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Voynov Making Most of Opportunity

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

KANSAS CITY -- If the NHL season started tomorrow, it seems as though the player to most benefit from Drew Doughty’s absence would be rookie defenseman Slava Voynov.

Doughty, who is without a contract and has not reported to training camp, could still walk through the door at any time, but for now the Kings are going forward looking for alternatives, and Voynov seems to have presented himself as the most attractive option.

An All-Star in the American Hockey League last season, Voynov is known for his speed and puck-handling ability, and Voynov will get a third look in the preseason tonight when the Kings play the Pittsburgh Penguins at the sold-out Sprint Center.

Voynov is scheduled to partner with Davis Drewiske against the Penguins. Voynov drew strong reviews for his play in the preseason opener against Phoenix. On Sunday against Anaheim, Voynov paired with Willie Mitchell, but coach Terry Murray was hesitant to analyze Voynov’s effort in a 3-1 Kings loss.

“He was good,” Murray said.  “He’s feeling his way along. I feel our forwards needed to be a lot better, to help our young defensemen out. I think we’re sniffing a little bit, trying to create some turnovers in the middle of the ice. It’s not the right time, the right place.
“Our forward, now, gets lost and we’re under stressed attacks, 3-on-2s and even four coming. I think, with young defensemen like (Thomas) Hickey and Voynov and (Andrew) Campbell here, and you’ve got (Alec) Martinez with a year under his belt, the way that we’re playing, as a forward group right now, makes it hard on these young guys.
“That will be my pregame talk here tonight, the importance of doing things right, staying with the structure, getting your foundation in place.

“You’ve got to come back and help your defensemen on a more consistent basis than what we did in that game against Anaheim. I thought we turned a lot of pucks over, and the reason for it is the lack of support. The D-men need the forwards, right now, in order to get the puck moving, and (the Anaheim Ducks) were coming at us pretty aggressively. So, I guess the short answer is, it was kind of difficult to evaluate how that individual is playing, because it is a team game and the forwards were leaving the D out to dry in some situations.”

Colin Fraser, recovering from offseason foot surgery, has participated in practice drills in the last few days but has not yet been cleared for contact, and Murray said he doesn’t anticipate Fraser playing soon.

“He hasn’t participated in any of the competitive drills,” Murray said.  “He’s in the early part of the practice, the flow, the passing and all that, but he’s a long way from maybe being ready to play those kinds of games right now. I get updated, pretty much daily, with Kinger [athletic trainer Chris Kingsley] only. I don’t anticipate that I’m going to have him in any of those (exhibition) games.”

The Kings are making their third trip to Kansas City to play in the Sprint Center, which is owned by the city and operated by AEG, the Kings’ parent company. Tonight’s game is an announced sellout in an arena that holds more than 17,000 for hockey.

The city has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to woo an NHL team to move to Kansas City, and the arena certainly got a strong endorsement from Murray. The home locker room at Sprint Center is, quite possibly, larger than that in any current NHL venue.

“The Sprint Center is one of the premier facilities in the NHL that I’ve been through over my years as a coach in this league,” Murray said.  “It’s fantastic, for the in-house part of it, for the coaches, for the dressing room, for the players, you couldn’t ask for anything better. You’ve got your space, you’ve got your rooms for meetings, you’ve got all your offices in places.
“It’s one of the elite places in the league.”

The Kings have yet to allow a power-play goal in the preseason, but they’re also only 2-for-19 on the power play, an area of great concern last season. Murray said he is seeing progress, in terms of things the coaches are trying to emphasize, but the results haven’t yet been apparent.

“I’m seeing better movement in the offensive zone,” Murray said.  “It’s not new, but it’s something that we’re really stressing from the first day of training camp, on the power play, is that kind of movement, the rotations, the quick puck movement and support. I don’t think we did it very well last year. So a lot of this is guys getting habits back in place now, that are not yet instinctive.

“The other part is we have some guys who are holding the puck too long. It’s puck movement that breaks down the penalty-kill box, and I’d rather see the puck coming up top, to your blue-line guys in the umbrella look, more consistently, than the way we do it sometimes.”

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