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Kings' Clifford set to return for Pacific showdown

by Curtis Zupke
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings will get some grittiness back in their lineup just in time to face Pacific Division rival San Jose.

Left wing Kyle Clifford is expected to return from a head injury and take his place on the fourth line in a critical game for both teams Thursday night at Staples Center.

Clifford has missed the past two games after he came out on the wrong end of a fight with St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves on Friday night. He is sporting a bruise on his left eye, which still has considerable redness, but Clifford said he hasn't had any setbacks.

"It's a little bruised, but nothing is going to affect me," Clifford said. "Everything's healed up.  Everything's fine."

It was the first significant injury this year for the rookie Clifford, who was a second-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft and has contributed five goals and six assists this season as a depth forward. Kings coach Terry Murray said Clifford needs to do a better job of protecting himself to avoid such injuries.

"It's something I've got to work on," Clifford said. "I still have my offensive ability, but being able to protect myself – (maybe I should) keep my head back."

After a few days to get his head clear, Clifford is excited to get back on the ice.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's been a long week."

Moller faces big challenge: Murray acknowledged that winger Oscar Moller will have a considerable challenge playing against a defense the caliber of San Jose.

Moller was called up Wednesday to replace the injured Justin Williams on the top line.

Murray joked that Moller might get a break if San Jose defenseman and fellow Swede Douglas Murray decides to go easy on his countryman, but obviously there is a significant challenge ahead for Moller.

"He's going to have the attention because of (Anze) Kopitar, there's no question about that, and that's what he's going to have to learn to deal with," Murray said. "If he's going to play in the National Hockey League, he's got to play on the top two lines. He's a skilled player. Regardless of what the physical variables are when you're playing against other teams, other players, you go to play the game."

Kopitar thriving with Penner: Perhaps no player is happier to have Dustin Penner than Kopitar, the team's leading scorer this season.

Since the Kings acquired Penner on Feb.28, Kopitar has five goals and five assists in 10 games with Penner on his wing.

"He can definitely make plays and hold on to the puck," Kopitar said. "That's one of the things that maybe we were missing before. Now we've got that big-body presence in the offensive zone.  It's tough to knock him off the puck, and that plays to our strengths obviously. He's fit in really well."

Smyth in a dry spell: It's difficult to ignore that veteran winger Ryan Smyth has scored just one goal since Jan.26 and is on a season-high 13-game goal-less streak.

That might be alarming given Smyth's pedigree, but Murray said he won't give Smyth a pep talk.

"He's very aware of the scoring drought that he's in right now," Murray said. "This is his time of the year. As a veteran player, you always respond to those critical times, those critical games. You don't need a long conversation with anybody. It's a matter of putting on the work boots and getting back at it and getting the job done."

Parse skating: Scott Parse has been seen skating with the team, the first step toward his return from hip labrum surgery performed in November.

Asked if it was possible that Parse could be available during the playoffs, Murray said, "I would not rule that out."
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