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Wild Road Trip Begins Tonight

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's not quite a sprint to the finish, but tonight's game between the Kings and Minnesota Wild features two teams looking for an initial burst of speed.

The Kings and Wild perfectly illustrate how tight the Western Conference figures to be over the final 10 weeks of the season. The teams are tied with 55 points. Minnesota sits in 10th place, having played one fewer game than the Kings, and both teams start today just one point behind seventh-place Chicago and one point ahead of 12th-place Calgary.

The teams kick of the post-All-Star break schedule tonight at Xcel Energy Center. For the Kings, it's the start of 10 consecutive road games that could make or break their season.

``We've talked about this road trip, going back a long time,'' coach Terry Murray said. ``It has been talked about with our leadership group. No one is nervous about coming on the road. We've all done a pretty good job in that area in the last couple years. We just have to make sure we stay with the details, play the system, trust each other and play the game hard. At the end, though, we're going to have to be better.

``We have to get our scoring game going, whether it's power play or 5-on-5. That's a concern, and it has been right from the start of the year. We've got to be able to find a way to score more consistently in these next 32 games.''

This leg of the trip takes the Kings through Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary. Then, after four days at home, they'll hit the road again for games against Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, Columbus and the two New York teams before another flight home and a quick ``road trip'' to Anaheim to finish off the 10-game stretch.

Murray stressed the importance of special teams and goaltending during the stretch of road games, and the Kings could use a bit of a road revival.

Last season, the Kings actually totaled more points on the road (51) than they did at home (50), but this season, the numbers have been far different. The Kings have totaled 20 points in 23 road games and 35 points in 27 home games.

Jonathan Bernier will get the start in net tonight vs. Minnesota; Jon Quick will play tomorrow in Edmonton.
The Kings will go with the same lines and defensive pairs that they used before the break, and Jonathan Bernier will get the start in goal against the Wild. With the Kings facing back-to-back games, Jonathan Quick will start Wednesday in Edmonton.

``I guess I could have gone with Quick in both games, but I think that would be pretty demanding right now, with the travel,'' Murray said. ``I talked to Bernier about four days before the last game, actually, and let him know that he was going to be playing in this game. Quick went back to the East Coast (during the All-Star break), took his family back, and had a little more travel.

``Bernie was staying in L.A., just getting rested and getting ready to get going. So that was the reason for it, quite honestly. That was the reasoning behind it. I really felt that I had to share the two games on the back-to-back, and that was the reason for it.''

Anze Kopitar roofs a backhander past hometown goalie Cam Ward in the 2011 NHL All Star Game in Raleigh, NC on Sunday.
Anze Kopitar was back in more familiar environs Tuesday, as he rejoined his Kings teammates after parts of five days as an NHL-All Star.

Kopitar participated in his second All-Star weekend, scored two goals in the game as part of the winning ``Team Lidstrom'' and also participated in the skills competition.

``I enjoyed it a lot more than I did my first one,'' said Kopitar, who was also an All-Star in 2008. ``The first one, you're so excited to be there that you almost forget to enjoy it. This time around, you know more guys and you know what's going on, so it's a little easier to enjoy it more.''

Murray said he kept an eye on Kopitar during the All-Star festivities.

``I did,'' Murray said. ``I watched the skills the night before, and I did watch the majority of the game. I didn't watch the whole thing. Kopi had a good game. It was typical of an All-Star Game, I guess. There was a lot of finesse skill, not a lot on the checking part of the game. He played good.''

Jonathan Quick was named the NHL's ``second star'' for the previous week of games, which ended Jan. 30. That stretch included Quick's shutout victory over Boston and his 22-save effort in the 3-2 shootout victory over San Jose.

Carolina's Eric Staal, who has four points in two games, was named first star, and the Islanders' Michael Grabner, who had a two-point game, was the third star.

Marco Sturm could return next week when the Kings' road trip hits the east coast.
Marco Sturm, who remains on injured reserve, will miss his fifth consecutive game tonight because of knee tendinitis, but Sturm joined the Kings on the road and is expected to be a regular participant in practice during the road trip.

Murray, though, said Sturm wasn't likely to play during this first three-game leg of the trip, meaning Sturm's return likely wouldn't happen until Feb. 10 at Pittsburgh, at the earliest.

Sturm said that going on injured reserve around the time of the All-Star break gave him extra time to rest the knee, and said he felt good after Monday's practice.

``That was the plan,'' Sturm said. ``That's why we kind of used the All-Star break for that. I've had it before, and it's absolutely normal. The only way to let it heal is to rest, and that's what I did. Now I have to catch up again.''

In addition to sitting right next to each other in the conference standings, the Kings and Wild have played two close games this season. On Oct. 25 in St. Paul, the Kings won 3-2 in a shootout. Minnesota returned the favor with a 3-2 overtime win on Dec. 11 in L.A.

Minnesota won four of its last five games before the All-Star break, and allowed a total of only seven goals in those five games.

``We're going to have to make sure that we're getting pucks in, to get a forecheck and cycle game,'' Murray said. ``I think scoring the first goal of the game is very important, against any team but certainly against Minnesota. The last two games that they've played, I've watched them over the last few days. When they had a lead against Chicago, they really clamped down on the checking part of it. It was a 1-4 look.

``The two defensemen are at the top of the circle and they gave up absolutely nothing on the scoring part of it to Chicago. I think you've got to give that a big focus, making sure pucks are deep, recover and get as many opportunities as you possibly can.''

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