Kings' game-day skate: The playoff race and the pressure are on
There wasn’t a whole lot of news from the Kings’ game-day skate this morning, other than that they’re grasping the intensity of the pressure they’re going to face if they want to stay in the top eight in the West.
They prepared for tonight’s game against the Ducks at Staples Center with the same lines and defense pairs they had in practice on Wednesday.
Up front, it was Ryan Smyth-Anze Kopitar-Wayne Simmonds; Brad Richardson-Jarret Stoll-Scott Parse; Alexander Frolov-Michal Handzus-Dustin Brown, and Raitis Ivanans-Oscar Moller-Brandon Segal. On defense, Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty; Randy Jones-Peter Harrold, and Sean O’Donnell-Jack Johnson.
The Kings have lost seven of their last 10 games, but the Ducks take a five-game winning streak into the game after rallying for a 4-3 victory over Boston on Wednesday. They were 12 points out of the last playoff spot a few weeks ago, but only four behind the eighth-place Kings as of this morning.
“It’s a race. There’s no question that the value of two points is, I think, pretty clear to everybody now,” Kings Coach Terry Murray said.
“It’s playoff-type hockey from this point right through to the end of the year. It should be an exciting game because of it.”
Murray said he watched the Ducks’ game against the Bruins and was impressed. “Their top guys are really getting the job done for them. Goaltending has been outstanding their last couple of games,” Murray said of Jonas Hiller, who has stopped 152 of 161 shots (a .944 save percentage) and has a 1.80 goals-against average during the team’s winning streak. That includes a 42-save performance in a win at Chicago on Sunday.
“Boy, the game in Chicago, he won the game for them, and last night he had some point-blankers that he stopped. That always makes a big difference in their game," Murray added.
Simmonds, moved back up to the first line, said the Kings are very well aware of the closeness of the playoff scramble and the importance of their game against the Ducks.
“We’ve got to dig deep and look within ourselves and realize the situation that we’re in right now,” he said. “This is pretty much a must-win game for us, and two points is very precious to us. We need those two points. We’re just going to come out and battle hard.”
Simmonds has scored only one goal in nine games since he returned from minor knee surgery, but he said his knee is fine.
“It doesn’t limit me from anything on the ice. I feel like I’ve got the majority of my speed. It’s feeling good out there,” he said. “After the first couple games, you get it out of your mind. I don’t even think about it when I’m playing.”
Speaking of scoring droughts, Brown has scored only one goal in his last eight games and 10 overall this season. He scored 24 last season and 33 in 2007-08.
Murray said he has spoken to Brown about not trying to do too much.
“I think I’m seeing some frustration on his part, where he feels he needs to take the game over by himself instead of sticking with it,” Murray said. “And that’s part of the conversation that we had several days ago: Just stay on the same page. Keep doing the same things. It’s the repetition of the team structure, team system, and let things happen from there with intensity and tenacity.
“It seems to me, when I look back over the times where good players are not getting the results that they’re accustomed to, that the response usually is, ‘Well, I need to do more. I need to try to beat a guy one on one or do something extra-special out there.’ That’s your mind-set coming into the game, and that’s where it makes it very hard on yourself. There’s so much pressure coming back at you now that it just builds, and the frustration will continually grow until something good happens.”
The Kings need it to happen soon -- not only from Brown but from everyone.
More later at www.latimes.com/sports
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Kings Coach Terry Murray watches from the bench during the Kings' 3-2 victory over Phoenix on Dec. 11. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire