The Kings played back-to-back games, Sunday at home against Anaheim and Monday at San Jose. That’s worth noting because, for the most part, it didn’t show on the ice. On Monday, having played less than 24 hours earlier, and facing a San Jose team with three days of rest under its belt, the Kings came out strong from the opening faceoff and dominated most of the first period. An emotional letdown might have been expected later in the game, particularly when the Kings hadn’t scored on 30 shots through two periods, but the Kings were outstanding in the third period and finished the game strong.
Terry Murray pointed to balanced minutes as a difference-making. In Sunday’s game, Murray opted to go with a fourth line of Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Alexei Ponikarovsky — and scratch enforcer Kevin Westgarth — because he wanted to give the fourth line more ice time than Westgarth would normally get. It worked as planned. Against the Ducks, the fourth line contributed approximately 14 minutes — much more than usual — and Murray was able to cut back on minutes for players such as Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, keeping them fresher for Monday’s game. The same situation is on the horizon, as the Kings face a game tomorrow against Phoenix, followed by a home game the next night against Philadelphia.
MURRAY: “I think playing the four lines the night before was really important. You take a look at the minutes played on the score sheet at the end of the night, after the game at home, and you’re seeing guys — Kopi as an example — usually at 20-plus minutes, normally, back to 16 minutes. That makes a difference. You’re fresh, you’re energized, you’re getting a full tank right away and you’re coming out and showing it. Last night, playing with four lines in the early part of the game, the fourth line gave us a lot of good stuff, a physical presence and then obviously with the scoring of the first goal. They were very involved and contributed big-time to our game.
“I think the big thing last night, with back-to-back games, is the start of the game, the first period. That was really important, and it was very good, to come out energy, play with tempo and set the pace of the game the way we did. The first three or four shifts, we were looking at 25-, 30-second shifts. The guys were really on page, doing the right things with their length of shifts, their tempo, and the execution, I thought, was really good. The shot mentality, just putting pucks to the net, and the recovered pucks generated other opportunities because of it. The start was really something that was what you wanted, and we got it.”
Murray said he would look for the same type of look tomorrow night against the Coyotes. The only question is whether Ponikarovsky, who missed Monday’s game with a lower-body injury, or Westgarth will fill the fourth-line right-wing spot.
MURRAY: “I feel very good about playing four lines right now. Is that one player going to be Poni or Westie? I don’t know yet. We’ll have to see how he comes out of this treatment, and where he’s at in the skate tomorrow, but I sure like the way that line has played the last several games. We’ve got some veteran players there, so they’re very capable of matching up against almost anybody and give us good energy, puck management and do the right stuff in execution. Westie jumping into the lineup last night, I thought his presence was very effective.”