Kings go into the break with a victory – LA Times

By Kevin Baxter
Los Angeles Times

If you ask defenseman Matt Greene, the Olympic break couldn’t come at a better time for the Kings.

“I think it will be good for us,” he said. “Give guys a chance to heal up and get ready for the second half.”

His coach, Terry Murray, disagrees.

“It’s one of those breaks that you would rather not have,” he said. “To close everything completely with a critical part of the season coming up is going to make it more difficult for everybody.”

Then there’s Anze Kopitar, the team’s leading scorer. He can’t decide if the break’s a good idea or not.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to say.”

One thing all three men agree on, however, is that the Kings enter the 15-day break in better shape than they thought they’d be in with two months left in the season.

Riding goals by Kopitar, Brad Richardson and Oscar Moller, and a 22-save shutout from goaltender Jonathan Quick, the Kings skated to a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and head into their vacation having earned points in 11 of their last 12 games. That leaves them fifth the Western Conference and poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

For Quick, the win sends him to the Olympics with a league-leading 35 victories. That also gives him a share of the franchise record for victories with 21 games to play. And rookie Rich Clune assisted on two of the scores, earning his first two NHL points in only his second NHL game.

“I think we’re living up to our own expectations,” Murray said.

Kopitar said those expectations began to build last spring when, after consecutive last-place finishes, the team held a meeting in which the players challenged one another to make this season a successful one.

“We kind of said, ‘OK, this is it.’ The rebuilding’s done and we’ve got to come out strong,” Kopitar said.

The challenge now, Murray said, is to come back for practice Feb. 24 without having lost any of that strength.

“It’s nice to have a little bit of a lull in your schedule,” he said. “But this is . . . a long time. You’ve got to come back and you’ve got to hit the ground running again. The momentum maybe you had built up is not there now and you have to find it.

“So it doesn’t make it easy, that is for sure.”

Especially given the way the team has played lately.

“I’m real proud of what this team has done here,” Murray said. “We’ve gone through some extreme highs, emotional wins coming back late in games on the road. Really battling, competing. And that’s good stuff for a young group of guys.

“Everybody’s buying in. everybody’s doing the right stuff. It’s a big part of your development process when you can have the positive to draw on later on.”

Which brings us back to the break.

For forward Wayne Simmonds, two weeks off means a chance to get his legs back.

“You get back on the ice and you feel like you’re in training camp again,” he said. “Over the last month and bit we’ve been doing well. It’s a positive the way we’re playing now.

“As long as we continue to progress and keep doing the right things, I think we’ll be fine going into the stretch.”