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The Ascent of Zeus

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Wayne Simmonds is moving. So are Michal Handzus, Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford and Andrei Loktionov, and all for the same purpose.

To, hopefully, get Anze Kopitar back on the scoreboard on a regular basis.

Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer this season, has one goal in his last 20 games and two goals in his last 25 games. It's a drought that has baffled coaches and management -- not to mention Kopitar himself -- and the Kings are trying to shake him out of it.

Michal Handzus joined Anze Kopitar's line as a left wing against Calgary earlier this season and will play with him again against Washington Saturday.
On Friday, that meant new lines, designed to get Kopitar going. He will now skate with steady, good-hands veteran Michal Handzus, who moves from center to left wing, and hard-skating, crashing winger Wayne Simmonds on his right wing.

``Well, a change is needed,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``That's my thinking, when I look at the way we played in some situations last night. We didn't take advantage of some offensive opportunities. And going back over recent games, there's a need to get the offensive part of the game going. Maybe it's a little bit of a change, in some situations, that will be a good thing. That's what I'm hoping for.

``With Kopi, and with putting Handzus on the left side -- which I did in the Calgary game in the third period -- and putting Simmer back up there, I'm looking to get a change, to take advantage of Simmer's game last night, which I really liked. It was one of the first times, in a little while, that he's had his feet going, holding onto the puck, creating some offensive opportunities and bringing the work into the game. That's what I want to do with this look now.''

The changes also create a line of Loktionov moving back to his natural position of center, with Clifford and Brown on the wings. The line of Jarret Stoll, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams stays intact, and Murray said he intends to stay with a fourth line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth on Saturday against Washington.

Jonathan Bernier gets the start against the high-scoring Capitals tomorrow.
Jonathan Bernier will start in goal against Washington, and Murray has not yet named a starter for Sunday's game at Philadelphia.

The linchpin, though, is Kopitar, who scored a career-high 34 goals last season but has only 16 goals in 54 games this season.

Kopitar referred to his scoring drought as ``awful,'' but it's not unprecedented. Last season, Kopitar went through a 24-game stretch -- from mid-November to early January -- in which he scored only two goals, but he rebounded and finished the season strong.

Now, though, the Kings have only 28 games remaining and need to make up ground in the Western Conference playoff race. Kopitar was asked if there was anything, from past experience, that he could draw upon in order to break out of this slump.

``I wish I knew,'' Kopitar said. ``I would have done it a few games ago, probably. It's nothing. I've got to keep working hard. Hopefully I need an ugly one. I don't know. It just has to hit me and go in, or something. Or I need one where I really pick the corner and elbow it in or something. I don't know. Like I said, I feel good and hopefully I will break through here.''

The line changes represent upward movement for Handzus. Three weeks ago, Handzus was moved down to a fourth-line role, but of late, Handzus has been back in his customary third-line center role, and also seeing significant time on the power-play and penalty-kill units.

Handzus said he is also comfortable playing away from his natural position.

``Well, I'm playing left wing but, like I've said, I don't care where I play. Obviously, Kopi is a great player and it's always great to play with great players. I've got to play good for him. Obviously, it's an offensive role, a little bit more, but I don't mind it. I think it's pretty exciting.''

Marco Sturm is still a few games away from joinging the Kings' lineup after missing time with knee tendinitis.

Marco Sturm has missed eight consecutive games because of knee tendinitis and will not play Saturday against Washington. Murray also would not commit to playing Sturm on Sunday at Philadelphia and, after that, the Kings don't play again until Wednesday.

Sturm continues to do vigorous skating, during and after practices.

``I think he needs more skating,'' Murray said. ``I think he needs more work here, to get that pop in his game, in his legs, to see that on a consistent basis, practice after practice. I had a conversation with him yesterday on the ice. He gets a hard work day in yesterday and he comes back the next day and still feels a little tightness, in his overall body and a little tightness in his knees still. So that's a concern for me.

``We've got back-to-back games here, and I want to get him to be feeling the right way and making sure that he's on top of things physically, so that he can get back into the lineup and contribute. It's not just a matter of going out and playing the game. That's no good. He's got to come in and be a player that's going to have an impact on the game.''

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