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Kings Feel The Pain Of Injuries

The storyline is like Humpty Dumpty, but with a twist.

All the Los Angeles Kings' men are falling apart. Unless they find an army of doctors or faith healers to put the injured men together again, the Kings are looking at a great fall.

Despite Monday night's 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles might have started their tumble. The Kings are 1-3-1 in their last five games, during which injuries have sidelined several top players.

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    Forum: Will the Kings overcome these injuries?

  • Rob Blake: Last year's Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenseman is out six to eight weeks with a broken foot. He took a fired puck off the foot in a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 30, and typical of a hockey player, played two more games before leaving the lineup.

  • Doug Bodger: A free agent signed during the off-season to help energize the power play, Bodger is out four to six weeks with a spiral fracture in his right wrist. Before a Nov. 1 game against Phoenix, he stepped on a puck, lost his balance and fell hard, with his wrist taking the brunt of the fall.

  • Jozef Stumpel: The Kings' top scorer last year with 58 assists and 79 points, Stumpel didn't have a point in four games before being sidelined with a hip flexor/abdominal strain. He has missed 10 games.

  • Jamie Storr: The Kings' goalie has missed 10 games with a strained left groin.

  • Stephane Fiset: The Kings' other goalie has missed nine games with groin strains. He missed four games with a right groin strain, returned for one game and strained his left groin to go back to the sidelnes. He has missed six with the left groin strain.

  • Ian Laperriere: The hard-charging, agitating center went down in the Kings' first game with a sprained left knee. He missed nine consecutive games before returning last week.

  • Josh Green (shoulder), Sandy Moger (lower back strain) have missed games with injuries. To date, the Kings have lost 48 man-games to injury.

    "In an ideal world, we'd be 11-0 and have no injuries," Los Angeles general manager Dave Taylor said. "We don't live in an ideal world."

    In an ideal world, the Kings would be among the top teams in the league -- where they had been projected to be before the season because of their strong showing last year. They finished fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 38-33-11 for 87 points, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals.

    Although the St. Louis Blues swept the Kings in the first round, many people believed the Kings were ready to move toward the top of the standings. They signed free-agent defensemen Steve Duchesne and Bodger to improve the power play, and seemed to be a only one or two players away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender.

    But the injuries have sidetracked them, and perhaps intensified the Kings' search for a marquee player.

    Even before the injuries, the Kings reportedly had been coveting Vancouver holdout Pavel Bure and New York Islanders' holdout Zigmund Palffy. The team also supposedly was watching the bankrupt Pittsburgh Penguins, who might need to unload star Jaromir Jagr to pay some bills.

    In the long-term, one of these stars not only might help push the Kings to the next level but also would help sell tickets when the Kings move into a new downtown arena next season. In the short-term, one of these stars would help keep the Kings from falling too far behind before the injuries heal.

    "It'd be nice to go into a new building with a marquee player, but we've said, and probably will continue to say, that our plan has always been not to give up the farm just to get a marquee player," coach Larry Robinson said. "We've worked very hard at building a strong franchise. We've done that through our drafting and being patient with our young kids.

    "I don't think any of those things have changed, but if the right situation came around where you could get a marquee player and it wouldn't hurt your club you'd be stupid not to do it."

    But the Kings have gone the marquee route before -- see Wayne Gretzky and friends -- and as Robinson noted, "We're just coming back from paying the pric for that."

    The devastating effect of the injuries might show that the Kings are still paying the price, that they still don't have the depth to deal with them.

    Captain Crunch

    Blues captain Chris Pronger often has been compared with Robinson, a Hall of Fame defensemen with the Montreal Canadiens. Pronger logs tons of ice time, clocking in at 101 minutes, 37 seconds of the 190 minutes the Blues recently played on a three-game West Coast trip.

    Robinson said the secret is Pronger's economy of movement.

    "He never wastes any energy out there," Robinson said. "He's always in control, and when you're 6-5, with that kind of reach, you make up a little room, too."

    "That helps," said Pronger, who estimates his pterodactyl-like reach enables him to use his stick to cover a circle 12 feet in diameter, with his body at the center." "It covers a lot of space."

    It also helps that Pronger uses his stick as a weapon to chop, slash and hack opposing players who invade his personal space. This discourages them from finishing checks and wearing him down over the course of a game.

    "You might take a few penalties, but it keeps them honest," Pronger said. "[And being in] position is nine-10ths of the law. If you're in the right position, they have to come to you."

    Pronger also limits his rushes to situations where he knows "for sure" that he'll either "get a scoring chance for me, or be a decoy and open it up for someone else."

    Great Scott

    After a 4-1 start under associate coaches Dave Lewis and Barry Smith, the Detroit Red Wings were 2-5 in the first seven games after the return of Scotty Bowman, who missed all of training camp and the first three weeks of the season recovering from heart and knee surgeries.

    "Barry and Dave had a good record, and now we've screwed it up," winger Martin Lapointe said. "But you go through ups and downs in the regular season, and now we're on the down side. But we'll bounce back."

    "We have a lot of character. It's not like Scotty's back and now we're letting up. We're working just as hard, but it seems the bounces aren't going our way. It's just a matter of putting those pucks in."

    Goal mouth

    The quote of the week goes to Phoenix center Bob Corkum on Gerald Diduck's wardrobe: "He doesn't know how to dress very good. I think he buys his stuff at K-Mart. He's a straight-off-the-rack kind of guy."

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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