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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL : Kings must see if they can take the heat of the spotlight

November 17, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Even in this wired world, news about the Kings seems to travel slowly.

Writers and broadcasters in the eastern U.S. and Canada are taking note of the Kings' good start, apparently getting the news via Pony Express. The revelation that center Anze Kopitar is a skillful player just hit Canada, where he was the subject of a story last week in the nationally circulated Globe and Mail.

With attention come scrutiny and the next test in Kopitar's evolution.

"You don't want the spotlight to be a heat lamp, but it does get a little warm sometimes and he's got to be prepared for that," Coach Terry Murray said. "I think that's really good stuff. He's going to mature really quickly with it."

Murray's words about Kopitar can apply to the entire team.

The Kings are maturing together in the face of elevated expectations. Their journey won't always be smooth: their 7-0 stinker in Atlanta on Friday was a vivid reminder. What's important is how well they've bounced back after each dip in the road.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick's rebound in a 2-1 shootout victory at Tampa on Saturday and a 4-3 shootout victory Monday at Florida suggest he's grasping the idea that consistency separates elite goalies from good ones. He gave up three rapid-fire goals on 14 shots at Atlanta and was replaced by Erik Ersberg, who didn't fare better. Unsure whom to start the next game, Murray went with his gut and chose Quick.

"I was real pleased with how he played and I was most pleased that he was able to get that level of concentration up to where it needed to be," Murray said. "He let himself play the game the right way. That's the next level."

As long as the Kings stay in the upper echelon in the West they will get attention they never faced during seasons that were basically over in January. Murray welcomes this new element into the equation.

"It brings you to the next level and is part of the learning process," he said. "Halfway through last season I talked openly about the playoffs because I think it's a good kind of excitement and good expectations to put on your hockey club.

"Now you see who's going to answer, who's going to step it up to the next level and who's going to maybe take a step back, and that's part of it in this game. You've got to keep pushing and pushing to see who's going to get up to the top."

Head shots must stop

The general managers' decision to form a committee that will discuss possible rule changes regarding hits to the head was widely seen as a big step forward.

Hardly. It's a baby step, if that.

The committee will report to the full complement of general managers in March, and their ideas will go to the competition committee. Any suggested rule change would then go to the Board of Governors for approval. That's enough steps for even the best intentions to get diluted.

Here's a recommendation:

Quit it.

Players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever and whether driven by adrenaline or a hunger for big bucks, they're less respectful toward their peers. Vicious hits to the head can be curbed with severe penalties and without detracting from the physicality of the game. A players' union with real leadership would tell constituents that whatever they gain by hitting an opponent in the head is outweighed by the injuries their victims suffer and the hit the NHL takes from replays of the incidents.

Slap shots

Peter Forsberg has told the Vancouver Canucks he will remain in Sweden this season and not return to the NHL, according to the Canadian sports website That ends the supposed chase by a number of teams -- the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs all were said to be interested in Forsberg, who still hopes to shake chronic foot problems and play for Sweden's Olympic team in Vancouver.

Los Angeles-raised Robbie Earl was recalled by Minnesota last week and scored twice in a shootout loss at Carolina on Sunday. . . . Vinny Prospal, signed late in the summer by the Rangers, has been a pleasant surprise. He's playing more and more and has five goals and 21 points, much of that centering for Marian Gaborik.


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