Newly acquired defenseman Keaton Ellerby, right, practiced with the Kings. (Dirk Shadd / MCT )
NASHVILLE — Change was afoot — or more accurately — on the ice Saturday shortly before the Kings finally left what turned into their home most of the week, Nashville.
Defenseman Keaton Ellerby, acquired from Florida for a fifth-round pick Friday, practiced with the Kings and was paired with Drew Doughty. Line combinations were shuffled for more balance, at least for the moment, and Jeff Carter was moved back to center.
Then there were the necessary props given to Anze Kopitar's native Slovenia. Slovenia, coached by Kopitar's father, created its own miracle on ice in an Olympic qualifying event in Denmark. It made the field for next year's Olympics in Sochi, Russia, by beating Denmark, 2-1, on Friday, a historic hockey moment for Slovenia.
Kopitar, whose younger brother Gasper was playing in the qualifying tournament for Slovenia, could not bear to watch the streaming video of the game. NHL participation in Sochi has yet to become official, but it is widely expected to get done.
"Usually when I watch it, I'm too nervous or something good is not happening," Kopitar said. "I just stay away from it and told my mom, just when it's all said and done, just shoot me a text, a yes or a no."
And when the 'yes' came across? "I was really excited," he said. "Some things you really dream of when you're a professional athlete, to be a part of that thing. Again, it's a long ways away. But it's definitely exciting."
Kopitar and Dustin Brown were put on a line with Simon Gagne; Mike Richards was centering Dwight King and Jordan Nolan; and Jeff Carter was centering Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams. "Just trying to shake it up, get some goals out of it," Richards said. "Hopefully it works. Sometimes it adds that little bit of spark."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter had his own message to deliver.
"Our top players … get all the credit for what they've done.… but we're nine games in," he said. "To me, that's more significant than anything that happened last year. There's some self-evaluation to be done."
Are the players self-evaluating?
"Oh yes, I trust our guys in that way," Sutter said. "But we need our top guys to play, to be helluva a lot better players. That's clear. That's not me. That's clear, right?"
Sutter also had not been pleased with the pairing of defensemen Rob Scuderi and Doughty of late. So he matched up Ellerby and Doughty, who had played on the same team in international junior competitions, coached by Brent Sutter, in fact.
"I think we complement each other well," Ellerby said. "He's a very offensive guy — always up in the play. I'm going to be back there — a big body, banging guys around and being the physical presence hopefully in our pairing. Hopefully, we complement each other well and can be a solid pairing for long time."
Said Darryl Sutter: Ellerby "is big, and he can skate, and he's got character — and we've seen times where he can play with an edge. So … that, overall, is an improvement. If we can develop consistency with any of them or all of them, we'll be a little better for it."
Having once played for Brent Sutter, even briefly, Ellerby has an advantage over many newcomers. He understands Sutter-speak.
"I understand Sutter very well, actually," Ellerby said, smiling. "I'm an Alberta boy, so they're kind of legends around there. You know what you're going to get from Darryl. You know what he wants from you, which is hard work."
KINGS ON SUNDAY
When: 9:30 PST.
Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
On the air: TV: NBC; Radio: 1150.
Record vs. Detroit (2011-12): 1-3-0.
Update: The Red Wings have been beset by injuries all season, most recently forward Todd Bertuzzi (back) who was ruled out for Saturday's game vs. the Oilers and Sunday against the Kings.