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Rob Scuderi defends the ice, and the Kings

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It’s no secret that Los Angeles can be a tough sell for NHL free agents looking for a place to play. And that confounds defenseman Rob Scuderi.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why,” says Scuderi, who left Pittsburgh for Los Angeles, signing a four-year $13.6-million contract with the Kings after winning a Stanley Cup two seasons ago. “I could understand if the team was trending down. But I think the team is on its way up. It’s a beautiful place to live. The facilities are top of the line.

“I don’t see why anyone would be scared away from coming here.”

They may not be any more — especially not if Scuderi’s team keeps playing the way it has at home. The Kings entered Saturday night’s game with Minnesota riding a three-game home winning streak and with a conference-best 11 wins — in 13 games — at Staples Center this season.

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On the road it’s been just the opposite, with the Kings going a conference-worst 5-8, giving up nearly twice as many goals as they’ve given up at home. And Coach Terry Murray thinks he knows why.

“This is a great place to play hockey,” said Murray, who began his playing career on the West Coast in Oakland with the now-defunct California Golden Seals. “We’ve got the best facilities, probably, in the National Hockey League when it comes to the main building, the practice facility, the airport, where players live.”

Not to mention something of a secret weapon in Scuderi, who has become Murray’s go-to guy when he needs someone to help straighten out a struggling defenseman. Lately he has been paired with Drew Doughty, who has become a marked man for opponents after racking up 16 goals and 43 assists last season.

Partnering with the 31-year-old Scuderi leaves the 21-year-old Doughty with less to worry about on the ice.

“He’s just easy to play with,” Doughty said. “Always in the right position. He’s getting the puck on my tape as much as he can and that’s how I like it. And he knows I can do good things with it so he can have the confidence in me.

“Just give it over to me and I make the play.”

Jack Johnson, who has also been paired with Doughty for stretches this season, agrees.

“He’s very simple,” Johnson said. “We know what he’s going to do every time he gets the puck. So he’s very easy to read off of.”

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Murray, a defenseman himself in his playing days, likens Scuderi to the anonymous old-school backliners who dive in front of shots and then hustle to get the puck out of their end as soon as possible.

“His mind-set is, he’s a defenseman.” Murray said. “He doesn’t look to himself to be a player that’s going to have the puck on his stick a long time. He wants to get it up ice. And both Jack and Drew, we want them to have the puck on their stick. So there’s a great complement.

“He’s that solid guy that gives you that defense-first mentality.”

Yet for all the fun — and success — he has had in the sun, Scuderi doesn’t plan on staying here when he’s done playing. The New York native is building a house in Boston to be close to family when he retires.

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But even Scuderi admits he has asked the construction crew to take its time. After all, he’s in no rush to get out of Los Angeles.

“To me, this team out here is one of the best situations that a player can get into,” Murray said. “This is more hockey atmosphere, climate than a few other teams that I could talk about in the National Hockey League. This is a great place to play hockey.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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