Johnson and Doughty Pair Up Again
Loktionov's time to shine; fourth line won't change
Over the previous three seasons, coach Terry Murray often flirted with the idea of putting his top two young, puck-moving defensemen, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, together in the same defensive pairing. A couple times each season, the two would be united, then split apart after a few games.
Now, it’s time for a another go-around.
An injury to defenseman Alec Martinez, and the call-up of rookie Slava Voynov, led Murray to shuffle his defensive pairs before Tuesday’s practice. Doughty and Johnson will be a big-minute pair. Voynov will partner with Willie Mitchell while Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi will be a stay-at-home pair.
There is some recent familiarity here. Doughty and Johnson have been a regular pair on the Kings’ power play. Mitchell and Voynov spent five games together in October when Doughty was injured.
"I think they played well, they felt very comfortable together," Murray said of Mitchell and Voynov.
In the five games Doughty missed, Voynov impressed with a smart, composed all-around game, and he ended his stint with a bang, with a two-goal, one-assist effort at Dallas on Oct. 27.
Voynov got assigned back to Manchester the next day, but at that time, coaches and management gave him encouragement and made it clear that they wouldn’t hesitate to call him up again.
Voynov gives the Kings three strong puck-moving defensemen, to go with the Doughty-Johnson pair. Johnson has eight points this season and Doughty has seven, and most of their scoring has come together on the power play. Now, they will get a chance to play together at even strength.
"We've used (Doughty and Johnson together) on the power play, going back a couple years, and they've played very, very well together," Murray said. "They're coming of age, I think, to play hard for each other. There's always a time, I think, early in a career when you want to try to do a lot of stuff out there, but right now it's about the team and about a D pairing being very good, playing big minutes, playing important, critical situations and getting the job done.
"All four of those guys that we're talking about (including Mitchell and Voynov) are mobile. They pass the puck and see the ice. Ideally, you want to get the puck going as quickly as possible and have those guys joining as part of the attack and helping on that secondary part of the scoring."
TIME TO SHINE?
The Kings’ other lineup change will have Andrei Loktionov moving into the second-line left-wing spot, vacated when Dustin Penner went on the injured-reserve list. Loktionov will play alongside center Mike Richards and right winger Dustin Brown in his first NHL game of the season.
Will Loktionov be effective at left wing? He’s a natural center, and Murray has publicly said that Loktionov is more effective as a pivot, but Loktionov said he will be a confident winger.
"More comfortable now, actually," Loktionov said after Tuesday’s practice. "I played like 15 games (at left wing), maybe, last year, so it should be better."
Richards said he likes what he’s seen during his brief practice time as Loktionov’s linemate.
"He's a skilled player,’’ Richards said. "I think he sees the ice really well. When you have that, you can be creative. It allows you to get more time. You put yourself in the right position all the time, which he does, and he's hard-working too. So hopefully we can get a little bit more offense going and mix it all together."
GOING FOURTH WITH THE SAME
Murray said that the Kings’ fourth line of center Colin Fraser and wingers Ethan Moreau and Trevor Lewis will remain intact, meaning Brad Richardson and Kevin Westgarth will be healthy scratches.
"They bring us some grit, some energy, and I feel confident," Murray said. "They're veteran players. You're going to get them out there against some of the better lines on the opposition, coming up here in the next couple games and when you're on the road. There's a matchup that everybody is looking for, and I have to feel some kind of comfort to be able to leave them out there, if there's a quick change or I get caught on an icing, knowing that they're going to be able to do a job."
Murray said goalie Jonathan Quick will start Wednesday, and Murray said he had not yet decided whether Quick or backup goalie Jonathan Bernier would start Thursday at Anaheim.