December 30, 2011 4:15 pm

Kings’ fourth line getting some work

Darryl Sutter’s past would indicate that he values grit. A glance at his 2003-04 Calgary Flames team, which made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals, reveals a roster with a lot of grinders. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that so far during his stint with the Kings, Sutter has increased the responsibilities of his fourth-line players, particularly Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser and Trent Hunter. For instance, starting with the Anaheim game, Fraser’s ice time went from 6:59 to 9:23 to 10:11 to 12:56 (it dipped to 9:37 last night). Sutter has even put the fourth line out for special-teams duty briefly. Sutter comes with the reputation as a coach who likes to roll four lines when possible, and it doesn’t appear as though that’s going to change in Los Angeles.

SUTTER: “I think you’ve just got to recognize and have a trust in that combination on your fourth line. And then recognize what’s going on on your bench lots of times, too. It’s the style of game, or maybe how another line is playing. You look at a guy like Fraser, who, really, we’ve swung him through the lineup pretty good and he has given us (good play). The game before, he played several shifts with Kopitar and Brown because I wanted those guys to play more of an abrasive game. We talked about being a good four-line team (against Chicago). It’s simple. That gives them some more responsibility if they’re on their game. If the top skill guys are really going, you want to give them big minutes, but we also use those guys to kill penalties, Anze and Brownie and Richie, so with Kopitar’s minutes, maybe there are times when you want to give him a little (rest).

“There are times, like the first five or six minutes in the second period, when they didn’t play that much. That wasn’t about how they were playing. It was just for their benefit. You know, it’s not a rite of passage that the top players get to go every third shift, or the top defensemen. I think we cut Drew’s minutes back (against Chicago), because I thought Johnson and Greenie were going to be important players in the game, give us a little more of the physical part of the game. I know the mantra is that we have to score more goals, but there are parts of our system that we’re trying to do differently, in terms of defensive pressure to get more pucks, and we have some guys that aren’t there yet. So even though they’re high-end guys, they can do a lot better job, in those parts of the game, to create better individual numbers for themselves.’’

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