Newly acquired veteran Mike Richards is scheduled to play with Simon Gagne… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
It's a measure of progress that the Kings no longer have to scramble to assemble two formidable scoring lines, thanks to the acquisitions of veterans Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. But Coach Terry Murray will take a critical look at the third line and will give the fourth line a new appearance Sunday in an exhibition game against the Ducks at Staples Center.
Gagne, Richards and right wing Dustin Brown are scheduled to play together, as are Dustin Penner, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. On the third line, Jarret Stoll will center for Kyle Clifford and Scott Parse, and skillful Andrei Loktionov will be between scrappy Brad Richardson and enforcer Kevin Westgarth on the fourth line. That's not an ideal use of Loktionov's talents but gets him into what should be an emotional rivalry game.
Murray said he had "no issues" after Clifford collected three minor penalties and a fighting major in the Kings' 2-1 split-squad loss to Phoenix on Wednesday, but Murray wasn't happy with Parse and urged the winger to get his feet and his game moving.
"He had the puck on his stick and wasn't taking ice when the opportunity was there, and the same with play in the offensive zone without the puck," Murray said Saturday.
"His strength is jumping into holes, getting to the front of the net, beating defensemen off the boards. It's that quickness, that two strides that opens up opportunities for him, and I thought he was resting a little too much. And when you're resting, you're going to be behind the eight-ball."
Murray gave more latitude to Clifford, who was the Kings' surprise playoff scoring leader as a rookie last spring, with three goals and five points in six games.
"He's trying to get better. Last year when you're a rookie, you're probably keeping things pretty simple, pretty basic, fundamental. Your focus is on execution of the system," Murray said.
"I actually like what he's trying to do. There were a couple of plays the other night where he has a two-on-one, he's trying to make a play. There's other situations where he's carrying the puck and wants to attack. I like that. You've got to try things now as a young player and break through. When you figure that part out, you go to the next level."
Clifford, who had seven goals, 14 points and a team-high 141 penalty minutes in 76 games last season, said he expects to have shed his opening-night rust.
"It's a matter of getting back into the systems and all that good stuff," he said.
"I just come in, work hard, keep it simple, don't try to do too much. Stick to my game."
Does he see himself as more of a scorer?
"I don't know about that," he said, laughing.
But Murray projects that Clifford could score perhaps 12 to 15 goals this season.
"I think there should be a lot of confidence coming out of last year. He's in a more important role," Murray said. "He's on the left side with Jarret Stoll right now, which assumes a lot of responsibility. More minutes in critical situations. I think the way he goes to the net — he plays in the hard areas — he's going to be hunting a lot of pucks down. I heard years ago there's a lot of garbage goals to be had, and he's going to be in those places to get them."
Even if Clifford finds scoring success, he's unlikely to lose his humility. Murray said he saw Clifford at a hotel near the team's El Segundo practice rink before training camp and asked why Clifford hadn't found a place to live.
"And he said, 'Well, I don't want anybody to think I'm coming in with the wrong kind of an attitude, with a big head and assume that I have a position on the team,' " Murray said.
"I told him, just get settled so you're a player on the team and you're comfortable once the season starts. That's the kind of kid he is."
The defense pairs Sunday are scheduled to be Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov; Alec Martinez-Matt Greene; and Davis Drewiske-Thomas Hickey. That will give Voynov and Hickey another chance to earn a spot while restricted free agent Drew Doughty remains unsigned and will give defensemen Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi a rest after they led the Kings in ice time Wednesday at 32 minutes 5 seconds and 24:06, respectively.
Voynov, who played 24:02 and scored the Kings' goal, appears to be the frontrunner for Doughty's spot.
"I like his attitude. He's coming off a very good year. He's a very confident young guy," Murray said.
"He's been playing with men in Russia for several years before coming to Los Angeles as a draft pick. His growth period had been pretty dramatic as a young kid so you see the experience, you see the knowledge that he has of the game.
"He's a pretty smart young guy out there, and I like the way he played against Phoenix, and I like what he's doing in the practice. He's got a good vision. He's got a creative mind. He likes to get the puck to the net. He doesn't back down. He competes very, very hard."
No Doughty news
General Manager Dean Lombardi said through a team spokesman that there was nothing new to report regarding Doughty. But Murray said that in preparing for the season, "he's very much in the front of my mind whenever I sit down and go through the lines and the defense pairings. … If things happen where he's here two days before the season starts, he's in the lineup and ready to go."
Murray said another round of cuts "definitely will happen by Monday," before the Kings leave for exhibition games Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Kansas City, Mo., and Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche at Denver.... Center Colin Fraser skated Saturday in a regular jersey instead of the yellow, no-contact jersey, a positive note on his long and frustrating recovery from a broken foot and surgery.