EL SEGUNDO, CA — After being the target of heavy criticism for his poor play and physical conditioning late last season after being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings left wing Dustin Penner dedicated himself to improving his strength and conditioning during the off-season.
Even then, Penner had fans up in arms about his alleged poor conditioning after a photo appeared on Twitter back in August that “proved” he was badly out of shape.
The photo turned out to be totally misleading—an understatement of epic proportions, as Penner’s dramatically improved strength and conditioning had already been well-documented.
After all that, Penner was looking forward to getting off to a strong start, but you may know what author John Steinbeck wrote about the best laid plans…
Indeed, instead of starting off on the right foot in the Kings’ season opener against the New York Rangers in Stockholm, Sweden on October 7, and against the Buffalo Sabres on October 8 in Berlin, Germany, Penner was sidelined for those games by multiple injuries.
“There were three separate injuries, lower body-related,” Penner explained. “They all had to do with my legs, none that I’ve encountered before, so we had to be cautious with that.”
“I didn’t know [I wouldn’t be able to play] until the trainers told me that I wouldn’t be skating for three days because of it,” Penner elaborated. “I continued to do my off-ice workouts, but it didn’t seem to get better. The only thing that made it better was rest.”
“Those were the first two games in my career that I’ve missed due to injury. The other one was because I was sick.”
Penner made his 2011-12 debut at Philadelphia on October 15. But he immediately got into an altercation with Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo, who nailed Kings defenseman Drew Doughty with a big hit just 24 seconds into the game.
Penner stood up for his teammate, but in the process, suffered what was called a knee contusion during the fight.
Penner played sparingly the rest of the way, and was a fixture on the bench in the third period.
“I didn’t notice anything during the fight, and I didn’t notice anything while I sat there for 17 minutes because of a bogus instigator penalty,” said Penner. “But then, I got out for my first shift, and I couldn’t push off my right knee.”
“I had, maybe, 70 percent power in my right knee, which was affecting the way I play,” added Penner. “I was late to [loose] pucks, I wasn’t able to focus on the game.”
The Kings returned to Southern California after that game, the finale of their four-game trip to begin the season. Penner was dressed for their next practice, but left the ice after twenty minutes, and was evaluated by Kings doctors, who found no other damage to his knee.
“If you don’t take care of your body, no one else will, so it was me being meticulous, especially with the recent one, the knee,” Penner explained. “I had to make sure there was nothing wrong with it where continuing to skate on it would make it worse.”
Penner played a regular shift during a 5-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Staples Center on October 19, contributing an assist.
“I skated well, I thought, pretty pain-free,” he said.
But then, as it often does, the Dustin Penner Comedy Hour kicked in.
“It took four Aleve, two Celebrex, and two other, unspecified drugs,” he quipped.
Now that Penner has played in a couple of games, he is now looking to make the impact he feels that he is capable of, and that the Kings are expecting from him.
“It’s going to come,” said Penner. “I can definitely tell that my skating has improved, as far as getting to [loose] pucks. Once I get some familiarity with the two guys I’m playing with, the sky’s the limit.”
Voynov Gets Passing Grade In Debut
With Doughty on injured reserve with an apparent right shoulder injury, the Kings recalled 21-year-old, puck-moving defenseman Slava Voynov from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League on October 16.
Voynov, who was the heir apparent if Doughty continued his contract holdout, made his NHL debut against St. Louis on October 18, and held his own.
“Voynov, for a kid who played in his first [NHL] game, pretty collected, pretty poised,” said head coach Terry Murray. “I thought he made some very good decisions with the puck. He’s got a little bit of stuff we have to work on with his play without the puck, but with it, he’s got a special gift.”
“With Voynov, what we gave him for information was, basically, to go out and play the game we saw in training camp,” added Murray. “It was his first game, there was a lot going on in his mind, and he wants to play well, so adding too much information to the mind the day before the game, or the day of the game, would be a little too confusing. Normally, I just let a kid go out and play, and he did a good job, especially with the puck. There’s work to be done, no question about that.”
“There’s some reads we need to bring some attention to, in the checking part of the game in his own defensive zone. But overall, the marks are pretty good.”
During practice on October 19, the Kings went over some of the defensive zone coverages that Voynov struggled with.
“We ran some drills in the practice that addressed the areas that we were concerned about, and that’s the three-on-three drill we were doing at the end of the practice, and there will be follow-up before the game [at Phoenix on October 20, a 2-0 win by the Kings],” Murray noted.
“They [didn’t say anything], just a little bit in practice just now,” said Voynov. “They told me how to correct [some of his] defensive zone play.”
Murray expressed a lot of confidence in the 5-11, 199-pound native of Chelyabinsk, Russia.
“The composure side of [Voynov’s] game is incredibly high,” said Murray. “He has a tremendous amount of confidence in his game, and his ability to play at a high level against NHL competition. I think he exuded that during the training camp, and he just carried through to the game last night. He was very much under control, composed, he sees the ice, makes good plays, and has a nice upside to his game.”
“He’s not a kid, this is a man,” added Murray. “He’s played at an elite level in Russia, even before he joined the Kings organization. He’s played some very good hockey since he’s been in North America. I’m just trying to tie it all together with the confidence he showed us, and the game he showed us in training camp. It’s right where we needed it to be, and there’s no problem with him handling the high expectations. He’s a very confident young man.”
Murray indicated that Voynov is right on the verge of becoming an NHL player for good, if he is not already there.
“When we had the conversation in Europe [about keeping Voynov with the big club or assigning him to Manchester] with the coaching staff, [Kings President/General Manager] Dean [Lombardi] and [Kings Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall], we all reassured him, ‘feel good about your game. You’re on the threshold. You’re ready to take that step across and become a player on a regular basis in the NHL,’” Murray noted.
“He’s here a little bit sooner than what we anticipated, and it’s unfortunate that it is what it is, but it’s his opportunity to show us he can play,” Murray added. “He’s not here to fill in for an injured player, in my mind. This is the time for him to show us what he can do.”
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