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Penner's year goes from pancakes to playoff heroics

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The biggest media scrum of the Los Angeles Kings' locker room on Wednesday was for Dustin Penner, who covered a variety of topics.

First there was his admiration for the hit that St. Louis Blues winger T.J. Oshie laid on him in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

"It was a great hit," Penner said. "I haven't been hit that hard in a while. I can't remember. I might have been [with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League] in the playoffs. It actually felt good, it was so pure."

Penner even took to Twitter to commend Oshie, and his recent activity on the social media site was another topic. Penner said he did it after peer pressure from teammates and he has genuinely embraced interacting with fans.

Dustin Penner
Dustin Penner
Left Wing - LAK
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 10 | +/-: 5
"There's a lot of people that have a lot of really good questions, some not so good," he said. "I'm going to try and get back to them all in a timely fashion."

Those would probably be the same fans who were frustrated by Penner's play earlier this season but are now pleased with his re-emergence in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Penner, who had 17 points with a minus-7 rating in the regular season, has six points with a plus-5 rating in seven playoff games. He banked in an empty-net goal off the boards and set up Slava Voynov's goal in Game 1 of the semifinals, and he set up a pair of goals in Game 2 by getting his big body in front of the net.

"Once that confidence gets there in your game, it kind of just rolls," Jeff Carter said. "I think we're starting to see that in his game now. He's been working hard, and he's starting to get rewarded for it."

Penner's struggles are well-documented. He won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks playing on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. From there it's been a career filled with a 30-goal season with the Edmonton Oilers to a mostly uneventful stint in L.A.

Penner was acquired in a deadline deal last season and was expected to tap into that 30-goal potential, but conditioning issues resurfaced and he disappeared into the doghouse of then coach Terry Murray and new coach Darryl Sutter. It didn't help that Penner had knee and hand injuries earlier this season and back spasms he admitted were caused by bending down to eat pancakes.


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Sutter, who is as blunt as they come, made Penner a healthy scratch several times in February and used an expletive to describe his game. Penner has perhaps been conditioned to stay positive, and what's transpired since then isn't much different.

"Obviously you need good friends and teammates," he said. "It hasn't been this year. I've been up and down for a while. It's just one of those things where you have to keep on believing that there's going to be better days ahead, even if it doesn't look like it."

Sutter said it's not always about statistics with Penner, but he acknowledged what Penner is capable of given his history.

"He's done it every year until last year," Sutter said. "He's scored 20-25 goals the past three or four years, so I think that's what he expects out of himself. The biggest thing [is that] because the guy's 240 pounds, you expect him to be a physical presence. But that's not natural for him. He can be stronger on the net, and when he does that he can have an impact on the game."

Sutter put Penner on a line with Carter and Mike Richards at the end of the Vancouver series to add another dimension of size on the wing.

"He's such a big guy," Carter said. "When he gets the puck down low and in front of the net, he's pretty tough to take off. I was actually surprised I didn't really move as good as he can when he gets going. He's got some wheels for such a big guy. When he gets going, he's pretty deadly going down that wing. He's got a great shot, too. I think with me and him, if we keep going how we are up and down the wing there, it's going to be good."

In theory, Penner's Stanley Cup pedigree is a benefit to the young Kings, most of whom have not advanced past the first round. Penner said that 2007 season gave him a distorted view of the postseason, though.

"Obviously you're excited to be in the playoffs and you think it's going to be this easy all the time," said Penner, who missed the playoffs three straight years after 2007.

"You're kind of naïve to that fact that this isn't going to be like this every year. It wasn't for me -- in Edmonton didn't make it for three, four years -- and then this year and where I am now, I'm just trying to stay in the moment and taking the most of this opportunity."

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