Kings' lines shaken ... but will they be stirred?
Even for Terry Murray, this was a major shakeup.
The Kings’ coach, known for frequently mixing his lines, revamped the top three trios in practice Wednesday and will use the new configurations Thursday at Staples Center against the Nashville Predators.
“The blender’s out, eh?” left wing Ryan Smyth said, smiling.
Shaking things up in hopes of stirring the Kings out of a four-game losing streak, Murray came up with these lines:
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Wayne Simmonds
Smyth-Michal Handzus-Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Marco Sturm
The fourth line will be the same, with Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Kevin Westgarth. Left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky is almost ready to return from the ankle injury he sustained Dec. 26, but he won’t play Thursday. The defense pairs will stay the same.
“As I said to the players this morning in our meeting, 39 games and we’re four games now that we have not won. It’s time for a change,” Murray said. “There’s been some very good games, some great team effort, some great line looks this year, but right now we need to get some attention back. I think we just got away from some of the details of the game and that to me is that emotional connection to the game for 60 minutes.
“We’re doing a great job for 40, 45 minutes. We’re outshooting teams and looking at our scoring chances against that we do every game, we’ve got a wide margin on that one. The bottom line is winning games and that’s why I’m changing up some things.”
A few points: Handzus normally centers the shutdown line, but Murray said he wants Handzus to contribute offensively. Interesting considering the Slovakian center’s goal against Chicago on Monday was his first in 20 games and only his fifth this season.
“It felt even longer. I was surprised only 20 games,” said Handzus, who recalled playing with Smyth a few times on the power play last season but played alongside Williams when both were Flyers.
“If you play with those guys I’m sure it’s going to be a more offensive role. I’m not going to change my two-way game but I’ve got to produce more for sure.”
Murray said Handzus has played a more offense-oriented role in the past and can do it again. “He’s got a pretty good history of being a player who’s played and made pretty good plays,” Murray said. “So I’m going to give him an opportunity with still respect to the checking part of the game, to play with two players who are having good years on the offensive part of it. I think that they can build on the offensive part of the game with Zeus in the middle. He’s a pretty creative guy, he thinks that part of it. He’s got pretty good hands to make plays and I’m going to give it a look for a little while.”
Murray said he was reluctant to switch Brown from right wing, where he has thrived, to left wing but felt compelled to do something. It has been obvious that Sturm, who had major knee surgery last May, isn’t physically ready to become the productive top-line left wing the Kings hoped he would be.
“I think that Marco’s still going through training camp. I think he’s behind the play,” Murray said. “There’s a little bit too many situations where there’s too much space between him and the puck and the support is not where it needs to be right now. So I’m going to back away on it and put him in a situation where he can keep getting his game conditioning and his legs under him and still play in the game and have a little more responsibility with Stoll and with Clifford as that line that’s going to match up on the checking part of things.”
Also, Jonathan Bernier will start in goal. He has recorded two of his four victories this season against Nashville.
Check www.latimes.com/sports later for more.
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Kings coach Terry Murray. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press.