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Penner in a happy place with Ducks

by Curtis Zupke

ANAHEIM -- Jarret Stoll got an eyeful and earful of former teammate Dustin Penner when the Los Angeles Kings played the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week.

Dustin Penner
Left Wing - ANA
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 22
SOG: 52 | +/-: 17
Penner was amped up for the high-intensity game at Honda Center. He playfully jawed with his good friend Stoll, delivered a nasty hit with his back to Anze Kopitar and took a holding penalty on Slava Voynov. Penner also got an assist on a great play in traffic, and his line accounted for 12 of Anaheim's 28 shots.

That would be the Penner-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry line that was reunited five years after it helped the Ducks win the 2007 Stanley Cup.

"They've played together a lot," Stoll said. "In the minor leagues, they played together. When they won the Stanley Cup in Anaheim, they played together and they played really well. It just seems like they are bringing that back and that chemistry is still there.

"It seems like [Penner's] in a better place right now. He looks good and looks like he's feeling good on the ice."

Stoll might have been wondering where this game was the past few seasons as Penner is enjoying a career revival with Anaheim. Penner enters Friday tied for second in the NHL with a plus-17 rating and is almost a point-per-game player with nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points in 23 games. That's as many goals as Penner scored in 98 games with the Kings the past two seasons. He is on pace for 29 goals and a career-high 71 points.

Penner's re-awakening is more impressive considering he showed up to training camp out of shape and was set back by a concussion from a hit by Ryan Garbutt of the Dallas Stars on Oct.20.

The former got the attention of Getzlaf, the Ducks' captain who pushed for the organization to bring Penner back in the fold. General manager Bob Murray signed Penner to a one-year, $2 million contract in July to considerable fanfare, only to see Penner demoted from Getzlaf's line before training camp ended. Penner was scratched for the season opener, and Getzlaf's recommendation didn't look good.

"I was a little disappointed at the start of the year, and he knew that," Getzlaf said. "That wasn't something I hid from him. We had some conversations and how big a part of this group he needed to be. He put the work in. He worked hard for the last two months and got himself to where he is now."

Getzlaf exercised some tough love knowing that Penner's stint in Los Angeles was undermined by off-ice distractions. Penner went through a divorce during L.A.'s 2011-12 Stanley Cup season. On the ice, Penner rarely saw time on the Kings' top two lines and couldn't get out of coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse.

"I wasn't happy personally, but I was going through a lot of things personally," Penner said. "That was one of [the reasons for a lack of production in L.A.].

"There were coaching changes that messed that up a bit. When I first got there, I played with Kopitar and [Justin] Williams for the first seven games and had a point a game. [Kopitar] broke his ankle and I never played with him again."

Penner was just finding his game when he sustained the concussion. He missed the next five games but had a goal and seven assists in the ensuing five games.

"I was starting to feel confident, and then after I got [concussed], that's where all the pressure kind of mounted back on me, like how am I going to come out of this?" Penner said. "Am I going to be the same? Because you never know after a concussion. It's a coin flip whether you bounce back to 100 percent or the next one puts you down for six months. To be able to come out of that, and still be able to play and improve my conditioning and everything, I think that's what helped me get on the right track to where I am now, and where I want to be."

Penner looks leaner and seems to move like he did with Getzlaf and Perry in 2007. Recalling Penner getting back into shape, Getzlaf said, "He came in on days when he didn't have to be here. He put the work in."

The trio didn't have as much responsibility back then as they do now, and Getzlaf thinks they're a much better line this time around. Penner has shown a much-improved two-way game, which contributes to his excellent plus-minus rating. He's also doing what he should with his body; he's listed at 6-foot-4, 247 pounds.

Getzlaf and Perry have benefited from Penner as well. Getzlaf's 14 goals are one short of his total in 44 games last season, while Perry's 16 goals have already surpassed his 15 from last season.

Getzlaf said it is "nice to have a constant there" on left wing. Coach Bruce Boudreau tried numerous players with Getzlaf and Perry last season and didn't have Bobby Ryan there consistently. Ryan's departure to the Ottawa Senators in a trade made it imperative for the Ducks to fill that spot, and Penner is making the most of his opportunity.

Boudreau, who declared before the season that Penner would play on the top line, sees Penner in a good place.

"He's always been a really skilled guy for a big player, and now he's feeling confident and comfortable with those other two, and picking up from where they left off. I think he feels comfortable in the room, playing the way we play," Boudreau said. "When you're a happy hockey player you do things a lot better than when you're not a happy hockey player."

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