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KING-DUCK REPORT

Murray Mulling Last Cuts

October 04, 2002|Lonnie White

With most of the core of his lineup pretty much set, Coach Andy Murray will have a difficult job trimming his team's roster to 23 before the Kings' season opener against Phoenix Wednesday.

"There's still a question mark on defense," said Murray, who will open the season without injured defenseman Aaron Miller. "We're trying to decide who the sixth and seventh guys are going to be."

Captain Mattias Norstrom, Mathieu Schneider, Jaroslav Modry, Lubomir Visnovsky and off-season pickup Chris McAlpine probably will open the season as Murray's main players on the blue line. Jason Holland, Andreas Lilja and Brad Norton are the players on the bubble.

"It just gets tougher to make decisions at this stage," Murray said. "A lot of things will play a factor. Can they sustain the same level of play in practices? Are they intense all the time when they play in games? How do they fit in with the group?

"You're always watching but it's tough right now."

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Another concern for Murray has been injuries to the King enforcers.

Ken Belanger, who began last season as the team's top enforcer, has been sidelined because of a disk problem in his lower back. Ryan Flinn, who stepped in for 10 games last season when Belanger was injured, is out with the same injury, and rookie Kip Brennan was assigned to Manchester of the American Hockey League on Thursday along with forward Scott Barney.

Belanger said he expects to return once the regular season starts.

"I should feel 100% for the season," said Belanger, who sat out most of the second half of last season because of a thumb injury. "I've been injury-struck throughout my career but that's only to be expected when you play four or five minutes a game. You're sitting on the bench and then you try and go out there cold. You're a little stiff and that's when injuries happen. But that's what you have to deal with in the role that I play."

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McAlpine scored a power-play goal with 10 seconds left to lead the Kings to a 2-1 exhibition victory over the Phoenix Coyotes at Oklahoma City. Jaroslav Bednar scored the other goal for the Kings, who improved to 6-1.

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Based on how the Mighty Ducks have approached training camp under first-year Coach Mike Babcock, they're determined to earn a reputation as a difficult opponent.

"Nothing is going to be free," said Babcock, whose team will play its next-to-last exhibition game tonight against Phoenix at the Arrowhead Pond.

"We want to be absolutely relentless.... We can't keep doing things slow. We have to do things fast because that's our strength."

To establish this mentality, Babcock has pushed his players to do everything with a sense of urgency every time they are on the ice. It's a coaching style that is starting to catch on with his players.

"He's a real nice coach, who's really hyper," defenseman Ruslan Salei said about Babcock, who brings his own personal energy to every practice.

"But you can see that he wants us to work hard and that's good for us."

Said veteran center Steve Rucchin, who skated on the No. 2 line with Petr Sykora and Stanislav Chistov in practice Thursday: "He definitely helps the enthusiasm level around here.

"We need to practice like we play and if we do everything in practice at a high tempo, it's just going to become second nature."

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Rucchin, who missed large parts of the last two seasons because of jaw and ankle injuries, said he's a better player than he was in 1996-97 when he played in a career-high 79 games and finished with 19 goals and 67 points.

"The longer you are around in this league, you're just going to get better," Rucchin said. "You pick up certain things and you get to know what it takes to be at your best."

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According to Babcock, defenseman Pavel Trnka may not be available for the start of the season because of a groin injury and may be put on the injured list. Defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski left the practice ice early Thursday because of tendinitis in his right knee but he's expected to play tonight.

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