EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Justin Williams realizes the Los Angeles Kings need every available ounce of offence to have a prayer of keeping up with the high-flying San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
That’s why he’s considering a quick return from an injury that might keep other players out for a whole lot longer.
Williams went through another practice Tuesday with a harness on his dislocated right shoulder, even taking a few checks along the boards from defenceman Drew Doughty to test his pain tolerance.
“Overall, it felt better than yesterday, and I hope it feels better tomorrow,” Williams said at the Kings’ training complex. “A lot of my game is shaking off checks, and if I can’t do that, my impact goes down drastically. (The harness) isn’t comfortable, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
The Kings’ second-leading scorer gets to make the final call on whether he suits up for Thursday’s playoff opener at the Shark Tank. Williams hasn’t committed to it, but coach Terry Murray said Williams would go right back into his top six forwards if he’s ready.
The right wing had 22 goals and 35 assists while playing in the Kings’ first 73 games, but he missed the final nine after dislocating his shoulder on a check into the boards by Calgary’s Robyn Regehr. Six days later, Los Angeles lost leading scorer Anze Kopitar for the season when the all-star centre tore ligaments in his right ankle last month.
“The criteria now is for Justin Williams to come and tell me that he felt good in practice, comfortable with his competitive battles along the boards, and that he can play,” Murray said. “The doctors talked to him and met with him at the last game of the season, and he has basically been given the green light to play, so now it’s up to him.
“The only restriction is the shoulder harness, and scratching the top of your head is about the only thing he couldn’t do. It’s a matter of getting yourself over that threshold. I do expect that. I just need to hear it.”
Although goalie Jonathan Quick is in the midst of another outstanding season, the Kings desperately need scoring to compete with a loaded San Jose lineup featuring Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and rookie star Logan Couture.
The Kings’ offensive problems persisted throughout the regular season, reflecting both their overall talent and the club’s grinding mentality under Murray. Los Angeles had six 20-goal scorers, but nobody within 16 points of Kopitar’s 73 points in 75 games.
With Kopitar, the NHL’s 10th-leading scorer when he got hurt, and Williams both sidelined down the stretch, Los Angeles’ offence nearly ground to a halt. The Kings scored just 11 goals—not counting a shootout goal—in their final seven games, culminating in back-to-back one-goal performances in two losses to Anaheim last weekend, cementing their slide to seventh place in the West.
“We’ve had trouble scoring all year, and then to have two of our top offensive players go down, that really hurt,” said defenceman Jack Johnson, who scored a career-high 42 points with a team-worst minus-21 rating. “Still, losing two players shouldn’t be the end-all. Pittsburgh lost two pretty good players, and they’re still scoring. We’re going to have to find a way to create more offence than we did in those last two games. Two goals aren’t going to cut it.”
The Kings managed just 219 goals, tied with Nashville for the Western Conference’s fewest among its top 11 teams. Only Montreal (216) scored fewer goals among playoff teams.
Los Angeles’ power play is in a 1-for-23 slump despite the presence of Johnson and Doughty, who teamed up to lead the Kings’ man-advantage unit to seven power-play goals in the first three games of last season’s playoff series with Vancouver.
“We’ve got to create more offence in all situations, not just on the power play,” Doughty said. “But playoff games are also more one-goal situations, so hopefully San Jose isn’t used to those tight-checking types of games, and we are.”
Doughty and Johnson were the catalysts for much of the Kings’ best offence down the stretch last season. They haven’t assumed the same mastery this spring, but Murray sees both young defencemen evolving into more well-rounded players.
“Their improvement is on the checking part of the game,” Murray said. “Our checking has improved again this year, and they’re a big part of it. They can play all those situations. I’ve seen in the second half of the year a big improvement in Doughty’s game, and I saw a big improvement in Johnson’s game at the start of the year.”