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Lonnie White ON THE NHL

Palffy Produces Big Zero

April 12, 2002|Lonnie White

VANCOUVER, Canada — Hours before the start of Thursday night's showdown with the Vancouver Canucks, King Coach Andy Murray said, "It's crunch time for our team and your best players have to be your best players."

Murray couldn't have been more of a prophet.

Vancouver's leading goal scorer, Markus Naslund, stepped up with three goals in the third period, while the Kings' top goal scorer, Ziggy Palffy, had none in the Canucks' 5-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 18,422 at General Motors Place.

It wouldn't be fair to say that Palffy's inability to score is the reason why the Kings are still one point away from clinching a Western Conference playoff berth. That's because he wasn't the only King not to play his best Thursday.

"They just played harder than we did," King goaltender Felix Potvin said. "They were ready to play and took the game to us.... [Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi] have played really good all year and they continued to play like the hottest line in hockey tonight."

The Kings' top players also came into the game on a bit of a streak. With 16 of his team-high 31 goals in his previous 24 games, Palffy began Thursday's game as one of the hottest scorers in the league, and leading scorer Jason Allison rode a five-game scoring streak.

Allison finished with an assist on a late third period goal by Adam Deadmarsh, but other than that, the Kings' big guns came up empty.

"We were playing a little scared where we were not taking the play to them," Allison said. "We had more confidence the last time we played them. We came out too worried about not getting scored on or too afraid to make a mistake."

When things go wrong for the Kings, it's usually Palffy who takes most of the heat because of his superb offensive skills.

"He is a dominating player when he wants to be," said King left wing Craig Johnson, who skated on a line with Palffy against the Canucks. "I've never seen anyone move laterally as well as he does.... He's by far one of the elite players in the league."

But it had been more than Palffy's scoring that has impressed the Kings lately. Generously listed at 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, Palffy is not known for throwing his weight around. But since Los Angeles began its drive for the playoffs, Palffy has not been shy to mix it up.

"The early part of the season, he was playing injured," King General Manager Dave Taylor said about Palffy, who sat out 19 games over the first three months of the season. "He was injured coming out of training camp with a shoulder injury and then he missed about a month with a rib injury. But since the Olympic break, he's played really well.

"He's been very conscious to play within the team system. Obviously, he is known for his offensive ability with his goal scoring and playmaking skills."

On Thursday, Palffy was a marked man. Every time Palffy took the ice, Vancouver defenseman Ed Jovanovski shadowed him.

Although the Kings had a great deal of success skating Palffy on a line with Allison and Adam Deadmarsh for the couple of weeks after the Olympics, Murray has had Palffy work with Bryan Smolinski and Johnson lately.

"It's gives our team more balance," Murray said. "You can't put your strongest defense pair against both Allison and Palffy. We think Cliff Ronning [who skated with Allison and Deadmarsh] is a real good player."

Against the Canucks, Palffy had a difficult time getting loose. With Jovanovski hounding him, Palffy threw a no-hitter in the first period. He was on the ice for 6 minutes 21 seconds and did not record a shot or a hit.

In the second period it was more of the same.

With the Kings limited to only three shots on goal in the period, Murray tried to get more opportunities for Palffy by double-shifting him.

But the results did not change much. Palffy recorded his first shot on goal along with a turnover.

For the Kings to be a factor in the playoffs, Palffy has to be a force on a regular basis.

"He's been playing hard physically," Murray said. "He has laid body on some people.

"He's been blocking shots and backchecking, but we need to see that every game. You are only as good as your next game, not your last game."

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