Greetings from Buffalo, where it’s brisk but sunny and isn’t snowing…
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who gave up six goals on 34 shots in his last start, at San Jose on Monday, will face the Sabres on Friday at HSBC Arena as the Kings try to bounce back from their first back-to-back losses of the season.
Bernier said Coach Terry Murray told him shortly after the team landed in Buffalo on Thursday that he’d start the opener of this four-game trip. “It’s good. Any games I can play I’ll be happy,” he said.
Bernier got little defensive help at San Jose, but he also didn’t make the big stop teams need after they give up a goal. He said he has been able to banish the game from his mind.
“I feel confident,” he said. "It’s one of those games that you don’t get those bounces. You’ve just got to stick with it.”
He also said he doesn’t try to predict which games he will start and simply leaves it to Murray to decide. “I just go day by day. I think it’s not as frustrating if you go day by day,” he said. You just do your thing and when you get the call you’ve got to be ready for it.”
He said he hopes to face the Canadiens next Wednesday in his hometown of Montreal, a game for which he has been buying tickets for weeks. “It’s going to be a good challenge for me. A lot of family is going to be in,” he said. “I heard it’s a loud building. I’ve been in that building but on the ice, I heard it’s a great building to play in so if I play I’ll be excited to play for sure.”
A few minutes later Murray said that he has scheduled Bernier to start that game. Jonathan Quick will start on Saturday in Boston and at Ottawa on Monday.
Starting in your hometown can be inspiring for a player or nerve-racking. Murray said it’s a good chance for Bernier to deal with pressure.
“Good both ways. You’ve got to learn how to handle it,” Murray said. "That’s the nature of our game. There’s responsibility, there’s pressure, there’s big games and that’s part of the process of growing up and becoming a top pro, how you handle that stuff emotionally.”
Murray made one lineup change and one shuffle: he took rookie defenseman Jake Muzzin out of the lineup and replaced him with Peter Harrold, and moved Dwight King up to left wing on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, at least to start the game. Brad Richardson, who had that spot on Wednesday against Columbus, will move back to the third line with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds.
Murray said Muzzin, who was -1 against Columbus, “had a tough game the other night… He’s a young guy that’s been playing at a very good level for us. It was just one of those games that it didn’t work out the way we have seen and this will give him time to step back.”
King, recalled from Manchester of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, made his NHL debut Wednesday against Columbus. He was scoreless, took two shots and was -1 defensively.
“I was obviously surprised when I walked in today and saw the lineup,” King said after the Kings' game-day skate in Buffalo. "It's good. It doesn’t change what I do. They’re obviously both really skilled guys so I go out there and work hard and hopefully create a little bit more space for them, so they can do what they’re so good at. Just kind of go with it and take my opportunity when I can.”
Murray said King is “a big guy who can get pucks stopped up and hold onto pucks down below the hash marks in the offensive zone. I felt the [Kopitar] line was in and out too often. We need to get more of that puck-stop, recovering pucks and get some kind of reward off the work you go through to get the puck down there.”
More players have auditioned for that spot on the left side than have auditioned for "American Idol." Ryan Smyth has played so well with Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams that Murray won’t move him away and to the top line, and that makes sense. But that sore spot seems more and more likely to be addressed via trade than from within, now that Scott Parse is scheduled to undergo hip surgery that could keep him out for three to four months.
But don’t believe the Jarome Iginla rumors. The Kings are not interested in taking him or his $7-million cap hit through 2012-13.
We’ll have more later at www.latimes.com/sports
-- Helene Elliott, in Buffalo
Photo: Jonathan Bernier. Credit: Jason O. Watson / US Presswire.