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Sutter happy with healthy defensemen

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

Injuries are fickle, and rarely cooperative. When they come in bunches, they can decimate a roster. At other times, a team finds itself with healthy bodies to spare. That’s where the Kings are now on defense.

Slava Voynov, initially out with an upper-body injury, has missed the past four games but has been through several days of full-contact practice and seems ready to play. Will he return for Thursday’s game against Dallas? Coach Darryl Sutter wouldn’t say, but indicated he’s pleased with his current crop of defensemen.

Alec Martinez has played the last four games in Voynov’s place, and the Kings have allowed a total of five goals in those four games, which might make it difficult for Sutter to justify a lineup change.

``(Playing Voynov) will be a day-to-day decision,’’ Sutter said after Wednesday’s practice. ``I haven't had an issue with how our defense has played. We're fortunate to have -- touch wood -- eight healthy guys. It's based more on performance than putting someone in.''

Martinez has not recorded a point in the last four games, and has two points and a minus-five rating in 23 games this season, compared to Voynov’s 10 points and plus-2 rating in 24 games.

Sutter, though, said he’s been satisfied with the effort of Martinez, who has partnered with Willie Mitchell and also been a part of the Kings’ power-play unit.

``He's been fine,’’ Sutter said. ``He's played in those teens, 14 to 17 minutes, and he has played his off side and he has done a pretty good job on the power play, getting pucks through. He's been fine. I always like the lefty-righty (pair) thing if you have the ability to, but he's been in on the left side and done a good job.''

The NHL will announce the full rosters for the Jan. 29 All-Star Game tomorrow, and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick is presumed to be in strong consideration for one of the five goalie spots.

Boston’s Tim Thomas was voted in by fans, leaving five goalie spots for the league to fill. Among goalies with at least 20 games this season, Quick ranks first in the NHL in shutouts (six), third in goals-against average (1.93) and fourth in save percentage (.934).

Quick got the endorsements of Sutter and team captain Dustin Brown.

``It's more about an attitude,’’ Brown said. ``He's got a presence about him. He's not looking to get noticed. He comes in and goes about his business. He definitely wants to let you know if you haven't scored on him (in practice) in a couple weeks. That's about the only time I see him brag, is when he's got someone's number in practice. He's a big reason why we're at where we're at this year. He has grown as this team has grown. Over the last couple years, if we don't have him, I don't know if we're the same.’’

The Kings tied their season high with five goals in Monday’s victory over Washington, so, not surprisingly, there were no lineup changes in Wednesday’s practice. The Kings, it seems, will stay with a new-look first line. Justin Williams had been elevated from the second line to play with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.

Kopitar scored a goal in Monday’s game and Williams scored a power-play goal.

``We put him there to get Kopi going,’’ Sutter said. ``Justin has probably been, after the first game, our best forward since I've been here. We're trying to get all our top players to be more, in traffic, forceful players instead of fadeaway players. Everybody can be better at that.’’

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