Thursday's game-day skate at Staples Center was mandatory for the Kings, who are hoping to retain home-ice advantage and take the lead in their Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. The series is even at 2-2 entering Thursday's game at Staples Center.
Coach Darryl Sutter doesn't always make game-day skates mandatory, but he did on Thursday. Showing up in the first period Thursday night should be mandatory for the Kings, too, after repeated slow starts. They were badly outplayed in the first period at San Jose on Tuesday, and although they made a strong push in the final period they still lost, 2-1.
"I think it's based on the top guys again," Sutter said. "You look at it, especially their top two lines early in games have been really good and we've had to sort of lead into that."
The lines Sutter came up with in practice on Wednesday in an effort to awaken the Kings' offense stayed the same in Thursday's morning skate, meaning it's likely those combinations will be together, at least initially.
He had rugged winger Kyle Clifford with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, Dustin Penner on the left side with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown on the right with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis, and Brad Richardson on the left with Colin Fraser and Tyler Toffoli. The defense pairs looked to be the same: Rob Scuderi-Slava Voynov; Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty, and Jake Muzzin-Matt Greene. That leaves Keaton Ellerby and Alec Martinez as extras.
Asked how Clifford will mesh with his more skillful linemates, Sutter had a funny answer. "Ask me at 10:15 or later," he said, meaning he'd be better able to evaluate the trio after the game.
"It's really not a question I can answer…. They played together a little bit. It's not really anything to do with Kyle, right? We need guys to step their games up."
Two final notes:
Sutter said center Jarret Stoll, who suffered a concussion after being hit by San Jose winger Raffi Torres in Game 1, was allowed to resume light exercise on Wednesday by riding a bike "for a few minutes." Sutter added, "Maybe do that again today. It is that protocol. Is that progress? It is if it's good today."
[Updated, 3:40 p.m.: The NHL announced two possible scenarios for the start time of the Kings-Sharks game on Sunday, and both are related to the progress of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Ottawa Senators Eastern conference semifinal series.
If the Penguins close out their series on Friday, start time for the Kings and Sharks on Sunday will be 5 p.m. Pacific. But if the Senators prolong the series, the Kings and Sharks will start at 7 p.m. Pacific, after Game 6 of the Penguins and Senators.]