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Los Angeles Kings Are Getting Healthy

EL SEGUNDO, CA — Like the rest of the National Hockey League, the Los Angeles Kings are now in the midst of the two-day Christmas break. But unlike children the world over who might have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, the Kings are more likely to have visions of them reaching new heights with the return of veteran left wing Ryan Smyth to the lineup, along with right wings Wayne Simmonds and Brandon Segal, and defenseman Jack Johnson.

All four injured players were back on the ice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California this week as the team skated in three extended practices during an eight-day break in their schedule.

“It’s always good to get your regular players back, there’s no question,” said head coach Terry Murray. “The energy is always higher, there’s going to be an impact on performance.”

Smyth, 33, suffered an undisclosed upper body injury, which has been all but confirmed to be a rib injury, on November 14 at Florida and missed fifteen games before being activated from injured reserve on December 18.

“It felt good to be out there with the guys and knowing there’s a little light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that Saturday [when the Kings skate at Phoenix] is coming right around the corner,” said Smyth. “So it’s exciting. Playing on a regular line and getting back to moving the puck again, it’s just a matter of getting into a game situation.”

Smyth was immediately reunited with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams on the line that he started the season with, the most potent line in the league at the time.

After practice ended on December 21, the three remained on the ice, with Smyth feeding Kopitar and Williams for one-timers and then working on a couple of other drills.

“[We were] just getting connected again,” Smyth explained. “It’s been awhile. You’re just doing the little things. You’ve got to play to your strengths.”

“[Kopitar’s and Williams’] strengths are to shoot the puck, so giving them the puck is key and mine is to go to the net,” Smyth elaborated. “It’s just a little bit of developing a connection to go forward.”

“[We were] just getting some shots and working on things,” said Kopitar. “That’s pretty much it. When guys from your line pass to you, they want to know where you want the puck for a one-timer, or how you’re going to turn and shoot. It’s a little detail, but in most cases, it comes up big.”

Smyth spoke of the chemistry that developed so quickly with his line mates.

“We compliment each other as a line,” he said. “I really do believe that right from the start of the year in training camp, we developed some chemistry. We want to continue that, but it’s a work in progress. We always know there’s room for improvement. It’s a good mix and I’m excited to get back on that line.”

Smyth is hopeful that the line can pick up right where they left off, but he knows that might not be a realistic expectation.

“You don’t want to press too much,” said Smyth. “You want to make an impact and be a part of what has gone on, but you’ve got to stay at an even keel. Sometimes it’s tough because your energy comes out. As a player, you’re so enthused and excited to be a part of it.”

The big test will be his first game.

“The bumping and banging will be part of testing it out,” said Smyth. “Your body’s not used to it. You have to go through those to get used to it, so the next step is playing games.”

“The bumps and bruises will start to come back, but that’s part of it,” added Smyth. “It’s just a matter of fighting through those type of things in game situations that benefit the team.”

Smyth was both impressed and pleased to see his team continue to win despite being hit hard by injuries.

“That’s huge,” he said. “Any time a team fights through injuries the way that they have, it’s phenomenal. To maintain a good position in the standings is huge. I think it’s important as we go forward. Injuries play a factor in every team. You’ve just got to continue to find a way to get wins to benefit yourself in the long run.”

Simmonds, 21, underwent successful surgery on December 14 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and was expected to miss more than the four games he has already missed. But he was back on the ice on December 21, surprising just about everyone.

“Very pleasantly surprised that he’s there,” said Murray. “He got out there, dug in and pushed right through the whole practice, which kind of surprised me. But he said he felt good. A little bit winded because he was off for so many days.”

“There’s no issue with the knee,” added Murray. “He feels fine and after a couple more days of hard skates, he should be fine.”

After sitting out four games and being unable to work out, Simmonds confirmed that he is not where he wants to be in terms of his cardiovascular conditioning.

“Cardio-wise, I think I’ve got a bit to do, but besides that, the knee feels good,” he said.

Simmonds’ surgery involved removing a portion of his meniscus.

“They just had to snip it, they didn’t have to repair anything,” Simmonds explained. “They just cut the piece off that was torn. I guess I’ve been playing without it intact for awhile, so it didn’t do much.”

“A piece of my meniscus was just dangling there,” Simmonds added. “It’s better to get rid of it…clean it up.”

Simmonds skated hard in practice and did not appear to be having problems.

“It doesn’t really hurt,” Simmonds noted. “It’s been like that for awhile. It just took the slightest thing to make it react and the result was surgery. It was only a matter of time.”

“It happened before when i was playing in Owen Sound in junior,” Simmonds added. “It ripped before a playoff game. I was stretching and I put pressure on my leg to get up and it locked. That time, it popped right back out, but this time, it didn’t pop out. It took the whole weekend. It just popped out a couple of hours before surgery.”

“Might as well get it done sooner rather than later. It’s better that it happened now than during the playoff push.”

Segal, 26, who suffered a lower body injury and was placed on injured reserve on December 8 (retroactive to December 2), was injured during the Kings’ game against the Anaheim Ducks on December 1.

“The worst thing is being injured and sitting and watching the games because you want to be out there helping the team win,” he said. “The team has been playing extremely well, so I’d like to be in the lineup to contribute. But I have to make sure that I’m 100 percent out there and doing all that I can do.”

“I know my role—an energy guy, get into the corners and take the body,” he added. “That’s what I did in the games I was in and I’ve got to keep doing that and make sure I bring that every day.”

Johnson took a slap shot by Edmonton OIlers defenseman Sheldon Souray off his foot on December 15 and missed one game. All four players are all expected to return to the lineup on December 26 at Phoenix.

Center Jarret Stoll (groin) and defenseman Randy Jones (neck) are listed as day-to-day and are not expected to play on December 26.

“The guys who were on the ice here today, I do expect them all to be ready to go, Smyth, Johnson, Segal and Simmonds,” said Murray. “Stoll still lacks some strength. He’s going to have to continue to get that worked on in the off-ice part of it. Jones…doubtful.”

When asked if Jones had suffered a concussion, Murray said that if he had, he was not aware of it.

“That word has not been mentioned to me,” Murray explained. “I know he still has some stiffness in his neck, a little bit of whiplash from the hit. That seems to be the concern right now.”

“When he rides the bike and gets his heart rate up to 150-plus, that’s when he has some issues,” Murray elaborated. “He’ll go to the doctor this afternoon and they’ll get a good look at him and try to evaluate him.”

Reunited And It Feels So Good

As Hockey Hall of Fame writer and Los Angeles Times sports columnist Helene Elliott noted on December 21, Kopitar had a big smile on his face throughout practice that day.

That smile was apparent throughout all the practice sessions this week, and one has to think that having Smyth back on his left side, and, more importantly, in front of the opposition’s net, had a lot to do with it.

“I think Kopitar, as much as anybody, maybe next to me, is happy to see him back,” said Murray. “He clearly was playing some great hockey with him at the start.”

“When a guy like that is out of the lineup it’s always fun when the guy gets back,” Kopitar beamed. “We’re back on the same line and I thought it was pretty good in the practice today. He didn’t miss much. I guess he missed six weeks but he’s still pretty good. I think he’s still got it.”

“Always when you miss a guy like that, it’s huge for him to get back,” Kopitar added. “We’ve had a tough schedule, but we managed it pretty good without him. Now, it’s pretty big for him to come back. He didn’t play for six weeks. He wants to play now, score goals again, make plays and win hockey games. That’s the bottom line.”

Kopitar was on fire before Smyth went down with the injury. But without Smyth, Kopitar has scored just two goals.

When trying to explain Kopitar’s scoring drought while Smyth was out of the lineup, Murray deftly avoided one obvious reason: that winger Alexander Frolov, despite his high skill level, is primarily a perimeter player which often renders him ineffective offensively, especially in terms of creating space for his line mates.

“I don’t think [Kopitar’s] game changed that much [with Smyth out],” said Murray. “The line got a different look. The first six or seven games, the look from Kopitar was the same. He was still trying to do all the right stuff to get the offensive production side of it.”

“But as you go through more time, little bits and pieces do get a different look,” added Murray. “That’s just trying to find some new chemistry with new line mates and trying to make things happen. [But now] we’re through that. Now he’s got his old line mate back and, hopefully, they can start to click right away.”

“I think everybody knows that playing with [winger Alexander] Frolov is a little different than playing with Smyth and it showed a little bit,” said Kopitar. “But it is what it is. Injuries like that come and you just have to deal with it. We’re definitely happy to have Smitty back.”

Murray, ever the optimist, expects great things with his first line reunited.

“I anticipate pretty good things to happen on that Kopitar line with Ryan Smyth back in the lineup,” said Murray. “I think they’re excited about it. They kind of reflect back to the first half of our games when they were really on a roll. They played tremendous and I think they’d like to get that chemistry going again right away.”

“You saw the three of them there after practice was over, passing the puck around, doing a little shooting…getting re-acquainted,” added Murray.

“It might take a couple of games to regain the timing we had at the beginning of the year, but he skated a lot when he was out,” said Kopitar. “I haven’t really seen him miss a beat so far in practice, but the games are a different story. I guess we’ll see on the 26th.”

“It always feels good when a guy like Ryan comes back,” added Kopitar. “It doesn’t matter if he’s on my line or another line, just knowing he’s back is a great feeling. He’ll help us improve and to keep us going.”

“I think Kopitar, as much as anybody, maybe next to me, is happy to see him back,” said Murray. “He clearly was playing some great hockey with him at the start.”

“When a guy like that is out of the lineup it’s always fun when the guy gets back,” Kopitar beamed. “We’re back on the same line and I thought it was pretty good in the practice today. He didn’t miss much. I guess he missed six weeks but he’s still pretty good. I think he’s still got it.”

“Always when you miss a guy like that, it’s huge for him to get back,” Kopitar added. “We’ve had a tough schedule, but we managed it pretty good without him. Now, it’s pretty big for him to come back. He didn’t play for six weeks. He wants to play now, score goals again, make plays and win hockey games. That’s the bottom line.”

Kopitar was on fire before Smyth went down with the injury. But without Smyth, Kopitar has scored just two goals.

When trying to explain Kopitar’s scoring drought while Smyth was out of the lineup, Murray deftly avoided one obvious reason: that winger Alexander Frolov, despite his high skill level, is primarily a perimeter player which often renders him ineffective offensively, especially in terms of creating space for his line mates.

“I don’t think [Kopitar’s] game changed that much [with Smyth out],” said Murray. “The line got a different look. The first six or seven games, the look from Kopitar was the same. He was still trying to do all the right stuff to get the offensive production side of it.”

“But as you go through more time, little bits and pieces do get a different look,” added Murray. “That’s just trying to find some new chemistry with new line mates and trying to make things happen. [But now] we’re through that. Now he’s got his old line mate back and, hopefully, they can start to click right away.”

“I think everybody knows that playing with Frolov is a little different than playing with Smyth and it showed a little bit,” said Kopitar. “But it is what it is. Injuries like that come and you just have to deal with it. We’re definitely happy to have Smitty back.”

Murray, ever the optimist, expects great things with his first line reunited.

“I anticipate pretty good things to happen on that Kopitar line with Ryan Smyth back in the lineup,” said Murray. “I think they’re excited about it. They kind of reflect back to the first half of our games when they were really on a roll. They played tremendous and I think they’d like to get that chemistry going again right away.”

“You saw the three of them there after practice was over, passing the puck around, doing a little shooting…getting re-acquainted,” added Murray.

“It might take a couple of games to regain the timing we had at the beginning of the year, but he skated a lot when he was out,” said Kopitar. “I haven’t really seen him miss a beat so far in practice, but the games are a different story. I guess we’ll see on the 26th.”

“It always feels good when a guy like Ryan comes back,” added Kopitar. “It doesn’t matter if he’s on my line or another line, just knowing he’s back is a great feeling. He’ll help us improve and to keep us going.”


Creative Commons License Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.

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3 Responses to Los Angeles Kings Are Getting Healthy

  1. Is it bad that I’m expecting Smyth to get injured again just before the playoffs? I’m such a Kings fan. Good stuff, Gann!

  2. lowdrive says:

    oh thank god Brandon Siegel is coming back. We were lost without him! =P

  3. Cristobal says:

    Happy Holidays, Gann.

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