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Williams A 'Go' For Game One

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
On the eve of their first-round playoff series, the Kings got some good news when winger Justin Williams declared himself ready to play in Game 1 on Thursday night.

Williams, who missed the final nine games of the regular season with a dislocated shoulder, had been practicing vigorously in recent days and, after Wednesday's practice, Williams told coach Terry Murray that he felt comfortable enough to play in Game 1.

Initial estimates had Williams missed at least four weeks, but Williams will return seven days ahead of the most-optimistic schedule.

``I'm as comfortable as I will ever be,'' Williams said. ``I'm confident that I'm going to make an impact, and I don't want to sit on the sidelines any more.''

It's not yet known exactly where Williams will fit into the Kings' lineup. He practiced Wednesday, but not on a specific line, although Murray indicated this week that if Williams played, he would immediately go back into a top-six role.

``I don't know yet,'' Murray said after Wednesday's practice. ``This all just happened. That was the one thing, again, that we talked about yesterday. I would like to get him on a line in practice, so if you could let me know ahead of time, I could certainly make that arrangement very easily and quickly. But that's OK. We'll find a place.''

Justin Williams will play tomorrow in game 1 vs. San Jose.
Williams was tied for second on the Kings with 57 points in the regular season. Anze Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer, is out for the season after ankle surgery, but Williams said he didn't feel pressured to return because of Kopitar's absence.

``No, it had nothing to do with Kopitar being out, and whatnot,'' Williams said. ``Even if he was playing, I'd be doing the same thing. I'm an important part of this team offensively, so if I feel I can help the team, I'm going to tell the coach I can play.''

A year ago, the Kings flew to Vancouver for the start of the playoffs, and few of their top players knew what to expect. Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and others had never before experienced NHL playoff hockey.

Now, things are different. The Kings are decided underdogs in their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, but when the puck drops at HP Pavilion for Game 1 on Thursday night, at least the Kings will feel more comfortable with the surroundings.

The Kings have six playoff rookies on the active roster, but only Kyle Clifford, Alec Martinez and Oscar Moller play roles that can be considered large.

That’s a marked change from a year ago, when the Kings’ No. 1 center (Kopitar), No. 1 defenseman (Doughty) and No. 1 goalie (Quick) had never experienced playoff hockey.

That’s one reason why, despite the loss of Kopitar to a serious ankle injury and the recent uncertainty involving Williams’ status, the Kings have retained a sense of calm and composure heading into the series as the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed.

``I think having gone through the playoffs last year is huge,’’ Murray said. ``You can have meetings and talk about it, as a coach to your team, and explain what it is you're going to see and what you're going to feel, but you have to go through it. It was a great experience last year, against one of the premier teams. You go to six games, you know how close it was. One play makes a difference in the outcome of the game.

``Now you have that understanding. It's the same kind of scenario here today, with San Jose. They're a team that's been on the cusp for the past four or five years. You've got to play the game hard, play it the right way, and every play is really going to be important.’’

Drew Doughty could see an increase in ice time vs. San Jose.
Is Doughty’s ice time about to take a bump up? Last season, Doughty averaged 24 minutes, 58 seconds, of ice time during the regular season. Then, in the six-game first-round series against Vancouver, Doughty averaged 27:25.

Two overtime games in that series contributed a bit to the spike, but Murray said he wouldn’t be shy about increasing Doughty’s minutes in the series against the Sharks. Doughty averaged 25:39 of ice time during the recently completed regular season.

``That's not necessarily a plan that I have, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did get up there,’’ Doughty said. ``Your matchups, obviously, are going to be against the (Joe) Thornton line and the (Logan) Couture line, although the (Joe) Pavelski line is pretty good, too. You need your best defensemen to play a lot of minutes against those top two, top three lines.’’

To be certain, the Kings would have liked a stronger finish to the regular season. With a chance to finish fourth in the conference, earn home-ice advantage in the first round and, generally, take some confidence into the playoffs, the Kings finished the regular season with a 2-4 record in their last six games.

Offense was a problem, as the Kings scored only one goal in all four of those losses, and only nine total goals in those final six games.

``Our game at Anaheim was not a good performance,’’ Murray said. ``The energy was there, the emotion was there but the structure was broken down. We just didn't execute properly with the puck in a lot of the areas, from probably the middle of the first period. The other game, the last game at home, I liked. We did a lot of good things. We didn't finish the right way. We turned the puck over. The three goals they scored, I look at those plays as plays that were handed to them through our own play. We have to clean that up, obviously, going into the playoffs, but I'm talking about three situations only. With what I liked in the offensive play, the cycle was going, the plays to the net were good.

``Now we've got to find a way to score, and that's going to come down to better traffic, better net presence, managing the puck a little bit better in the offensive zone. And I'm not talking about just throwing pucks blindly to the net, either. You want to recover pucks, move your feet. You want to hold onto it, keep possession, finding good options, good plays. If we execute on that side of it, there's a lot of good things that come out of that.’’

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