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Hockey

Scary moment left Sean Walker bloody on the ice, but Kings defenseman perseveres

Ben Hutton, Sean Walker
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ben Hutton, left, shoots the puck into the face of Kings defenseman Sean Walker during the third period on Thursday. Walker left the game bleeding from the mouth.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Sean Walker might not be ready for his next close-up.

Figuratively, the Kings’ rookie defenseman has been getting that magnified look since coach Willie Desjardins decided to employ him, and Paul LaDue, in a rotation on defense. Literally, Walker is hurting after he took a puck to his face late in Thursday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Walker appeared to be struck on the nose when Ben Hutton’s shot ramped off Walker’s stick. Desjardins said it didn’t get Walker in the eyes or mouth, and Walker is not believed to have concussion symptoms. But Desjardins was uncertain about his availability for Saturday.

“He’s cut pretty bad,” Desjardins said. “Certainly, he’s got to be real uncomfortable.”

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It’s a terrible turn twofold. Walker wears a visor, but the puck struck just underneath it. In the larger picture, the Kings need to see more of Walker as they audition him and LaDue in a look toward next season and beyond.

Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche
Kings' Sean Walker fights for control of the puck against Colorado Avalanche's Nikita Zadorov in the first period on Jan. 19 in Denver.
(Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Both have had moments since the three-man rotation was put in place Feb. 7 with the first career benching of Dion Phaneuf, who sat out again Thursday.

It hasn’t all been pretty. Against the Washington Capitals, LaDue was beaten in the corner and got caught out of position on Jakub Vrana’s goal. On Thursday, Walker’s pass up the boards was deflected and turned into a two-on-none goal by Brock Boeser. The Kings have allowed 16 goals in four games since the rotation was implemented.

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But Walker and LaDue have shown promise and, in Walker’s case, offensive tendencies that fit with today’s NHL.

“He’s a good, young, puck-moving D,” Desjardins said of Walker. “I think he has some times, maybe, where he doesn’t defend quite as well, that he needs to defend a little bit more. Overall, the more he plays, the better he’ll get.”

Walker’s four points in 22 games are as many as Phaneuf has in 48 games. It’s not eye-catching, but it’s the direction the Kings would like to go in activating their defense.

Under former coach John Stevens, Kings defensemen racked up 189 points last season. Through 57 games, the Kings have 92 points from defensemen. Thirty-one are from Drew Doughty and 21 are from the traded Jake Muzzin. Among defensemen on the current roster, only Doughty and Alec Martinez have more than two goals.

LaDue is known more for his skating, which can feed his offensive game. The rotation is at least giving him a window to showcase himself.

“As a young guy who’s been in and out quite a bit, every game counts,” LaDue said. “But at the same time, I try not to think about it. I just try to go out there and play as best I can. It’s obviously in the back of your head. But … you’ve just got to go and play your game and have fun, no matter the circumstance.”

Kovalchuk a hit

Ilya Kovalchuk is hardly known for dishing out hits, but he did so twice in one shift against Vancouver with knockdowns of Alex Biega and Adam Gaudette near the boards. Kovalchuk said it was just how the plays unfolded and that, “I don’t try to run around and hit people.”

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The hits got Doughty and Martinez on their feet in boisterous approval on the bench.

“It was good,” Kovalchuk said. “[But] it’s not because of me. Anybody, they do that, all the guys will be pumped up.”

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NEXT UP

VS. BOSTON

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)

Update: The Kings will try to avenge a 5-4 overtime loss from a week ago at TD Garden. Boston could start Tuukka Rask in its second game in as many nights. Rask is sixth in the NHL with a 2.38 goals-against average and tied for eighth with a .920 save percentage.

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curtis.zupke@latimes.com

Twitter: @curtiszupke


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