EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Few observers of the Los Angeles Kings in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs got to know Kyle Clifford.
The Kings' rough-and-tumble wing was concussed after a hit by the Vancouver Canucks' Byron Bitz in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals and didn't play the rest of the postseason. But Clifford is making up for that lost time with a role on L.A.'s second line.
Clifford is again expected to play beside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter when the Kings host the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.
"I'm coming in and not changing my game -- I'm playing my style," Clifford said at the morning skate. "It's a privilege to play with those two guys -- Carts and Richards. I'm just trying to do my best and keep it simple."
Coach Darryl Sutter made the move earlier this season to shake things up and Clifford was the logical choice given that Sutter hasn't hid his admiration for the 22-year-old. Clifford began his career as an enforcer but showed a nose for the net and emerged in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with five points in six games.
Asked what's impressed him most about Clifford, Sutter said, "Conditioning, purpose, focus, ready to take the next step, willing to take someone's job, not happy with not playing last year in the playoffs, good frame of mind, good kid, learning how to become a good pro, year older, maturity -- [you] keep going."
Clifford leads the Kings with five points in five games. He played nine games with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL during the lockout in an expanded offensive role, but he said that wasn't the point.
"I wanted to work on my game," Clifford said. "I didn't want to become an offensive player down there. Some of those things you try down there wouldn't work up here. I just focused on an NHL game instead of trying to be the Sidney Crosby in the [ECHL]."
Gagne moves up: It appears that Simon Gagne will get promoted up to the third line after Sutter scratched him for two games then had him playing on the fourth line.
It has been a long road back for Gagne, who was concussed last December and was out until Sutter surprisingly activated him during the Stanley Cup Final. He had a mass removed from his neck last summer that he said was the size of a tennis ball and had been there for four or five years.
Gagne doesn't know if it's related to his concussion history, but he's sleeping normally and well rested for a turnaround.
"It's really hard to see where my game's at," Gagne said. "The only thing I know is that there's [room] for improvement in front of me."
Penner scratched again: Dustin Penner will likely be a healthy scratch for a fourth straight game, but the entertaining wing is taking his usual humorous approach about it.
"I'm waiting like a dog in a car, waiting to be let out," Penner said Wednesday.
Does he need the windows rolled down?
"Just half an inch so I can't get my snout out."
Sutter has grumbled about a lack of left wing production and Penner is part of that despite a decent game on opening day. Penner said there hasn't been any awkward moments with Sutter in the hallways. The message to Penner is to just be ready when called.
"I'm fine," Penner said. "It's not something I'm seeking counseling about ... I'm in a good place professionally, mentally and emotionally. It's a lot easier to take this now than it was last year."
Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford – Mike Richards – Jeff Carter
Simon Gagne – Jarret Stoll – Trevor Lewis
Jordan Nolan – Colin Fraser – Dwight King
Rob Scuderi – Drew Doughty
Slava Voynov – Alec Martinez
Davis Drewiske – Jake Muzzin
Injured: Willie Mitchell
Scratched: Andrew Bodnarchuk, Brad Richardson, Dustin Penner
Quick is expected to start despite a 1-4-1 career record and 3.18 goals-against average against Nashville. Backup Jonathan Bernier owns a 6-1 record and 2.00 GAA against the Predators.
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is searching for his first win of the season.