Kings coach doesn’t change top two lines
Kings Coach Terry Murray, who this season changed his line combinations often but probably didn’t change goaltenders often enough to prevent Jonathan Quick from wearing down, said Wednesday he had settled on his lines for Thursday’s playoff opener against the Canucks at GM Place.
The combinations he had on the ice at El Segundo before the team flew to Vancouver weren’t the same combinations he used to end the season — and there was one mild surprise.
Raitis Ivanans, who recorded a team-high 136 penalty minutes in 61 games but didn’t score a point, will play on the fourth line with Jeff Halpern and Fredrik Modin. Brad Richardson, who had centered the fourth line, moved up to left wing on the third line — the likely checking line -- with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds.
The top two lines of Ryan Smyth-Anze Kopitar- Justin Williams and Alexander Frolov-Jarret Stoll-Dustin Brown will remain intact. So will the defense, with Rob Scuderi paired with Drew Doughty, Sean O’Donnell with Matt Greene and Randy Jones with Jack Johnson.
Enforcers generally have limited roles in the playoffs, so this choice a curious one. The Canucks ranked 26th in the NHL with an average of 15.5 penalty minutes a game — the Kings averaged 11.9 and ranked 15th — but the Canucks aren’t usually perceived as a goonish team.
“Raitis gives us a big-bodied guy who’s played well since he’s gone back into the lineup,” Murray said of the Latvian winger, who was scratched for eight consecutive games before returning April 3.
“I’ve been very pleased actually how he’s showed a more relaxed attitude with the puck. He’s not fighting it. He’s shown more composure, making some plays, executing very well. And also Vancouver’s a pretty gritty hockey club. They’ve got some heavyweights there. They’ve got a hard attitude in their game and Raitis is going to help us have that same kind of attitude.”
Murray said he used the final full pre-playoff practice to reinforce some points that could be important Thursday.
“The one thing that’s been hard for us against Vancouver for two years is getting through the middle of the ice,” he said. “They play a left wing-lock system. They’re very aggressive with it. They angle very well. And you have to try to stay away from that transition game that they thrive on. We’re looking at some of our neutral-zone counter stuff today. We practiced it [Tuesday] and followed through today. Just some puck management, making good decisions.”
The Canucks’ lines are expected to be:
Daniel Sedin- Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Pavol Demitra-Ryan Kesler- Mikael Samuelsson
Mason Raymond-Kyle Wellwood-Jannik Hansen
Matt Pettinger-Rick Rypien-Steve Bernier
Their defense pairs are expected to be Alex Edler with Sami Salo, Aaron Rome with Kevin Bieksa, and Christian Ehrhoff with Shane O’Brien.
The Canucks will have the last line change in Games 1 and 2 and can keep the Sedin twins away from the Handzus line. But Murray has often let his No. 1 line play the opposing team’s No. 1 line, so Kopitar might see a lot of the Sedins. He’s ready.
“We played against them so I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue,” Kopitar said. “Maybe I’m going to have to pay a little more attention to the defensive side and the down-low play, but they obviously are very good at making little plays, especially in the corners and around the net.
“It’s a little bit more paying attention to that detail, but other than that we’re just going to play our game and try to make them defend as much as we can and that should take care of it.”
Henrik Sedin won the scoring title and twin Daniel matched his 29 goals in 63 games. “Eighty-three assists, or something like that? That’s quite an accomplishment,” Kopitar said.
“They play the cycle game around the net and in the corners, and pretty quick if you’re not on your game you’re chasing the puck and looking at the puck and that’s where they burn you. We want to make sure we’re looking at the bodies, where they’re going, and not the puck.”
Smyth had his own theory about the Sedins’ effectiveness.
“I think what makes them so good is that they were born together. They grew up together,” he said.
Fine. But Burrows — who had a team-high 35 goals — didn’t share a womb with them.
“How could you go wrong playing with those two guys?” Smyth said. “They’re awesome at cycling the puck. I think Burrows adds that much more in that cycle chemistry, going to the net, and they’re a great line. If that’s the matchup we’ve got a tough task but it’s going to be a lot of fun. As a player you just want to thrive on an opportunity and a challenge … .
“That’s what, I guess, winning the Stanley Cup is all about. You’ve got to go through a lot of different obstacles in different series and in this case it’s the Sedins and Burrows.”
In his spare time, he’s a comedian
Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault seemed in fine form in talking to the media after his team’s practice Wednesday, according to reporters from the Vancouver Province.
Vigneault was asked if it might be harder for a Canadian team to succeed in the playoffs because it’s under greater scrutiny than U.S.-based teams, and he said no.
“The New York Yankees win. I think they get some scrutiny there,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of pro sports where they get this every day and their athletes perform and deal with it. I would have loved it if the L.A. players would have met your bubbling personalities a little bit, but they’re not here. For us, this is just a normal day.”
And maybe not, since the medical reporter for the Vancouver Sun asked Vigneault an interesting question: “What does the club do to try to control preparation — how they train, how they eat, how they sleep, the sex they have?”
Said Vigneault: “We have sex every day?”
“I think for all the other things – before the sex -- we do a real good job since I’ve been here making sure about the conditioning, the nutrition,” Vigneault said. “Since Mike [Gillis, the Canucks’ general manager] got here, we’ve worked with a sleep individual. Everything we can control, we do control and I think that’s one of the reasons this year our record in the third period has been so strong. As far as the sex goes, it’s none of my business, they can do what they want.”
Getting back to hockey, goaltender Roberto Luongo said he’s prepared to see plenty of uninvited visitors in his crease.
“There’s going to be a lot of traffic, but that’s part of the whole fun of it,” he said. “You’ve got to battle with the same guys every night in front of your face. It’s kind of fun to be a part of those things. Pretty much every team’s game plan. They’re going to be in my face, but that’s part of the game. I don’t mind that stuff — it’s the game within the game and I’m OK with that.”
Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer will provide guest commentary on the playoffs on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” beginning Thursday at 10 p.m. Pacific time. He’s scheduled to make several appearances during the first two rounds of the playoffs, joining hosts Neil Everett and Stan Verrett on the show from the Los Angeles-based “SportsCenter” studio.