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Penner Ready? Not Quite

The Kings' forward is inching closer a return, but isn't ready yet

Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 5:24 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
By Rich Hammond

Dustin Penner back in the Kings’ lineup? Not quite.

That’s the phrase coach Terry Murray used Wednesday to describe Penner’s status, just one day after Murray spoke with confidence about the probability of Penner returning to the lineup this week.

Penner, who has missed eight consecutive games with a hand injury, has been medically cleared to play and has gone through several days of full practice. He was expected be in the lineup Thursday, when the Kings host the Florida Panthers, but now it seems that Penner will stay on injured reserve.

"Not quite,’’ Murray said Wednesday, when asked about Penner’s status. "Not quite. Closer every day, but not for tomorrow. No setback. Just moving forward with it. He’s getting closer.’’

The Kings, therefore, didn’t have to make a roster move Wednesday to accommodate Penner’s return, and they are expected to use the same line combinations they featured in Monday’s win against San Jose.

The Kings beat the Sharks 2-0 on Monday night, and showed improvement on offense, but Murray said he was not intentionally keeping Penner out of action in order to avoid making a change to the lineup.

"There’s value to it, I suppose,’’ Murray said of keeping the lineup intact after a win. ``I’m not superstitious, though, about those things. I like the way we are starting to get going here. Our game has good pace, doing the right things, moving the puck quickly right now.  So the group has been playing well, and it keeps getting pushed up, a little bit, to the next level with every game that goes by.

"But on the other side of things, too, I always believe that you put your best players into the lineup whenever you’re ready to go, and you play those guys. Penner is a good player, and we’re just waiting our time for him to get a little bit better before he goes in.’’

Penner has battled injuries throughout the first two months of the season and has zero goals and two assists in 14 games.

QUICK, THEN BERNIER?
Jonathan Quick, coming off his fourth shutout of the season, will get the start against the Panthers. Backup goalie Jonathan Bernier has started only four of the Kings’ first 24 games, but Murray indicated that he will look to get Bernier into a game soon.

"When I go back over the past few days, thinking about what I was going to do for tomorrow’s game, Bernier, he was the guy that I was actually penciling into the lineup,’’ Murray said. "Then Quick goes out and plays the way he did against San Jose. So I’m going to come back with him, and we’ll take a look at Bernier against Montreal (on Saturday).’’

RICHARDS’ TORRID PACE
Mike Richards took a little time to get warmed up this season -- he had two goals in 14 games -- but he’s been white-hot over the past three weeks. Richards now leads the Kings with 11 goals and has totaled nine goals in his last 10 games. Richards’ career high for goals is 31, set two seasons ago with Philadelphia.

"It happens throughout the year,’’ Richards said. "Some games you can’t find it. Sometimes you feel like you’re playing with a golf ball and sometimes it feels like you’re shooting at a soccer net. There’s ups and downs to a season. You’re not going to go a whole season with getting bounces and having luck. You’ve got to battle through those bad times and try to take advantage of the good times.’’

CLEARING THINGS UP
Much of the Kings’ success over the past couple seasons has been built around a strong penalty-killing unit. The Kings ranked fourth in the NHL last season in penalty-kill percentage, and were expected to be at least as strong with the addition of players such as Richards, Simon Gagne and Ethan Moreau to compensate for the loss of strong penalty-killer Michal Handzus.

It was surprising, then, to see the Kings go through a stretch like they did this month, when they allowed 10 power-play goals in eight games. Things have turned back to the positive of late, though, as the Kings have gone 16-for-16 on the penalty kill in their last four games.

"The difference is clearing the puck,’’ Murray said. ``That’s it.  Structurally, system-wise, effort, intensity, blocking shots, everything has been, to me, on a pretty level playing field. When you evaluate that part of the game, the difference has been those loose pucks that we’re clearing from the zone now on a more consistent basis. You start giving power plays -- with the best players on the ice -- second and third opportunities to recover and make plays, they’re probably going to make you pay a price.’’