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Kings think outside the net to address scoring issues

Coach Darryl Sutter brings in former Kings star Bernie Nicholls in informal role to help players find more offensive spark. Kings are improving but are still tied for last in league in goals.

January 04, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • Former Kings player Bernie Nicholls poses outside of his home on April 15, 2010.
Former Kings player Bernie Nicholls poses outside of his home on April 15,… (Amy Gutierrez / Los Angeles…)

Who better to help a goal-starved team than the man responsible for scoring 70 in one season?

No, former Kings star Bernie Nicholls isn't coming out of retirement. After all, the guy is 50 and his last NHL tour of duty was during the 1998-99 season with the San Jose Sharks.

But Nicholls played for new Kings Coach Darryl Sutter in Chicago and later with the Sharks. After his retirement, he assisted, informally, in San Jose, and Nicholls was more than happy to leave the Ontario winter chill behind when Sutter invited him to Southern California.

Nicholls was on the ice at practice Wednesday in El Segundo, and the team made it clear he was not an official member of the coaching staff. It is something of a casual arrangement and Sutter thought he would like to have Nicholls watch a few Kings' games. There is no timetable for his stay in Los Angeles.

"He's a good resource to have for a team that's still trying to find their way to contribute more offensively," Sutter said.

The arrangement might be informal and undefined but serves as an insight into Sutter's creative thinking, bringing in an individual from the outside but also someone holding past Kings' credentials. Nicholls spent seven-plus seasons with the Kings and scored 70 goals and 150 points for them in the 1988-89 season.

"It's awesome to have guys you're comfortable with and know the game. Why not?" Sutter said. "It's not about having the blinders on. It is about using everything you can."

There are no blinders when it comes to the Kings' lack of offense. The Kings are last in the league with 84 goals -- one behind the New York Islanders, who have played three fewer games.

The Kings had a stretch in which they scored two or fewer regulation goals in 14 straight games, a streak that ended Dec. 26. They have two players with more than 10 goals, Mike Richards (13) and Anze Kopitar (11), and Kopitar had a 17-game goal-less streak that ended Dec. 31.

"There's only so much you can practice," Kopitar said. "Now we've got to translate it into game situations. And hopefully we'll score some goals."

Nicholls has watched almost all of it. He was with the Kings when they started the season in Europe and has viewed most of their games from his home in Ontario.

The Kings are 4-0-3 under Sutter, and the stylistic differences were immediately noticeable for Nicholls.

"I think the team is playing really well. I played for Darryl twice, so I know what he's all about," Nicholls said. "And seeing the guys earlier in the season, it's just a different team. I think they've always worked hard. They've always played great defense.

"But for a skilled team, it's sad to say but they were terrible to watch. They may get 15 shots in a game and you're going, 'Wow.' They've got too much skill and too much offense to do that."

Excellent goaltending from starter Jonathan Quick and backup Jonathan Bernier helped compensate for some of the Kings' recent scoring difficulties. And their power play has been woeful (ranked 25th).

"It should still be a concern," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty of the offense. "Every night Quickie plays so well. He lets one goal in and there's no way we should be losing those games when he is standing on his head like that.

"I really do think the last five, six games we've created a lot more chances than we have in the past. Now it's just about bearing down."

Nicholls said he has no desire to be an assistant coach and joked about not liking the video and blackboard aspects of the position. Of course, if he can help the power play, Sutter might force him to move here to act as a sounding board for the players, taking more of a hands-on role.

"If he wants that from me, I'll be more than happy to put in my two cents and I will talk to guys about certain things that I think could help them," Nicholls said. "But it is a fine line between scoring and not scoring. I can say it's tough when they are 27th or 28th [in scoring] but with the talent they've got, they could very easily been better than that."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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