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KING REPORT

Miller, Norstrom Might Return Against Canucks

October 29, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The King penalty-killing unit, easily the worst in the NHL at this point, could be getting some much-needed reinforcement if injured defensemen Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom return Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Miller and Norstrom have increased their workload in practice the last few days and Coach Andy Murray said he is "cautiously optimistic" about their return.

"I think Aaron and Matty are getting real close there," Murray said. "You just see their aggressiveness on the penalty killing. They're going at it pretty hard. Our practice Sunday morning and [Tuesday] were really game-like, a lot of five-on-five, competitive-type things."

Miller has not played a game this season because of a fractured left wrist he sustained while getting checked in a preseason scrimmage. Norstrom has been out with a bruised chest he sustained five minutes into the Oct. 9 season opener against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Kings' penalty kill has suffered in their absence and is successful only 70% of the time, by far the lowest in the NHL.

The Detroit Red Wings, by comparison, had an NHL-best 94.3% success rate on the penalty kill before Tuesday's games.

"They're our two best defensive defensemen," Murray said. "We haven't had them and the guys we have [on the power play] haven't done a good enough job. And it hasn't been only the defensemen.

"I expect it to be better than what it is now. It's been an Achilles' heel. We haven't given up a lot of even-strength goals. We've given up a lot of power-play goals."

Miller and Norstrom aren't high-scoring defensemen -- Miller had one goal, Norstrom had none last season -- but their physical presence is expected to keep more opposing players out of the slot on power plays, a problem this season.

"They're big not because they score goals but because they're huge back there defensively," forward Ian Laperriere said. "They'll definitely help when they come back."

*

The King power play, a source of strength during a three-game stretch when it scored seven times, is now in a slight funk.

The Kings were as high as eighth in the NHL on the power play last week, but they slipped to 14th after two poor games. They went 0 for 7 against the Buffalo Sabres last Thursday and 0 for 6 two days later against the Chicago Blackhawks, and are now converting 16.1% of their power-play opportunities.

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