Kings hope Smyth-Kopitar-Williams line can be magical again -- and that Bernier can keep doing what he has been doing
The line of Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams lifted the Kings to a great start this season, with Kopitar collecting 32 points in the team's first 22 games and holding the NHL scoring lead for a short while.
"They were magical at the start of the year," Coach Terry Murray said.
But Smyth was hurt in Game 22, injuring his ribs on Nov. 16. Two shifts into their reunion, at Phoenix on Dec. 26, Williams broke his right ankle.
Williams is due back Friday night, when the Kings face the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center, and Kopitar had one thought about the return of his injured linemate.
"I hope it's not my turn now," he said, smiling.
The trio's connection seemed to be rekindled during Friday's morning skate, and Kopitar said he expects to see it strengthen tonight.
"You can’t just lose chemistry. I know it’s been a while but I’m pretty sure that everybody is still familiar with each other," Kopitar said. "I’m looking for a strong game. I think he’s pretty anxious to get back and start playing again so that’s definitely going to help the energy on the line. We’ll go from there."
Smyth said Williams' confidence and positive attitude should help him and the line as a whole.
"Everybody goes through injuries. It’s just a matter of how you fight through it mentally," Smyth said. "He’s got a great attitude about it and he’s going to be a huge addition."
The other major change Friday, as previously discussed here, is that Jonathan Bernier will start in goal in place of Jonathan Quick, who returned to Los Angeles early Thursday to be with his wife, Jaclyn, for the birth Friday morning of their first child, daughter Madison Mychal.
Bernier started the 2007-08 season with the Kings and played four games before being returned to his junior team. He spent all of last season with Manchester of the American Hockey League, though he acknowledged that he sabotaged part of it by sulking after he didn't make the Kings out of training camp.
"Last year I waste a season and I understand that," he said Friday. "The last two months of the season I think I started playing better last year. I just said to myself, ‘Don’t do the same mistake again.’
"They asked me to go back down and show that I can be the best. I’ve been really focused every game to give a good chance to my team to win every night."
Bernier leads the AHL this season with eight shutouts, to go with his 26-18-5 record, 2.08 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. His mind-set, he said, is to take each challenge as it comes.
"You’ve just got to go day by day. I’m just happy to be here," said Bernier, who learned of his promotion Thursday and practiced with the Monarchs before traveling from Manchester to Dallas, via Cleveland.
"I’ve been focusing to have a good season down there and I think I’ve done that so far. Right now just to be here and get the win tonight and show what I can do."
His previous NHL experience, he said, was so long ago that it almost doesn't matter. In addition, his circumstances have changed.
"When I was 19, my first season here, no one expected that I was going to be here and make the club at first so I didn’t really have any pressure I’d say. But right now I’ve got to show what I can do," he said. "I think I have a little more pressure now than 19."
Veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi said he had spoken briefly to Bernier about playing the puck and related matters but said there were no elaborate strategies plotted with the 21-year-old goalie.
"I just expect him to stop the puck," Scuderi said. "It’s our job to play good defense in front of him and it’s his job to stop the puck and not give too many great rebounds if he can try. I don’t think it’s too complicated. I think it’s more complicated with a positional guy than it would be with a goalie.
"He’s a goalie. Stop the puck and we’ll figure out the rest."
And there you have it.
More later at www.latimes.com/sports
-- Helene Elliott in Dallas
Photo: Ryan Smith, left, Anze Kopitar, right, celebrate with teammate Justin Williams after Williams scores against Phoenix Coyotes during a preseason game on Sept. 15. Credit: Jacob de Golish / Getty Images