Kings: Line changes are in the air

EL SEGUNDO—If change is considered a good thing, then the Kings could be on to something great.

After losing four straight games to fall into their second slump of the season, Kings coach Terry Murray implemented significant line changes heading into Thursday's game against visiting Nashville.

Newly acquired left wing Marco Sturm was demoted from the top line to the third line during practice Wednesday at Toyota Sports Center, swapping places with Wayne Simmonds, who has also struggled with his defensive responsibilities.

Jarret Stoll, who has been centering the second line all season but has seen his offensive production take a dramatic dip in the last month, traded positions with third-liner Michal Handzus.

“We lost four in a row and we just have to change something,” Sturm said. “Right now, everyone has tight sticks.”

Murray said the changes were not only aimed at generating better offensive production, but to send a not-so-subtle telegraph to his players.

“I want to highlight the message that we have to learn from what we’ve just gone through,” he said. “I’m not happy with it and there needs to be change whenever the coach isn’t happy.”

Sturm, acquired in a trade with Boston last month for future considerations, underwent knee surgery last spring after he was injured during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He played his first game back Dec. 21 at Colorado and has two goals and an assist in six games on the top line.

Murray said Sturm has been caught behind the play a number of times and is allowing too much of a cushion between he and the puck. Because of the long layoff, Murray said, Sturm is still in training-camp mode.

“His support is not where it needs to be right now,” Murray said. “I’m going to back away on it and put him in a situation where he can keep getting his conditioning…and still play in the game and have a little more responsibility.”

The role of Handzus will likely change the most, as he goes from a physical, shut-down role to a more offensive-oriented situation with Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams. Handzus and Smyth only played a couple shifts together last season. His experience with Williams is somewhat lengthier. The two played part of one season together with Philadelphia during the 2002-03 season.

“I know their tendencies,” Handzus said. “I’ve been watching them.”

The adjustment might be more difficult for Williams and Smyth. Handzus is a big-bodied left-hander who prefers to create traffic in front of the net. Stoll is about three inches shorter, plays right-handed and gets most of his goals off slap shots.

Murray is confident Handzus can alter his role and fit in well with Smyth and Williams, two of the team’s top goal scorers this season.

“He has a pretty good history of being a player that’s made pretty good plays,” Murray said. “I’m going to give him an opportunity, with still respect to the checking part of the game, to play with two players who are having good years on the offensive side.”

One other note heading into Thursday’s game. Back-up goalkeeper Jonathan Bernier, who is 2-0 against the Predators this season, will start, Murray said.