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Kings' game-day skate: a different feeling as the trade deadline approaches

Kovalchuk With the Kings known to be in the hunt for Ilya Kovalchuk and General Manager Dean Lombardi saying he's actively pursuing moves that would upgrade the roster, there's a new sense of optimism surrounding the team as the Olympic trade freeze and trade deadline approach.

Being in position to add talent at the deadline instead of sellng off assets for future benefit is something new for the Kings, and they like being in this position.

"By this time every year we were out of the playoffs already," center Anze Kopitar said after the Kings' morning skate at Nationwide Arena.

"It’s a lot more fun. You come to the rink with a smile on your face knowing you’re going to have to win a game, and at the same time it’s exciting, just a challenge, to play for something instead of just coming to the rink and trying to have fun and just trying to get through it.

"It was the 52nd game the other night, and coming and just playing 30 games just to go through it is not a whole lot of fun. It’s definitely more fun when you’re in the eighth spot and you have to win games and there’s pressure obviously but everybody would pick eighth spot and pressure over just cruising through."

If they were to acquire Kovalchuk he would have an immediate impact, Kopitar said.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is our power play was struggling a little bit and we all know what he could do on the power play," Kopitar said. Kovalchuk has scored 10 of his 30 goals this season with a man advantage. "And just with that shot, poise, everything he can make a power play unit better and definitely help us."

Kopitar said he wasn't sure if Kovalchuk had played in the playoffs and how Kovalchuk would react in postseason play, but Kovalchuk did reach the playoffs with the Thrashers in the 2006-07 season and had a goal and an assist in four games. Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alexander Frolov, the players with the most seniority on the Kings, haven't played in a playoff game so the same question could be raised about them.

"It's half the room that we don’t know how we’re going to react in the playoffs," Kopitar said. "Just getting a player of that kind of caliber can’t hurt the team at all. It’s a welcome thing when a guy like that joins a team."

Especially because investing in Kovalchuk, whether just as a rental player for the rest of this season or signing him long-term, would be a show of faith by management in a team that has come a long way after some gloomy seasons.

Team captain Dustin Brown has seen management make moves at the deadline for well down the road, not for immediate benefit, because the team wasn't good enough to significantly improve by bringing in one player. This is different.

"It’s hard to put a finger on the type of feeling we have in the room but it’s definitely a good feeling knowing that we’re right now in a playoff position and to be able to go out and better our team at the trading deadline," he said.

"For a guy like me and how long I’ve been here, I think Dean has done a good job building from within and drafting well, and that wasn’t always the case here. We kind of rolled over every year and had new teammates every year. As a player who’s been here through all that, to finally have a team that you come back to, and you have the same players, it’s something you’re comfortable with.

"You add a piece here and there like we did in the off-season, and if something happens at the deadline then it does. The same 10 or 11 guys have been here for at least two years now and it makes it a lot easier and a lot more fun when things start going well."

Their lineup for tonight's game against the Blue Jackets will be the same as in their 5-3 victory at Toronto on Tuesday, with Jonathan Quick to start at goal.

More later at www.latimes.com/sports

-- Helene Elliott, from Columbus, Ohio

Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk. Credit: James Guillory / US Presswire

 
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