CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — Russian-born defenseman Slava Voynov is shy about being interviewed because he’s not comfortable speaking English. What he does on the ice transcends any language barrier.
Voynov’s speed and ability to move the puck quickly have had a noticeable impact on the Kings since he was recalled from the American Hockey League on Feb. 24. In three stints over 54 games, he had eight goals and 20 points and a +12 defensive rating, tying for the league lead in goals and plus/minus rating among rookie defensemen.
To those accomplishments he added his first playoff goal, bringing the Kings even in their eventual 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series. Dustin Penner pressured Blues defenseman Barret Jackman into giving the puck away and made a perfectly timed cross-ice pass to Voynov deep on the right side.
“Pens had time to look for a pass and he knows I was open for back door. He just saw me,” Voynov said Sunday after the Kings practiced in suburban St. Louis. “It was an unbelievable pass.”
Voynov likes to pinch in from the blue line. “When defensemen are a little bit sleeping, that opens for the back door,” he said.
But it can be risky if the puck is turned over and goes quickly back the other way. “I don’t know how to say, but I feel it when I can go or no,” Voynov said. “Pens saw me before I go, so I go. He doesn’t see me, I don’t go.”
Voynov, +3 defensively while averaging 18 minutes and 38 seconds’ ice time per game, enjoys the intensity of the playoffs. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s so much different hockey,” he said. “It’s quick. More physical. I like it.”
But he said the Kings will have to play better on Monday than they did on Saturday, when the Blues carried the play through the first period and into the second.
“For sure we need to move the puck quicker and play a lot better in our D-zone,” he said. “They had a lot of chances early and sometimes in the second period and at the end of the game, so we must play better defensively.”
Clifford in limbo
Winger Kyle Clifford, who suffered a concussion in the first-round opener, practiced Sunday but couldn’t predict when he might return.
“It’s hard to say with concussions because there’s lots of ups and downs,” he said. “One day is good. One day is bad. You wake up and have half the day when you think it’s your best day and then you get migraines and stuff like that. It’s one day at a time.”
The Kings’ Manchester (N.H.) farm team was eliminated in the first round of the AHL playoffs, but several players were invited to Los Angeles to become a taxi squad. Thomas Hickey, Martin Jones, Justin Azevedo, Andrew Campbell, Jake Muzzin, Linden Vey, Marc-Andre Cliche, Richard Clune, Andy Andreoff and Patrick Mullen are expected, as is junior prospect Tyler Toffoli.
With goaltender Jonathan Quick resting Sunday, goalie coach Bill Ranford, the 1990 playoff most valuable player with Edmonton, strapped on the pads to join Jonathan Bernier in practice. “You go for the Conn Smythe winner,” Coach Darryl Sutter said.