EL SEGUNDO, CA — With star center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams out of action with serious injuries, the Los Angeles Kings are struggling, even more than before, to score goals. As such, there is a ton of added pressure on their defense and goaltending to keep the puck out of their own net, knowing that their offense is sorely lacking.
Although he was brought in to play alongside Kopitar and create space to free Kopitar up to produce more offensively, left wing Dustin Penner was also expected to contribute his share of goals when the Kings acquired him in a trade deadline day deal.
Penner, 28, was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers on February 28, in exchange for defenseman prospect Colten Teubert, a first round selection in the 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft, and a conditional third round pick in the 2012 draft (the pick becomes a second round pick in 2012 should the Kings win the Stanley Cup this season).
So far, things have certainly not gone as expected, or hoped.
To be sure, losing Kopitar and Williams have not helped Penner’s game. Nevertheless, as one of the Kings’ top six forwards, more is expected from him than the two goals and four assists for six points in 16 games since he joined the Kings.
Head coach Terry Murray noted that Penner is having difficulty learning the Kings’ system.
“I wish [his progress in learning the system] was further along,” said Murray. “I see some hesitancy in this game, and in reading the play without the puck. As an example, on the opening face-off last night [a 6-1 loss at San Jose on April 4], when we lost the face-off, our F1 [forward] on the neutral zone forecheck is our right winger, and [Penner, on left wing] jumps [instead].”
“So there’s still some issues that have to be corrected, and that’s through repetitions,” added Murray. “That’s what you saw today on the ice [during practice], the different looks on the forecheck, breakouts, neutral zone forecheck, just to try to get the repetitions in when we can so that everyone is on [the same] page.”
“There’s times when it’s there, and other times, it’s not. The sooner the better.”
Penner knows that the magnifying glass is now on him constantly, given the circumstances.
“The pressure, in a situation like last night [at San Jose], you feel more, because you’re looked upon to be the guy to get the team back in the game,” he said. “We’ve been winning more times than we’ve lost, so that eases the pressure. But I know, for myself, I know I need to play better and score goals.”
“Start with hard work,” Penner stressed. “If you work hard, your talent is going to take over. I’ve scored goals before in this league, so I expect to score again.”
Murray, who communicates through the media as well as any head coach in the NHL, was not going to come down hard on Penner. But he did say that he expects him to work hard at making the necessary adjustments.
“The playoffs will be here quickly, and there’s going to be some reads that aren’t going to be as instinctive as you’d like, or misreads,” Murray noted. “But, and I was talking about this the other day, it’s about bringing the work. If you bring that, it all works out. You get through it.”
“[Penner’s] talent, his ability, will be a major contributor to our team as you get through [it],” Murray added. “Intensity and hard work is the start point. As long as that’s there, I can live with the rest. We’ll correct that along the way.”
Penner needs to figure things out right away if the Kings are to have any hope of being competitive in the first round of the playoffs, let alone reach the second round.
Raw audio interviews from practice on April 5. 2011
(Edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Dustin Penner (2:54)
Terry Murray (7:14)
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