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Talking to Zeus

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
True to his nature, that of a quiet but calm, responsible, intelligent player, Michal Handzus matter-of-factly addressed the issues at hand, both personal and team-related.

Handzus had just concluded what was probably a rough practice, one that saw him demoted to a fourth-line center role, a role that he is likely to fill Saturday night when the Kings host the Edmonton Oilers at STAPLES Center.

For a prideful, 33-year-old veteran, the move couldn’t have felt good, particularly given the timing, when the Kings are stuck in a 1-7 rut and currently out of the playoff picture.

But Handzus spoke plainly about his own struggles -- even though he has three goals in his last five games -- and didn’t complain about his own lot, or lash out.

Despite three goals in his last five games neither Michal Handzus himself or coach Terry Murray are happy with his recent play.
``The bottom line is, I've got to get better,’’ Handzus said after Friday’s practice. ``Obviously, I wasn't real happy with my game last night, and I've got to get better. I'm not going to read too much into it. I think it's normal for a coach to do what he's trying to do. My thing is, I'm just trying to get better.  There's not much more to it.'’

Handzus was just as direct in addressing his team’s recent woes. The Kings have dropped six of their first seven games during this eight-game homestand, one that they once hoped would give them a cushion in the tight Western Conference playoff race.

Now, the Kings need a win simply to end the homestand with a poor 2-6 record, and they’re facing a young, hungry Edmonton team that seems to be improving. The Kings need to find some consistency, and fast, Handzus explained today.

``At times, it's not only about Xs and Os. It's about us playing the game,’’ Handzus said. ``Sometimes we look so good and then, even in the same game, at other times we look so bad. I think that inconsistency is hurting us, big time, and that's what we have to change. We have to be way more consistent, to play the game, compete, work hard, win the battles and do all those things. I think that's the most important thing. I think we are losing too many board battles, and I think that is hurting us. We don't come up with the pucks in our zone and in their zone. It's all about us getting better, everybody, just doing the little things better, winning some more battles and being more consistent. It's me, too. I'm way too inconsistent this season, which is hurting us. I have to get more consistent and put a little more focus on it and just play the same way every game.

``We're going to turn it around. We've got a great team here. If you get it right, it's going to make us a better team, for sure. I really believe that we're going to be a better team because of what we've been through so far. But we've got to get it right, right away.''

To that end, coach Terry Murray made a couple more lineup tweaks, moving Handzus to the fourth line and replacing him with Brad Richardson, who, himself, was a healthy scratch for two games before Thursday.

Murray said he’s looking for more from Handzus.

``To me, he's going through a little bit of a difficult time right now,’’ Murray said, ``a rough stretch where he's working hard, and the only way to get through it is through hard work. I'm not necessarily backing off on his importance or his minutes played. I want to use the four lines, to be able to keep a tempo and get our game back. But I still, in saying that, feel that he's going through a bit of a tough stretch here, right now, with his play -- which has been checking as the focal point over the time that I've known him, and he has played so well in that area -- and there are just a few situations that are creeping into his game. I talked to him today, and we need to get back to his kind of a game.''


Jonathan Bernier will start in goal against the Oilers, Murray said. Bernier is coming off consecutive losses, in which he allowed five goals to Nashville on Jan. 6 and six goals to Philadelphia on Dec. 30. This will be Bernier’s first career start against Edmonton.

``I was going to do this,’’ Murray said. ``It had nothing to do with (Thursday) night's game. We're getting ready to go on the road, with back-to-back games again, the first two. So we have to have everybody going. Bernier has had some attention to his game, with Billy (Ranford) here recently. He's been working really hard in practice. He's hungry and we're looking for a big performance from him.’’

After Saturday, the Kings play at Dallas on Monday and at St. Louis on Tuesday.

The Kings skipped the morning-after-game video review Friday, opting for a fast-paced -- and seemingly energetic -- practice. Afterward, Murray explained the necessary balance between instruction and avoiding filling players’ heads with too much information.

``It's important, in my mind, that you have that balance,’’ Murray said. ``It is something that you have to be aware of, and not overwhelm the players every day, when the game is over, highlighting things that need to be corrected. As I talked about to the team in a meeting today, there were a lot of good things that happened in the game that are indications that we're starting to get back on the right side of things. Then you go through the practice, to get some of the fundamentals of our system back in place again. I think that starts to bring that balance back, and the confidence back, the good feel.

``There was good energy in the practice today. It's that fine line that you need to be aware of, every time that you go through a difficult stretch. It's more important to put your arm around a guy and pat him on the back, when it's a hard time, and say, `It's OK, we're coming. Just keep doing the same thing.' When things are going great, you can really put the finger down and clamp down a lot harder and demand more, because everybody is on page emotionally and they're hungry to do the right thing and get better.’’

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