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Murray wants more from Kings in faceoff circle

by Curtis Zupke
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Faceoff wins can be a misleading statistic.

The Vancouver Canucks ranked 13th out of 16 playoff teams in faceoff win percentage entering Thursday while the Chicago Blackhawks were fourth. Vancouver, of course, has a commanding 3-1 lead over Chicago in that series.

But Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray has made it a point of emphasis in preparation for Game 4 against San Jose on Thursday night at Staples Center.

The Kings took 64 faceoffs against San Jose in Game 3 and lost 39 of them, including one that cost them a goal in a 6-5 overtime defeat. That was enough to give Murray concern.

"It's more than talking," Murray said. "This is huge. This is a big, big thing. They're a very good faceoff team. They do put pucks to the net and arrive quickly to try and get a faceoff. That is part of the strategy. They'll come across the center red line with a lot of speed and take a long shot to the net and hope that maybe there might be a fumble, there might be a loose puck that you'd have to free as it comes with a guy like (Devin) Setoguchi with a lot of speed."

San Jose, which boasts Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski at center, ranks first in faceoff winning percentage (56.8 percent) while Los Angeles is last (43.2 percent).

Again, that statistic can be skewed because a team can lose a draw and still retrieve a 50-50 puck. Michal Handzus lost 14 of 15 draws in Game 3 but not all of them were clear-cut lost possessions.

Murray said it has to start with what happens before the puck is dropped, as he saw too many of his centers get thrown out of the faceoff circle.

"The other thing that we need to be better at is that our center icemen have to have more patience," he said.

"We've got to get our sticks down second at home. We got to wait until they're in position. I think we're a little too eager to get in there right away and put our stick down first, and now they're coming over top, and if we're second, you have the advantage. And so we need to show that read and make a better decision."

No changes: Murray has sometimes dropped Dustin Penner from the second line in favor of Alexei Ponikarovsky, but he is expected to stick with the fourth line of Ponikarovsky, Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth.

Westgarth might be a bit of a surprise considering the Kings already have a tough guy in Kyle Clifford and have the more offensive-minded Oscar Moller at their disposal, but Murray said, "I think you need the grit. I think you need Westgarth, as an example, in the lineup. I'm going to stay with that."

Westgarth was playing in the AHL this time last year and got hurt. He was a sporadic scratch during the regular season but his game has evolved enough to fill a fourth-line role.

Westgarth played just 2:28 in Game 3 but he had a secondary assist on L.A.'s first goal.

"To be able to contribute in any way and that the coach has confidence in you means a lot, especially as a rookie in an enforcing role," Westgarth said. "I just want to bring whatever I can to the table and talk to guys that have been around.

"Clearly it's a different animal in the playoffs here, especially at the NHL level. Anything I can get from them that I can kind of bring to the ice -- every little bit helps."
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