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Dustin Penner making wrong kind of difference for the Kings

April 20, 2011 |  3:47 pm

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Despite a meltdown that led to a 6-5 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and left them facing a 2-1 series deficit, the Kings used the same lineup in practice Wednesday and won't change it for Game 4, to be played Thursday at Staples Center.

That means left wing Dustin Penner, again a liability on defense and now stuck in a 16-game goal drought, will keep his spot alongside Michal Handzus and Dustin Brown, and that enforcer Kevin Westgarth will return to the fourth line. Winger Oscar Moller, who did a capable job filling in for suspended Jarret Stoll in Game 2, will be scratched again, presumably because he has not grown to 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds in the last few days and probably won't.

Coach Terry Murray occasionally switched fourth-line left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky with Penner on Tuesday while his team squandered leads of 4-0 and 5-3 but said he is not inclined to elevate Ponikarovsky above Penner in Game 4.

"No, I'm not thinking that way at the start of a game," Murray said Wednesday after the team practiced in El Segundo.

"Dustin Penner is a very talented guy. And he can become a very good player in this game. Size, strength, speed, skill. He can make a difference in a game for us and that's what we need right now, for him to give us that kind of a performance.

"But clearly if things are not going well for him personally then I have the option of moving Ponikarovsky up there, which I did a couple of times. That's the option that I have as I move throughout the game."

So far, the main difference Penner has made has been negative. He is minus-three defensively in the series and his assist on Handzus' goal Tuesday, while cleverly done, was his first point in 15 regular-season and playoff games. He also took a penalty far away from the play that led to the Sharks' second goal.

If Murray continues to play Penner to justify the price General Manager Dean Lombardi paid to acquire him -- the Kings gave up defenseman prospect Colten Teubert, a first-round pick and a third-round pick -- that's a poor reason and a bad message to players who have less talent than Penner but work harder.

There is no excuse for Penner's disinterested play. The Kings' defensive system is not so extraordinarily different from systems used by the other 29 teams that he needs two months to learn it. He's a bright guy. It's a simple, defense-first system.

Yet, Murray said he has not considered moving Moller into the lineup to replace Penner or anyone else.

"I don't have that thought," Murray said. "I like our lineup the way it is. I'm very aware of what Oscar Moller gave to us in Game 2 because of the circumstance with Stoll being suspended. He played very well. I think you need the grit. I think you need Westgarth, as an example, in the lineup.

"I'm going to stay with that. Dustin Penner can make a difference for us. He can really get it cranked up pretty good when he applies himself the right way.

"And all I want from him right now, coming to our team late in the season like this, is bring the effort, bring the tempo, bring the hard work. And good things will happen with talented players when they do that. We saw on the one play with [Handzus'] goal, he makes a good play on it. I've got to trust him to get his game in order and to bring a difference to the game any time that he's on the ice."

Check back later for more at latimes.com/sports.

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-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Kings winger Dustin Penner (25) celebrates with teammate Michal Handzus, who scored a goal in the first period against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire

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