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The Boys Are Back in Town

by Andrew Howard / Los Angeles Kings
Getting the Kings off to a strong start coming out of the break is priority No. 1 for Kings head coach Terry Murray.

For the past week and a half, the Los Angeles Kings have been scattered across the globe.

Jarret Stoll spent four to five days in Mexico enjoying the sunshine and the relaxation.

Anze Kopitar spent time with his younger brother before vacationing in Aspen, Colorado with his girlfriend.

Ryan Smyth spent time with his wife and three children, visiting all of the amusement parks and some of the beaches in Southern California while his kids were on a break from school.

Five Kings players have been in Vancouver competing in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

With only 21 games remaining in the regular season and the Kings next game looming ahead on the schedule March 2 against the Dallas Stars the Kings players not participating in the Olympics have undergone a practice schedule similar to a training camp.

On Thursday the Kings participated in their second practice after a mandated 10-day break, and the players emphasized the importance of such practices in avoiding a letdown when the regular season starts up again.

"These sort of practices are good to gear up and get ready," said Smyth, who had 19 goals and 19 assists in 46 games in his first season with the Kings. "Back to game speed but also to get back to doing the same things so we can get back to like we were in January and February."

During the 2005-06 season, the Kings were 32-23-5 heading into the break for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, yet were just 10-12 to finish the season.

In 2002 the Kings were slightly better, going 13-7-3-1 following the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

This season, with the Kings sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 37-20-4, they are hoping to finish the season out strong and make playoffs for the first time since that 2002 season.

"I think the practices are really important, making sure were getting ourselves back," Stoll said. "For each of us individually we know how we need to feel to be ready for games individually."

Coach Terry Murray stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start coming out of the break, something that did not happen after a long layoff the Kings had in December.

"It's like getting out of the training camp at the start of the season," Murray said. "You want to hit the ground running, you want to take advantage of those points that are going to be coming right at us in those 15 games in the month of March. Its critical that we execute and play with intensity right from the very beginning."

An added source of entertainment for the players during the break has been watching their teammates compete in Vancouver. Forward Dustin Brown, defenseman Jack Johnson, and goaltender Jonathan Quick are on the United States team. Defenseman Drew Doughty has logged crucial minutes with the Canadian team, while forward Michal Handzus has played a significant role with the Slovakian team.

As of Thursday, all five Kings players were still in the tournament.

"It's really fun to see that everybody's still in it," Kopitar said.

In watching the games, Murray said he was particularly impressed with Doughty.

"He's been incredible actually with the composure hes shown on the big stage like that," Murray said.

The play of Handzus also drew praise from Murray.

"Michal Handzus to me right now, with the way he played in that game against Sweden, is the focal point of the team," Murray said. "He's the guy that's making the plays happen, he's got a net presence and huge goals are there because of the stuff hes doing in front of the net."

With all of the added playing time in intense games, there is a concern that the players who participated in the Olympics will be tired when they return to the Kings. However, Murray had a vastly different take on it.

"The players coming back from the Olympics I think they're going to be energized rather than being tired," Murray said. "All these players that we have there right now are still playing, and that's a pretty exciting and a very special time for those guys. So they're going to bring a lot of energy back to our team and well I'm sure play with a high-end kind of game through the whole remaining part of the season."
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