Kings moves: Loktionov on top line, Clifford out, Norstrom returning for a tribute
After spoiling the Vancouver Canucks’ home opener and giving the Calgary Flames something to cheer about in their first home game, the Kings will play their first game on home ice tonight when they face the Atlanta Thrashers at Staples Center.
“It’s old school. We’ve got it all down already,” winger Ryan Smyth joked.
Maybe they’ve got the ceremonial stuff down, but not the five-on-five scoring stuff.
With the idea of boosting their scoring, Coach Terry Murray revamped his first, second and fourth lines. Andrei Loktionov, usually a center, will make his season debut -- but at left wing with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Smyth will play on the left with Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams. On the fourth line, Brad Richardson will take the spot that had been occupied by Kyle Clifford to the left of Brayden Schenn and Kevin Westgarth.
The only line to stay the same for the third straight game — at least for now — will be Alexei Ponikarovsky on the left with Michal Handzus at center and Wayne Simmonds on the right.
“Loktionov had a great training camp,” Murray said after the team’s game-day skate. “He brings skill. He’s a very intelligent hockey player and I think it would serve him best to play with our other top players and I’m hoping we can generate something there on the offensive part of the game.
“We need some scoring to get going. We need to pick things up on five-on-five play, at least to generate more quality chances than what we’ve had in the two games.”
In their first game, a 2-1 shootout victory at Vancouver on Saturday, the Kings scored their only goal during a power play. In their 3-1 loss at Calgary on Sunday they scored while playing five-on-five.
Loktionov, who made his NHL debut last Nov. 29, was scratched from the lineup the first two games. “Of course, when you’re not playing it’s tough to watch. It’s no fun,” he said.
That he has played only about five games on the wing that he can recall doesn’t bother him. “It's a little bit different. It's a good line,” he said of playing with Kopitar and Brown.
Kopitar took the adjustment in stride. “Andrei’s a good player. He sees the ice well. He’s really slick. He makes plays,” Kopitar said.
“Obviously he has a ton of skill. Hopefully we’ll connect. I think we’re going to be making plays and Brownie’s going to be more of a power forward on the line. But that’s nothing new. We’ll see what happens tonight.”
Smyth was gracious about being bumped from the top line, which had a torrid start last season until he was injured, and being moved alongside Stoll and Williams.
“I’ve had a chance to play with these guys before, so that gives me a little familiarity,” he said. “More or less it’s to get Loktionov in and get his feet wet a little bit, and hopefully it’s a good fit for all of us.”
Murray said his decision to scratch Clifford shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the 19-year-old left wing’s play. Clifford played seven minutes 15 seconds in his first game and 7:14 in his second game.
“I’ve been pleased with Clifford,” Murray said. “I like what he’s done. He’s getting a taste of the NHL and the pace of the game. I think he’s holding onto the puck. He’s trying to make plays. He’s taking it to the net and he’s been involved on the gritty side of the game.
“So it’s not a reflection of his play not being good enough. It’s just the change that is happening and as a result, things filter down.”
One last note: The Kings announced they will honor former team captain Mattias Norstrom before their home game against New Jersey on Oct. 30. Norstrom played 780 games with the Kings and ranks second in games played by a defenseman and fifth overall. He also served as an assistant coach of the Swedish Olympic team at the Vancouver Games — here’s a story about him.
More later on the Kings and Thrashers at www.latimes.com/sports.
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Andrei Loktionov. Credit: Jayne Oncea / US Presswire