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Stoll Set to Return Against Red-Hot Sharks

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Jarret Stoll is set to return to the lineup tonight.

SAN JOSE – The NHL’s schedule-makers didn’t do the Kings’ defense any favors this week.

The Kings went from a game on Saturday against the NHL’s top-scoring team, the Washington Capitals, to Monday’s night game against San Jose, the league’s second-highest scoring team.

The Kings will be more than happy to duplicate the result of the Washington game, which they won 2-1, but on Monday afternoon, Kings coach Terry Murray expressed some concern about that game and cited the Kings’ need for better play.

"Our execution was, at times, sloppy," Murray said. "There were a dozen shots against in the second period that Washington had, and I think at least 10 came right off our sticks, with breakouts or plays through the middle of the ice. So that has to get cleaned up. You'll never get through a second opportunity, second game, playing that kind of way with the puck management. It's got to be much better tonight."

There figures to be little margin for error tonight. San Jose, which sits atop the Pacific Division and is second in the Western Conference, is riding an eight-game winning streak, and while the Sharks can score, they can also keep teams from scoring.

During this eight-game streak, the Sharks have not allowed more than two goals in any game – and only a total of 14 goals – and have not allowed a first-period goal.

Still, the Kings are one of the few teams to have success against the Sharks this season, with a 2-0-1 record against San Jose, including a 5-4 shootout victory over the Sharks in their last trip to HP Pavilion.

"Probably the one thing that stands out in my mind is that there is a belief and attitude that you start to develop as a young group of guys," Murray said, "that you have to go into some buildings and dig extra deep.

"I feel that we've come a long way in that area, playing against this San Jose team. They're a premier team in the league. They're big and strong, they do everything very well, and you know that not only do you have to bring your `A' game on the skill side of things, you have to emotionally buy in big time."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he’s well aware of the Kings’ strengths.

"I think they're an excellent hockey club," McLellan said. "When we watch them play other teams -- we may be pre-scouting Edmonton or whomever -- and L.A. happens to play, we make the comment (that) a lot of times they're doing it right.

"They're well-positioned. They have, right now, two defensemen that are very active and make them dangerous. I think their goaltending is exceptional, not just stopping the puck, but he has the ability to initiate a breakout. He's getting better and better at that all the time. They're a tough team to play against. They have a lot of confidence and they have earned that."

As expected, Kings center Jarret Stoll will return tonight after missing seven games with a groin injury. Stoll will start the game as the Kings’ fourth-line center, between wingers Raitis Ivanans and Oscar Moller.

"He will have limited minutes, 5-on-5," Murray said. "We'll get him some special-teams time, kind of break him into the lineup again, and he's a welcomed addition back.

"Stoll is feeling very good. It's not that I have concern with that. It's just that he's been away for a while, and we'll get him back in the game and let him feel his way around it. I'm certainly looking forward to having a right-handed center iceman back out there, on that D zone side on the right side. We've been below average on the faceoffs lately, and he's going to give us a boost in that area."

Wayne Simmonds missed only two weeks in December after having an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, and it hasn’t taken long for Simmonds to return to form.

Simmonds has three assists in his last four games and, on Saturday against Washington, Simmonds topped the 15-minute mark for the first time since his return.

Murray said he has been pleased with Simmonds’ progress since his return.

"There's no doubt that, when you have an operation, you're going to feel something as a result of that, a few weeks after it's over," Murray said. "He still has that, a little bit of tightness, a little bit of soreness that he just works through. I think, as you get further away from the time when he had the operation, he's feeling much better and, every day, it's going that way. So, energy is back, more jump and confidence also."
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