six points, and if we get five, that's five the other teams didn't get. This is like crunch time. There are five or six teams fighting for those last two playoff spots, and it seems like we're all playing each other. This is where you start separating the playoff teams from the non-playoff teams."
Tonight marks Game 2 of the three-game trip, as the Kings played Saturday in Dallas and will play again tomorrow night in Colorado in their last game before the All-Star break.
“It's almost like a four-point night here against Minnesota,” said Brown. “They've played the same way ever since I've been in the league. They're defensive, but, more than anything, they're patient. They have good offensive players over there, and they play the game very smart. They just wait for their chances. They're very opportunistic. They have good players who can capitalize on our mistakes, so we'll try to limit those.
One particularly encouraging piece of news coming out of St. Paul is that the coaching staff is ready to utilize Jack Johnson, who only Saturday returned to the lineup in Dallas, on the power play.
"His first game, I thought he came out of it really good,” said Head Coach Terry Murray. “Now it's time to start to ease him into the power play. We love what he does with the puck. He has great hands, he can shoot the puck, and he hits the net pretty consistently.
While Johnson’s shot from the point is a boom to the offense, so, too, is his ability to generate from his own end with his speed and confidence with the puck.
“Part of our issue on the power play is getting up ice and setting up,” said Murray, who hopes that Johnson’s return to the power play may help it convert for the first time in five games.
As for playing the Wild tonight, which has one of the league’s top penalty kills, Murray sees a determined opponent coming off a win last night at United Center, where only one other team has won this season.
“We saw a team bounce back with a big effort,” Murray said. “Losing the game at home against Anaheim certainly was, I'm sure, a difficult one for them. But they came back and played, and played the way we know they can, especially when getting the first goal of the game. They're able to shut things down."
Here’s Murray’s take on the Wild:
"They check very well, they have good people on the back end, they score some goals, they have big shooters on the power play -- we're going to have to have great awareness on that -- and some good balance up front.
"Simply, it's going to be a dig-in game for us."
With the injury to Erik Ersberg, the Kings called Jonathan Bernier up from Manchester to join Jonathan Quick for the rest of the trip.
"We know each other well," Quick said of Bernier. "We've done camps in the summer, and we were in Manchester together for three or four months. I know him well. He's a great guy, we get along well, and I'm glad to see him up here."
Bernier, a Laval, Quebec native, has played in four NHL games, all last season, and, even if he doesn't start over the next few games, he's happy to be with the team.
"Mentally, it gives me a little boost," Bernier said. "Even if I get sent down, at least I had the chance to be here a little bit."
Bernier considers himself to be a patient goaltender who tries to stay square to the puck. He also considers his relationship with Quick to be a very good one.
"Everywhere, even in junior, I think you battle all the time with the guy next to you," he said. "But, at the same time, it's fun to have a good relationship, and that's what we have right now."
As for quick, true to his name, his rise to the NHL has been swift.
"It's been exciting," said the former University of Massachusetts standout. "It's been quite a ride so far. When I first came up here, I was under the impression I was only going to be here for a little bit, and things worked out where I've been here for a little over a month now."
Quick enters tonight's game having played 14 NHL games.
"I'm trying to learn as much as I can while I'm here," he said.
Murray does not expect to start anyone but Quick through the All-Star break.
"John Quick is playing tonight, and he'll probably play again tomorrow,” Murray said. "Bernier is up because of an injury situation. He's a bright prospect. We're looking forward to see him become a goalie in the National Hockey League, but Quick has played very well in his games and that's who we're going to go with."
The timing of this morning's skate was such that the Kings were coming off the ice as Barack Obama was about to be sworn in. Television sets in the dressing room flickered, and players' attention were turned with varying degrees of interest in the proceedings.
"It's fascinating," said Patrick O'Sullivan, who won a gold medal with the 2004 U.S. National Junior Team. "I think when you get a chance to play hockey for your country, you can really see the patriotism that's there. You really become, maybe not more interested in the politics of it, but more connected to the country. It's an honor to represent your country in any capacity."
Barack H. Obama was sworn in today as the 44th President of the United States, becoming the ninth President since the Kings began play during the 1967-68 season during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. The Kings are 3-1-0 on Inauguration Day, having first played on Jan. 20, 1973, the day Richard Nixon delivered his second Inauguration speech, falling, 6-2 to Toronto and it will mark the first time the Kings play on Inauguration Day since Jan. 20, 2001, a 6-3 defeat of the Carolina Hurricanes as George W. Bush was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
WESTGARTH TO MAKE DEBUT TONIGHT
With Denis Gauthier and Tom Preissing expected to be tonight's scratches, Kevin Westgarth is slated to make his NHL Debut.
Following a disarming smile, he introduced himself to a reporter this morning eagerly, and rather simply, as, "Kevin." Soon, he may introduce himself to the NHL.
At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, his impact is not likely to be subtle.
"It's a real simple game,” Westgarth said. “You're expected to do your job, not let anything bad happen. Make sure their defensemen know you're on the ice, and make sure their forwards are aware of your presence."
Westgarth traveled to Dallas, too, but did not play.
"You hope to be in every night, but you know that's not the reality,” he said. “So, same thing tonight. I'm hoping to make it and get that first game under my belt."
While Westgarth’s game will be to use his size, one particular scene stood out at the end of Monday’s practice.
As things were winding down, he set a bunch of puck along the top of the crease in a semicircle. A few seconds later, he was rapid-firing them into the upper corners of the net.
"As much as everyone knows what their role is, everyone's trying to improve every facet of their game. You want to make sure if you ever do get an opportunity like that, and I'm a big guy who can get to the net, if the puck's sitting there, you want to make sure you're putting them in."
Contributions by Jamie MacDonald and Thomas LaRocca