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KINGS FYI

Now, Marco Sturm is drawing praise from Coach Terry Murray

The Kings coach harshly criticized the left winger recently, saying his play and work ethic were lacking. But Murray says Sturm has been a different player the last two games.

January 12, 2011|By Helene Elliott

Left wing Marco Sturm has emerged from Coach Terry Murray's doghouse, earning praise and another assignment alongside center Jarret Stoll and right wing Wayne Simmonds on Thursday when the Kings face the St. Louis Blues at Staples Center.

Murray has harshly criticized Sturm, whose Kings debut Dec. 21 occurred seven months after he had major surgery on his right knee. It seemed unreasonable to expect a lot from a player who was regaining his stamina and confidence after a long layoff, but Murray found Sturm's play and work ethic lacking.

Sturm didn't have any points Monday in the 3-2 loss to Toronto that extended the Kings' slump to 1-6, but he acquitted himself decently at even strength with Stoll and Simmonds and during some power-play time. He has three goals, six points and a plus-three defensive rating in 11 games and has improved his skating and timing.

His progress doesn't change the Kings' urgent need for top-six speed and scoring, but Murray was happy to find a positive sign amid the team's recent stagnation.

"The last two games he's been a different player for me," Murray said Wednesday after the Kings' practice in El Segundo.

"I see skating. His spacing is much better now. He's closer to the puck in all areas of the ice, certainly in the offensive zone. When he gets the puck on his stick he sees the ice well. He makes some good plays. They're not going to be highlight-reel kinds of plays, but he makes plays in tight spaces.

"He's able to make the pass through people's feet, through the stick and the body, over a stick. That's really good stuff because you can attack with a lot of speed when you have a player who can do that. … We're starting to see a versatile player, the kind of player that we thought we were getting when the deal was made. And he's just getting his feet under himself and starting to contribute."

Strong moves

Monday's game was also an awakening for Simmonds, who scored the first goal — and his first in eight games — by using his strength to get around defenseman Dion Phaneuf and to the net. He hasn't done that often enough this season and his scoring totals reflect that. The goal, his ninth, puts him on about the same pace as when he scored 16 last season, but with 16 points he might fall short of last season's 40.

Simmonds said he's encouraged to be getting scoring chances.

"I think crashing the net is key. I've got to keep going to the blue paint and pucks will start bouncing off you and you can knock pucks in," he said. "I enjoyed playing with Stollie and Sturmie. They're both great skaters and they're good with the puck. As long as you keep stuff simple it's easy to read off each other and that's when you can really get going. You know where the other guys are going to be without even really looking."

Simmonds' intensity against Toronto won approval from Murray.

"Emotionally he was really tied into the game. That's the Wayne Simmonds that we want to have every night," Murray said. "He can lead the way in a lot of different areas: in the grit and scoring a big goal. That was a beautiful goal on a strong play to the net against a strong defenseman from Toronto.

"He can create scrums and I like that because it's a little bit of old throwback hockey we used to see more often when there's something happening around the offensive-zone net all the time. You're taking pucks there, you're stopping on the crease, you've got your head over the goaltender, you've got people pushing and shoving and talking and it brings a lot of energy to the team. That's a great role for him."

Murray said that early this season Simmons was "kind of feeling his way into some games," and wasn't consistently confident. "But recently he's been playing well," Murray said. "He's on a line now that looks like that line can have good chemistry, can be creative and still at the other side of the puck be good to shut down teams."

Slap shots

Defenseman Davis Drewiske needed several stitches to close a cut on his forehead after he was struck by a puck during practice. A team spokesman said Drewiske would be evaluated Thursday morning but was likely to practice as normal. He wasn't scheduled to play Thursday.

Players wore the helmets and gloves from their vintage uniforms in preparation for wearing the full Forum blue and gold Saturday for the first time since their season opener. Saturday's game will be the first of three Heritage nights honoring past players. Rogie Vachon will be honored Saturday, Bob Berry's turn is Feb. 26 and Bob Pulford will be honored March 19. The team will wear vintage uniforms for those games.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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