Kings' Kyle Clifford (13), right, celebrates a goal against the Avalanche… (Barry Gutierrez / Associated…)
Kyle Clifford led the Kings in penalty minutes each of the last two seasons, so it's no surprise to see his name atop the stat sheet again. The twist is that Clifford leads them in scoring after four games, with a goal and five points.
The rugged left wing, who also has a team-best plus-6 defensive rating, has recorded a point in all four games. Anze Kopitar's five-season streak as the Kings' scoring leader probably isn't in jeopardy, but Clifford has been valuable to a team that ranked 29th in scoring last season and is near the bottom again.
"I don't look at him as he's supposed to score every game, but I think he can contribute to the top guys right now," Coach Darryl Sutter said Sunday after an optional practice in El Segundo.
"You're playing so many games that he can contribute in terms of his energy and his intensity and quite honest, pull some other guys into it or knock some other guys out of it."
Clifford, 22, began the season on the fourth line with Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan but has moved up alongside scorers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. He also has gotten some time on the power-play and penalty-killing units.
"It's always nice to get some more ice time. I think as my game progresses I'm going to develop into a strong PK player," he said. "It's just a matter of working on it and working on the areas I need to improve on.
"In junior I played penalty kill quite a bit. I enjoy it. I love it. It's a lot of hard work."
He credited his good start to spending part of the NHL lockout with the ECHL Ontario Reign, for which he scored four goals and collected seven points in nine games.
"It was a smart decision to go and play somewhere during the lockout," he said. "Down there they have only three forward lines, so you're playing pretty much every other shift. For conditioning it was helpful."
When: 7:30. Where: Staples Center
On the air: TV: Fox Sports West; Radio: 1150.
Record vs. Canucks (2011-12): 2-2-0.
Etc.: Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis has said he has a deal in place to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo, who lost the starting job to Cory Schneider during the Canucks' first-round playoff loss to the Kings last spring. However, Gillis hasn't made it official, leaving Luongo to serve as a backup this season.