Los Angeles Hockey: Dustin Penner

Kings: 5 questions heading into 2012-13

June, 17, 2012
6/17/12
2:04
PM PT

AP Photo/Louis Lopez/CSM
The biggest priority this summer is signing goalie Jonathan Quick to a long-term contract extension.
Coming off their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, the Kings face many of the same questions most organizations do this time of year. Which players must they try to re-sign? Who can they afford to let go? In what areas do they need to bolster their roster? Here’s a look at five key questions heading into the offseason.

1. Can the Kings extend Quick? The biggest priority this summer is signing goalie Jonathan Quick to a long-term contract extension. Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s top player in the postseason, will be an unrestricted free agent a year from now. The Kings can begin negotiating an extension as soon as July 1. As the 25th-highest-paid goalie in the league last season at $1.7 million, look for Quick to earn something in the $7 million range, similar to that of the league’s highest-paid netminder, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Quick's roots are on the East Coast, however. If the Kings aren't able to lock him into an extension this summer, that may be an indication his heart remains elsewhere.

2. What to do with Penner, Stoll and Fraser? The contracts belonging to forwards Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser will expire this summer, leaving all three veterans as unrestricted free agents. Penner had a solid showing in the playoffs, but was virtually missing in action the rest of his time with the Kings. If they can knock a couple of million off the $4.25 million he made last season, he might be worth keeping around. Stoll’s offensive numbers dropped significantly after he was moved from the second line to the third line last season, but his attitude never wavered. He’s probably better suited for the third line at this stage of his career anyway, but most third-liners don’t make $3.4 million a season. Fraser, the team’s fourth-line center, might actually earn a raise off the $825,000 he made last season.

3. Can the Kings avoid the Stanley hangover? No team has repeated as Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98. A number of factors are responsible for this trend, probably none bigger than the widespread parity that has developed within the league in recent years. In the past nine seasons, nine teams have raised the Cup. Another factor is the significantly shorter summer Cup champions experience after their title run, leaving them a bit slow out of the gate. The Kings have a couple of factors on their side: They remain one of the youngest teams in the league and won’t lose any of their key players to free agency.

4. Is this the last we’ve seen of Bernier? At least in a Kings’ uniform, that seems to be the case. A former 11th overall draft pick, Jonathan Bernier is one of the best backup goalies in the league, but he has made it clear he’d rather not wear that title. He wants to be a starter and, after starting just 42 games in the past four seasons, he’s more than ready to make that move. He’s looking at a nice raise from $975,000 last season to $1.525 million in 2012-13, the final year of his current contract. The Kings could get that number off the books via a trade, slot Martin Jones in as the backup and use that cap space to bring in a forward to fill the shoes of Penner or Stoll.

5. Who will make up the fourth line next season? The Kings suddenly have a surplus of fourth-line types on the roster. Assuming they re-sign Fraser, that leaves Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Kyle Clifford, Kevin Westgarth and Andrei Loktionov battling it out for the final two spots. There’s also a few players ready to graduate from the minors, most notably bruiser Rich Clune, who signed a two-year contract extension last week. Loktionov could very well inherit Stoll’s third-line center position, since he doesn’t have the size to survive on the wing. Clifford and Nolan are signed to two-way contracts through next season, which could leave one of them starting out next season in Manchester.

Lombardi takes elevator to the top

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
9:40
AM PT
Dean LombardiBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesDean Lombardi is humble when it comes to the Kings' accomplishments, but he had a major hand in helping them get there.

LOS ANGELES -- What must have seemed like the longest elevator ride of his life finally came to a halt shortly before 8 p.m. Monday night.

The Los Angeles Kings had just clinched their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, and general manager Dean Lombardi, in his sixth season at the helm, was rushing from the press box inside Staples Center to the arena floor, hoping to reach the ice in time for the Cup presentation by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Hold on, Bettman. I've got to see this," Lombardi hollered at the elevator door, which was nearly pressed against his face.

A few seconds later, Lombardi and a handful of executives were speed-walking down the hallway and disappearing around a corner.

The 45-year wait was over.

The scene was in stark contrast to my first experience behind L.A.'s curtains, 4½ years ago.

It was just after Christmas 2007, when I was asked by a senior editor at another publication in town to cover practice the following morning. Eager to move up the chain after 14 years of mostly writing about high school sports, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, even though I kept it to myself that I hadn’t been following the team in my spare time.

My first order of business was uncovering what the Kings had done lately. Much to my surprise, they had lost eight straight games, which remains their longest losing streak since dropping their final 11 in 2004.

Walking into the locker room the next day, it was as quiet as a college library during finals week.

Michael Cammalleri, nursing sore ribs at the time, didn't even bother to look up when asked about the progress of his injury.

Rob Blake, rumored to be heading to a playoff-bound team looking to shore up its defensive corps, said he would gladly waive his no-trade clause if approached.

Patrick O'Sullivan looked like the most sullen guy in L.A.

That was Season 2 of Lombardi's rebuilding plan, and he said everything was proceeding as planned.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Game 6: Kings 6, Devils 1

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
7:54
PM PT

Stanley Cup finals

Game 6

Kings 6, New Jersey Devils 1

(Kings win the series, 4-2)

The good: Forty-five years of existence, six years of rebuilding and four minutes of pure elation merged together Monday night at Staples Center, combining to make hockey all the rage in L.A. once again.

After two missed opportunities, the Kings finally silenced the Devils for a fourth time in this series, clinching their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Better yet, they accomplished the ultimate goal in front of their loyal supporters. The turning point began just past the halfway point of the first period, when Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi was hit from behind by Steve Bernier as he played the puck near the end boards in his zone. Scuderi crumbled to the ice after he slammed face first into the boards and blood spilled from his mouth and nose. Bernier was given a five-minute major boarding penalty and a game misconduct. Since major penalties don’t end when a power-play goal is scored, the Kings took full advantage, scoring three consecutive goals with the man advantage.

Dustin Brown, mired in a slump during the finals, scored the first 53 seconds into the power play, deflecting a shot by defenseman Drew Doughty. Then it was Jeff Carter’s turn to get a piece of Brown’s shot from the slot and he tipped it past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur midway through the penalty. L.A. wasn’t satisfied, as rookie left wing Dwight King carried the puck down the left side and shoveled a short pass through the crease to Trevor Lewis, who flipped it past Brodeur for a 3-0 advantage with nine seconds still left on the major. This wasn’t a power play, this was a power trip. Even better, Scuderi returned at the start of the second period with a nasty gash on the bridge of his nose and his upper lip. Carter welcomed him back by taking a pass in the slot from Anze Kopitar and rifling it past Brodeur 1:30 into the second period for L.A.’s fourth goal on their 14th shot on net.

The bad: From the first game of these playoffs, the Kings had trouble closing out the second period. It happened again Monday night, as Adam Henrique beat three Kings to a loose rebound off a faceoff win and shoved it past the goal line with 1:15 left in the second period, cutting the deficit to 4-1. Dustin Penner then laid a check on New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador that looked like nothing more than a check along the boards, sending him to the penalty box with 17 seconds remaining in the period. The Kings killed that penalty, however, giving their fans a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.

The in-between: It was a rough night for a lot of folks. Not only did Scuderi leave a pool of blood on the ice, but Devils forward Stephen Gionta was struck in the face by a teammate’s slap shot late in the second period and linesman Pierre Racicot had to leave the game after he was knocked down on a rush by Brown during the second period, as well, slamming his head sharply on the ice.

Kings: Another opportunity to clinch arrives with Game 6

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
8:34
AM PT
Stanley Cup finals

Game 6 (Kings lead series, 3-2)

Kings vs. New Jersey Devils at Staples Center, 5 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Clock is ticking – So close has been Lord Stanley’s Cup the past two games, the Kings could almost see it, nearly touch it and practically feel the tradition reverberating from its sterling silver. But the Devils didn’t roll over in Game 4, and then pushed back a little more in Game 5, leaving L.A. still one win from raising its first Cup. Despite the luxury of having two more chances to win one more game, this has to be considered a Game 7 for the Kings. They want no part of a seventh game Wednesday in Newark, no matter how well they’ve played on the road. If they hope to stem this rising New Jersey tide, the Kings need to play their best game of the series.

2. Added demands – Only two members of the current Devils team were on the organization’s 2003 team, the last to win the Stanley Cup: goalie Martin Brodeur and forward Patrik Elias. But the entire squad seems to have developed a been there, done that attitude. New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer poked fun at the Kings after practice Sunday, saying the Devils had noticed a stream of limousines parked outside Staples Center prior to Game 4, just waiting to whisk the Kings to an after-party once they completed the sweep. Earlier in the day, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty admitted there were some outside distractions prior to Game 4. “We were nervous, worried about other things," he said. "All of us in the room were kind of frustrated that we were thinking about things ahead of time.” Doughty said coach Darryl Sutter vowed to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. No word if he confiscated their cellphones.

3. Mission in action – If the Kings hope to wrap up the Cup, they must squeeze more production from their top six forwards. The only member of that group who has played better as the series has rolled along is right wing Justin Williams. He scored goals in two of the past three games and rang the post twice as well. Dustin Brown was so ineffective down the stretch of Game 5 that he sat out the last five minutes, and their leading scorer in the playoffs, Anze Kopitar, hasn’t recorded a shot on goal the past two games. The only thing the second line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner has generated the past two games is more length to their beards.

4. Where’s Simon? – After missing nearly six months with a concussion, Simon Gagne has appeared in three straight games for the Kings. Sutter was hoping he would generate some offense in place of Brad Richardson, but so far he has recorded zero points. Even more telling for those who didn’t like the move in the first place, the Kings are 1-2 with Gagne in the lineup. He has the offensive skill of a top-six forward but is still limited to fourth-line minutes, Sutter said. Gagne took a few shifts with Kopitar and Williams late in Saturday night’s loss, but since stamina is still an issue, Sutter can only go with that look intermittently, leaving him to roll with three lines. It will be interesting to see how Sutter uses Gagne moving forward, if he uses him at all.

5. Quick response – The last time Jonathan Quick gave up a soft goal in the playoffs — a shot from the red line against the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals — he came back with a shutout in Game 2. L.A. fans are hoping he responds with a similar effort after his mishap with the puck midway through the first period of Game 5 allowed the Devils to take a 1-0 lead in a game they eventually won 2-1. Quick has been phenomenal in these playoffs and will likely wrap up the Conn Smythe Trophy if he can put the Kings on his shoulders once more.
Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Dustin Penner discuss what the Kings need to do to improve on their Game 4 performance.

Kings: Bounces going L.A.'s way heading into Game 3

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
9:17
AM PT
Stanley Cup final

Game 3 (Kings lead series 2-0)

Kings vs. New Jersey Devils at Staples Center, 5 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Just win, baby: Safe to say, L.A. is fortunate to be leading this series. The Devils have been hard on the Kings, even beating them at their own game in some areas. If not for Mark Fayne missing a wide-open side of the net late in Game 1, or Ilya Kovalchuk ringing his wrister off the wrong side of the crossbar with seven seconds remaining in Game 2, the momentum could easily be pointing east rather than west. But hey, no team got more unlucky bounces than the Kings during the first three quarters of the regular season. Now the series heads to L.A., where the Kings have actually played an inferior brand of hockey for most of the last eight months. They need to make the right adjustments, or the Devils could easily turn this into the dogfight most everyone anticipated.

2. Full speed ahead: After strolling through the first 16 games at a snail’s pace, the postseason finally shifts into overdrive over the next three days. The Kings headed straight to the airport following Game 2 on Saturday night, getting home around 4:30 a.m. They’ll take the ice for Game 3 warm-ups approximately 36 hours later. Following another day off Tuesday, they’ll come right back for Game 4 at Staples Center on Wednesday evening. Thanks to their 2-0 series lead, the Kings had the luxury of skipping practice Sunday afternoon. Not the Devils. They were out at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, trying to figure ways to get the puck past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. In an interesting scheduling twist, New Jersey is outside the Eastern time zone for the first time since mid-January.

3. Rough around the edges: A few of L.A.’s big-bodied forwards were stymied by the Devils in Game 2. Dustin Brown did not record a shot on goal, Dustin Penner didn’t get one until overtime and Anze Kopitar’s only shot on net came from 171 feet away midway through the third period. New Jersey’s relentless forecheck seemed to be a big contributor to the trio’s struggles. Since that strategy seemed to work so well in Game 2, look for the Devils to turn up the heat in Game 3. It’s up to the Kings to find ways to get the puck out of their end more efficiently. They did a better job in Game 1 by quickly passing the puck into the middle of the ice, but that also left them vulnerable to costly turnovers in a high-percentage scoring area.

4. Sneaky Devils: While the four goals by the Kings in this series have been works of art, New Jersey’s have been as dirty as a junkyard dog. Anton Volchenkov’s shot from the point in Game 1 was saved by the stick of Quick, but then took an unfortunate bounce off the chest of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and caromed into the net. Marek Zidlicky took another point shot through traffic in Game 2 and that one was tipped in by New Jersey forward Ryan Carter, who was parked in the high slot. Not a bad idea by the Devils, considering Quick is stopping everything he sees. If the Devils are planning to set up camp in front of the net again, the Kings need to be there too. They did a better job of that in Game 2, blocking 19 shots, one of their highest totals of this postseason. The usual suspects, defensemen Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, led the way with four each.

5. Paging Mr. Smythe: What more can be said about Quick? While in New Jersey, he managed to lower his minuscule goals-against average in the playoffs from 1.54 to 1.44., and his save percentage from to .946 to .947. He’s the reason the Kings have stolen five games in the postseason while scoring two goals or less, including the first two of this series. He’s been exceptionally good in Game 3s in this playoff run, allowing three goals in the three victories at Staples Center and stopping 86 of 89 shots (.966).

Kings-Devils for Lord Stanley's precious Cup

May, 29, 2012
5/29/12
12:18
PM PT


The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are scheduled to kick off the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.

KINGS OFFENSE vs. DEVILS DEFENSE

The Kings managed just one goal in two meetings against the Devils this season, but those games were played back in October and this isn’t the same L.A. team. Dustin Brown continues to be the tip of the sword for the Kings, scoring at least five points in each of the first three rounds. Anze Kopitar has scored at least one point in 11 of 14 playoff games, and Justin Williams has hit the scoresheet in 10. The second line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner also figures to give the Devils problems. Brown, Kopitar, Penner and Carter should be especially effective using their size against New Jersey’s defense. Marek Zidlicky leads the Devils in total ice time, but he’s only listed at 5 feet 11, 188 pounds. Andy Green, who also logs heavy minutes on the blue line, is not much bigger at 5-11, 190, and Peter Harrold, who rarely cracked the lineup while playing for the Kings the last five seasons, stands 6-0, 190.

The Edge: Kings

LANJDEVILS OFFENSE vs. KINGS DEFENSE

The Devils have a triple threat up front in Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, each of whom has scored seven goals in the playoffs. What has made the Devils especially formidable in the postseason is the production from fourth liners Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. They’ve combined for nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. By comparison, the five players who have rotated on the fourth line for L.A. have combined for two goals and one assist. The Kings are very aware of the top-to-bottom scoring potential on New Jersey, and they’ll counter with a blue-line group that features a nice balance of veteran stay-at-home defenders (Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene) and offensive-minded youngsters (Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov). Together, they’ve helped limit the opposition to 22 goals in 14 games, while scoring five of their own.

The Edge: Devils

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Kings have been brutal on the power play this postseason, converting on just 8.1 percent of their opportunities (6-for-74). If there’s a silver lining heading into Games 1 and 2 in New Jersey, they’ve been better on the road, coming through on 5 of 42 chances (11.9 percent). Even that number dwarfs their regular season average of 17 percent. The Devils have improved their power-play efficiency in the playoffs, coming in with an 18.2 percent success rate after finishing at 17.2 during the regular season. They’ve been even better at Prudential Center, cashing in on 8 of 32 man-advantage situations, good for a 25-percent clip. The tables are turned on the penalty kill. The Kings have allowed just five power-play goals and scored five shorthanded. Their 91.2 success rate is better than their 87-percent clip during the regular season and that mark was fourth best in the league. The Devils allowed just 27 power-play goals during the regular season, leaving them No. 1 in the league at 89.6 percent, but they’ve seen 16 power-play goals hit the back of their net in the postseason for a 74.2 percent kill rate.

The Edge: Devils

GOALIES

The series is quite even until you start comparing the men behind the mask. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has built on his Vezina-caliber regular season by elevating his game to another level in the playoffs. He has allowed more than two goals just twice in 14 games and brings a minuscule 1.54 goals-against average into the finals. As great as Tim Thomas was last season while leading the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup title, his GAA was just 1.98 in the postseason. Two years ago, Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks won a championship with a 2.63 average in the playoffs. The Devils will counter with 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, a three-time Cup winner and a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when that time comes. Playoff opponents are averaging a half a goal more against Brodeur than Quick, however. He has allowed more than two goals five times in the playoffs, including three on nine shots in Game 3 of the opening-round series against the Florida Panthers, earning an early seat on the bench.

The Edge: Kings

COACHES

Both benches are backed by coaches who have been with their teams for less than a year, yet they've managed to squeeze the most from their talent after so-so regular seasons. After coming on board in mid-December, Kings coach Darryl Sutter gradually showed his players how to buy into each game both physically and emotionally. He maintained the defense-first system that previous coach Terry Murray had instilled, but made a few tweaks to the lineup that paid off in the playoffs. His most brilliant move was moving Penner on to the second line with Richards and Carter late in the first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, and dropping rookie left wing Dwight King back to the third line, giving him more favorable matchups. Penner has responded with eight points in the last nine games and King scored five goals in that span. Devils coach Peter DeBoer wears his emotions on his chest much more louder than Sutter, something his players appreciate. DeBoer’s best move of the postseason was likely reinserting Harrold into the lineup following a Game 1 loss to the top-seeded New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. Harrold provided the Devils a veteran presence on the back end, and New Jersey went on to win four of its next five games.

The Edge: Kings

KEY STATS

The Kings are 8-0 away from Staples Center in these playoffs, outscoring the hosts, 30-13, and netting all five of their shorthanded goals. They’ve swept the opening two games on the road in each of the first three rounds, putting their opponents on their heels before they had a chance to push back. The Kings are the first team in NHL playoff history to win their first eight games on the road, and their 10-game postseason road winning streak dating to last season is also an NHL record. The Devils are 5-2 on their home ice in the postseason, outscoring the visitors, 25-17. Another key area is the goals-against average for each team in the playoffs. The Kings are allowing an average of 1.6 goals on 29 shots a game, while New Jersey is giving up 2.3 goals on an average of 27.6 shots.

Prediction: Kings in six

Kings: Top two lines fueling playoff run

May, 26, 2012
5/26/12
5:32
PM PT
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The emergence of the top two lines for the Los Angeles Kings has been a perfect storm, set in motion by a key arrival, a return to greatness and a subtle adjustment by the team captain.

Dead last in the NHL in scoring through the first three-quarters of the regular season, the offense seemed to come alive the day Jeff Carter stepped on to the ice in late February, two days after he was acquired by the Kings in a bold trade-deadline move.

The Kings went from averaging 2.22 goals through the first 61 games to 2.76 over the last 21, enough to nudge L.A. into the postseason as the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference.

That little tailwind turned into a modest hurricane in the playoffs, as Dustin Penner began playing left wing the way the Kings envisioned, and Dustin Brown grew more comfortable on the left side after spending most of his career on the right.

Now the Kings have spun their way into the Stanley Cup finals for just the second time in the franchise’s 45-year history. They’ll open the best-of-seven series Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.

“Everything kind of fell together,” Carter said after practice Saturday. “The scoring slump that you [reporters] talked about all the time kind of disappeared.”

So far in the playoffs, the Devils haven’t seen anything like the top-six forwards they’ll encounter from L.A.

In the first three rounds of the playoffs, 18 games in all, the top two lines that went against New Jersey combined for 12 even-strength goals and 16 assists.

In 14 games this postseason, Carter, Penner, Brown, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Mike Richards have accounted for 18 even-strength goals and 33 assists.

“Every night it’s a different guy that seems to be stepping up,” Carter said. “When you’re this deep into the playoffs, that’s what you need.”

Fellow teammates say it’s no coincidence that the arrival of Carter in a shuffle that sent defenseman Jack Johnson to the last place Columbus Blue Jackets coincided with L.A.’s turnaround.

“He’s not just a player, he’s good in the room,” Williams said. “He just seems to complement our team.”

In the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, Carter displayed his tendency to score goals in bunches with a hat trick in Game 2. In the Game 5 victory that clinched the series and sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals, Carter had the primary assist on Penner’s overtime winner.

“Certainly, we’ve raised our level and so has [Carter],” Williams said.

Nobody has raised their level of play in the postseason quite like Penner.

After scoring 17 points in 65 regular-season games, the four-time 20-goal scorer has 10 points in the playoffs, including the series-clinching overtime winner in Game 5 of the conference finals.

“It’s a fresh start for everybody,” Williams said of the playoffs. “[Penner] needed that and he certainly understood we’re counting on him, and he has done an awesome job for us.”

Penner was the last piece of the puzzle among the top six forwards. He didn’t become a regular member of the group until late in Game 5 of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. Penner came off the third line, trading places with rookie Dwight King, who seemed to have trouble keeping up with the speed of Carter and Richards.

Penner has scored eight of his 10 playoff points since the switch and King has produced all five of his goals.

“For whatever reason, me moving up, Kinger moving down and then Carts coming in, every line locked in, the whole team locked in,” Penner said. “When you’re playing as well as we are, I think the parts become interchangeable in a sense.”

Brown would probably agree. Because of long-term injuries to left wings Simon Gagne and Scott Parse, as well as the ineffectiveness for long stretches by Penner, Brown was asked to move over to left wing, a change he had made for brief stretches over the last two seasons. Being a right-handed shot, the change can be about as awkward as a left-hander playing third base.

But the team captain has flourished while playing alongside Kopitar and Williams. It started with a hat trick in Carter’s first game with the Kings and he built on that momentum right into the playoffs. Brown has seven goals and nine assists in the postseason, with five points coming shorthanded, all while maintaining his well-known physical style of play.

Williams, Kopitar and Richards have also fed the offensive machine, giving the Kings six forwards with at least nine points in the postseason.

“That’s what good teams do, that’s what championship teams do,” Williams said of the scoring balance. “We need to keep doing it.”

Kings: 5 things to know about Dustin Penner

May, 26, 2012
5/26/12
5:32
PM PT
Name: Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings

Position: Left Wing

Height/Weight: 6 foot 4, 249 pounds

Seasons with the Kings: 1

[+] EnlargeDustin Penner
Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI/Getty ImagesDustin Penner
What’s his role? Aside from providing comic relief with his dry wit and intelligent banter, Penner’s on the team to score goals. He doesn’t play on the penalty kill, rarely sees power-play minutes and doesn't spend a lot of time defending below the faceoff circles. Kings coach Darryl Sutter just asks that he work his tail off during 5-on-5 play, use his massive frame to create space for himself and others, and finish his Grade A scoring opportunities at least half the time. He pretty much did none of the above the first 14 months with the Kings, landing in hot water with the coaching staff and irritating fans. Nobody was ready to cast him off for good, however, and he has repaid them with a stellar playoff run.

What has he done lately? After scoring just 10 goals in his first 90 games with the Kings, few expected anything more from Penner heading into these playoffs. He proved otherwise right from the start, notching the game-winning goal in the opening-round game against the Vancouver Canucks. He had the primary assist on the score-tying goal in Game 1 of the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, and later banked in an empty-netter from about 175 feet away to ice the 3-1 victory. Penner may have cemented himself in Kings’ lore earlier this week in Game 5 of the West finals against the Phoenix Coyotes, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the Kings to their second Stanley Cup final in franchise history.

Where will you find him on the ice? Penner primarily plays on the left side but isn’t shy about going wall to wall when the Kings are on the forecheck. He’s often the first player in on a puck battle, using his broad shoulders to create room to work. Don’t look for him to be the first player in on an odd-man rush, however. He’s much more effective coming up from the back side and scouring for a loose rebound, much like he did on his game-winning goal earlier this week.

What does he do best? Penner has the best one-liners on the team, evident by the string of beauties he unleashed when he stepped in front of the microphones Thursday. On the ice, he’s a fine mixture of size, strength and finesse. He plays smaller than his build, but he’s quicker than he looks. He’s most dangerous in the corners, where he can use his body to create space and a quick first step to escape the defensive pressure. From there, he’s as quick and skillful with his hands as anybody on the Kings, usually getting off a shot before the defense can recover, or often times sliding a crisp pass to a teammate on the opposite post.

Another comparable athlete: Penner can be one of the top players in the NHL when he’s focused and determined. When he’s not, he's a huge liability. Sound familiar Laker fans? Andrew Bynum is an even bigger physical specimen than Penner and can dominate a game like few others in the NBA, but when distracted or disinterested he can coast like a Soap Box Derby winner. The difference with Penner is he has been extremely consistent in the postseason, while Bynum remained hot and cold. Maybe that’s why the Kings are still playing and the Lakers are not.

Kings: 5 things to know about Anze Kopitar

May, 25, 2012
5/25/12
12:22
AM PT
Name: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Position: Center

Height/Weight: 6 foot 3, 227 pounds

Seasons with the Kings: 6

What’s his role? Playoff teams need consistent playmakers and Kopitar fits that description like the skates on his feet. He glides like the wind, shoots with power and precision and slides passes into areas not much bigger than a shoebox. His large frame allows him to protect the puck along the boards, and his on-ice awareness makes him one of the top two-way centers in the league. A two-time All-Star selection and the first Slovenian to play in the NHL, Kopitar hasn’t scored fewer than 20 goals or 60 points in a season since he debuted as a rookie with the Kings in 2006-07. Even more amazing, he’s still just 25 years of age.

Kopitar
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesAnze Kopitar
What has he done lately? Kopitar has scored at least one point in 11 of 14 playoff games this spring and has totaled six goals and nine assists overall. As the Kings have marched deeper into the playoffs, Kopitar has continued to heat up, totaling five goals and six assists in the last eight games. He has been a key component on L.A.’s stifling penalty-kill unit, even scoring his second shorthanded goal of the playoffs Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the Coyotes. He’s plus-13 for the postseason, tying him with linemate Dustin Brown for the league lead, and he’s seventh among all NHL forwards in average ice time this postseason at 22:09 a game.

Where will you find him on the ice? What makes Kopitar so valuable to the Kings is he plays all 200 feet of the ice. He’s just as skilled at swiping the puck in the defensive end as he is at setting up a teammate with a perfect pass from the side wall. He’s one of the primary faceoff artists on the team, and is a special teams extraordinaire. Not only does he man the No. 1 power-play unit, but when the Kings need to kill a 5 on 3, he’s the man in the middle of the ice.

What does he do best? Outside of Dustin Penner, nobody is better at creating space on the Kings than Kopitar. He has the rare double-edge sword of being able to maintain possession in tight quarters and still create scoring chances. He’s especially dangerous behind an opponent’s net, using his big frame and the end boards to protect the puck. His power and foot speed allows him to spin off opponents and his quick hands can release the rubber in the blink of an eye, usually putting it right where he's aiming.

Another comparable athlete: The New York Giants of the NFL were only as good as Eli Manning last season. Much can be said about L.A. and Kopitar. Like the Kings, the Giants underachieved during the regular season and nearly missed the playoffs. They slipped in, Manning got hot and they rode him to Super Bowl title. Kopitar won’t have to put the Kings on his back the way Manning did, there’s too much talent in L.A. for that, but when Kopitar’s playing well, the Kings have a much better chance of winning. Not surprisingly, both have been playing well for three months now.

Kings: Plenty of rest for the weary

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
11:24
PM PT
Willie Mitchell Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWillie Mitchell, the Kings' oldest player at 35, says the rest between series can only help his team.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings hit the fast-forward button through the first three rounds of the playoffs, becoming the seventh team since the league expanded its postseason format in 1987 to advance to the Stanley Cup finals in just 14 games.

One of the biggest carrots that comes with the 12-2 surge is plenty of rest and recovery from one series to the next.

Two days after the Kings eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 5 of their Western Conference final, most of the players were able to take another day off the ice Thursday.

Before the Stanley Cup finals begin May 30 in New York or New Jersey, the Kings will have had seven full days to get their legs refreshed, allow their bumps and bruises to heel and build some intelligence on their next opponent.

This comes after they enjoyed five days between games following their opening-round victory against the Vancouver Canucks, and six days to recuperate after their second-round sweep of the St. Louis Blues.

“What’s happened for this team, for now and forever, it’ll probably never happen again,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the playoff spacing.

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, the oldest player on the team at age 35, said the extra rest is a welcome reward for the team’s speedy run through the playoffs.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “Obviously, the wear and tear of competing at this time of year, it’s another level. … The checks that are made, the checks you’ve got to take and just the games are [played] at such a high level. It’s big. It allows the aches and pains we have, and the nicks, a little more time to rest and kind of go into the series being healthy.”

The only difference heading into this series is the Kings don’t quite know who they’ll be playing in the finals. There's no question which team will be more rested, however.

(Read full post)

Kings: 5 things to know about Dustin Brown

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
3:36
PM PT
Name: Dustin Brown

Position: left wing

Height/Weight: 6 feet, 210

Seasons with the Kings: 8

What’s his role? Brown is a game changer, whether it’s delivering a clutch goal at the most opportune time, or leaving an opposing player gasping for air after an open-ice hit. The team captain is like a swarm of mosquitoes on a camping trip, getting under an opponent’s skin until they finally whack him. Probably no surprise, he drew the most penalties in the league during the regular season. But that’s just part of what makes Brown so valuable to the Kings. He averaged 26 goals the last five seasons, hitting the net from a variety of spots on the ice and in an assortment of ways. If the Kings could clone him, they probably would.

Brown
Anne-Marie Sorvin/US PresswireDustin Brown
What has he done lately? Teams that march this far into the Stanley Cup playoffs need their top players to perform at their best and Brown has led the way like a famous general. His seven goals and 16 points are second best in the league this postseason. From his two shorthanded goals in Game 2 of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks, to the thunderous hits that decompressed Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin and Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival, Brown seems to be in the middle of every game-changing moment.

Where will you find him on the ice? Brown’s laundry list of accomplishments this spring is more remarkable considering he’s playing out of position. Brown shoots the puck right-handed, making him a natural right wing. But season-ending injuries to Scott Parse and Simon Gagne, along with ineffectiveness by Dustin Penner during the regular season, forced coach Darryl Sutter to move Brown to the left side. Since Brown's main objective is to power his way to the front of the net, his shooting side becomes less of a factor the closer he gets. Throw in his chemistry with longtime teammate Anze Kopitar and Brown tends to be more of a freelancer anyway.

What does he do best? What makes Brown so frustrating to play against is his temperament. He’ll rattle the glass with a big hit then skate away as the opponent tries to engage him in a verbal battle. He doesn’t just get other players frustrated and off their games, he does it to entire teams. Never was that more apparent than when the Kings clinched their trip to the Stanley Cup finals. He laid out Rozsival with a side-on-side hit in overtime of Game 5, sending Rozsival crumbling to the ice. The Coyotes were enraged that a penalty wasn’t called and, before they could settle their emotions down, the Kings scored 12 seconds later to end the series.

A comparable athlete: Without a doubt, Brown is the Blake Griffin of the NHL, only he’s probably better at the free-throw line. Brown carries the team’s attitude on his chest and will bump with anyone. He likes contact and opponent’s like to make contact with him, often giving a little more back out of pure frustration. In the end, they both know how to tickle the twine, and like to use brute force to get there.

Kings headed to Stanley Cup finals after Game 5 win vs. Phoenix

May, 23, 2012
5/23/12
12:18
AM PT
Western Conference finals

Game 5

Kings 4, Phoenix Coyotes 3 (OT)

(Kings win the series, 4-1)

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: In the blink of an eye, the Los Angeles Kings ended 19 years of frustration Tuesday night. Dustin Penner’s overtime goal off a long rebound at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz. finished off the Phoenix Coyotes and sent the eighth-seeded Kings to their second Stanley Cup final in franchise history.

THE STAT: The Kings are just the second eighth-seeded team to advance to the Stanley Cup finals in NHL history, beating the top three seeds in the West along the way.

TURNING POINT: Just as the Coyotes were getting whistled for off sides, Kings captain Dustin Brown laid a powerful hip check on Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival, leaving him sprawled on the ice. Several Phoenix players swarmed around Brown and let him know they weren’t happy with the hit. After Rozsival was helped to the bench with his left leg dangling, Mike Richards won a neutral zone face off. The puck went back to Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who quickly passed it ahead. Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle got to it first, but Penner blocked his clearing pass. Penner retrieved the puck, left it for teammate Jeff Carter, who took a blast at Phoenix goalie Mike Smith. The puck hit Smith in the chest and shot back into the slot. Richards had the first whack as he raced toward the crease but missed. Penner came in from behind after the puck settled and shot it past the partially screened Smith with 2:18 left in the overtime.

HOT: The post-game handshake wasn’t as gentlemanly as most. The Coyotes were still heated over Brown’s hit on Rozsival and a few let Brown know they didn’t appreciate the play. The most animated Phoenix player was center Martin Hanzal, who must have forgot he was suspended for Game 3’s loss after a dangerous boarding penalty on Brown in Game 2.

NOT: It was a tough overtime period overall for the officials. They missed a delay of game penalty on Voynov when he flicked the puck over the glass, thinking an icing penalty had just been called on Phoenix. They then called an interference penalty on Drew Doughty midway through the overtime period when it was pretty clear Doughty had inside position on the Phoenix player as they scampered after the puck. After the Kings killed the penalty, they were called for offsides when Doughty appeared to trap the puck on the blue line, eliminating an odd-man rush.

GOOD MOVE: Richards and Penner combined on the third goal for the Kings, giving them a brief 3-2 lead with 6:17 left in the second period. Penner had the puck on a 2-on-1 rush and shot it off Smith’s pads, leaving a plumb rebound for Richards to knock into the net.

BAD MOVE: Less than three minutes after taking the 3-2 lead, Taylor Pyatt sent a cross-ice pass toward Yandle, who was charging toward the crease with Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi on his hip. For some reason, Scuderi tried to use his right skate to thwart the pass, rather than his stick, and the puck was deflected about 12 inches into the air, hitting Yandle’s shin pads and getting redirected into the far side of the net.

NOTABLE: By reaching the Stanley Cup in 14 games, the Kings tied seven other NHL teams for the quickest route to the finals. The Kings have also won 10 consecutive playoff games on the road dating to last season, another NHL record. They’re also the first team to win eight straight playoff games in a single year. The Kings scored their fifth shorthanded goal of the postseason in the opening period, becoming the first team with five shorthanders in the playoffs since the Detroit Red Wings had six in 2008. Brown has five short-handed points in these playoffs, the first to have that many since Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings in 2008.

UP NEXT: Game 1 at the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils, May 30.

Kings have to get up a little earlier for this one

May, 19, 2012
5/19/12
1:31
PM PT
Day games at Staples Center don’t happen very often for the Los Angeles Kings. When they do, they tend to be memorable.

They’ll try to make history Sunday at noon when they host the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. A victory will complete the sweep and send L.A. to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in the franchise’s 45-year history.

In their most recent day game two weeks ago, the Kings completed a sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference semifinals.

Other recent afternoon starts haven't gone so well.

The team’s leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, suffered a season-ending ankle injury during a day game in March 2011, knocking him out of the playoffs.

The Kings then went 0-3 during regular-season day games this season, including a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, and a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the last-place team in the West. That will forever be marked as the game Dustin Penner missed after injuring his back during his infamous pancake-eating incident.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter took the rare step two weeks ago of housing the team in a downtown hotel for the weekend. It worked so well, he’s doing it again this week. That decision was made even easier because of the Amgen Tour of California bike race that's scheduled to finish in front of Staples Center about a half hour before the start of Game 4, creating what many expect to be a traffic nightmare.

Sutter said he’s still not sure what to expect from his team, which played just one day game at Staples Center since he was hired in mid-December.

“You always have those three or four guys that aren’t perfect morning people,” Sutter said.

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is eating properly before a day game.

“That’s always an issue because you don’t want to get them up too early,” Sutter said. “If they want to eat at 7 a.m., or 8, you kind of let them decide. That’s what’s more important to me.”

Kings try to chill after physical Game 2 win

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
3:17
PM PT
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Just a handful of players took the ice for practice Wednesday at Toyota Sports Center, the rest of the Los Angeles Kings were probably bathing in ice after the rough-and-tumble Game 2 victory the night before against the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz.

Just as they'd done the previous two rounds against the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues, the Kings took a two-games-to-none lead in the Western Conference final that now veers to L.A.

The day after the 4-0 victory in Game 2, Kings coach Darryl Sutter was purposely vague when discussing his team’s bumps and bruises, but indicated that everyone who played Tuesday night would be ready for Game 3 on Thursday at Staples Center.

Dustin Brown was likely the sorest of the group.

He was checked head-first into the boards by Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal midway through the third period and laid on the ice for several seconds before skating to the bench. Earlier in the game, he took a stick to the back of the legs from Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, dropping him to the ice in pain.

“It’s almost comical to watch because we think he runs on batteries sometimes,” said Kings left wing Dustin Penner. “You knock him down but you can’t keep him down. He takes a lot of punishment and he gives it out, and he has been that type of leader all year.”

The Kings did a better job of controlling their emotions than they did in their Game 2 victory in the previous series against the Blues. In both games, the Kings built sizable leads, forcing the opposition to take drastic measures.

(Read full post)

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