Kings' Williams improving, could face Sharks

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Kings' Williams improving, could face Sharks

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EL SEGUNDO -- (AP) Justin Williams realizes the Los Angeles Kings need every available ounce of offense to have a prayer of keeping up with the high-flying 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 defenseman Drew Doughty to test his pain tolerance.
RATTO: Sharks vs. Kings -- 5 unconventional factors"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 center 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' offense 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 defenseman 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 offense 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 offense 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 offense down the stretch last season. They haven't assumed the same mastery this spring, but Murray sees both young defensemen 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."

Durant gets taste of competition, plays 1-on-1 with Warriors coach

Durant gets taste of competition, plays 1-on-1 with Warriors coach

For the first time in a month, Kevin Durant got a taste of competition. Well, sort of.

Durant on Wednesday went through one-on-one sessions with Warriors assistant coach Willie Green, who is two years removed from a 12-year career as a guard in the NBA.

“He played full-court one-on-one, played some half-court one-on-one to start and then they stepped it up,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters prior to the Warriors-Spurs game in San Antonio. “Willie said it was a good workout.”

Durant and Green played five games of half-court ball and one with the full court. The active player, for the record, won all six games.

“Kevin got him pretty good, so it’s a good sign,” Kerr said before flashing a bit of humor. “If Willie had beaten him, I would have been very concerned.”

An even better sign for the Warriors is that only one man walked away feeling the burn of competition.

“Willie said he was really sore,” Kerr said. “Not Kevin. Willie.”

Durant has been out since sustaining a medial collateral ligament sprain and bone bruise to his left knee on Feb. 28 at Washington. Though there have been no setbacks in his rehab, there is no firm timetable for his return.

“It’s impossible to predict that stuff,” Kerr said. “But it would be nice for him to get a couple games in at the end of the regular season.”

The Warriors plan to re-evaluate Durant next week, after which they expect to plot out his return. There is optimism that he could be back in time to play two or three regular season games in preparation for the postseason, which begins April 15.

 

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Anonymous poll: Is Sharks defenseman Burns still Norris frontrunner?

Throughout much of his dominant 2016-17 season, the words “Norris Trophy lock” have often preceded Brent Burns’ name. 

The 32-year-old has led all NHL blueliners in scoring for the past three months, building upon a strong second half last season in which he helped lead the Sharks to their first ever Stanley Cup Final, and solidifying himself as one of the best defensemen in the game.

In 76 games, Burns has 28 goals – 11 more than any other defenseman – and 45 assists for 73 points and a plus-17 rating. At one point on Feb. 19, he had 14 more points than Erik Karlsson, who was second among NHL defensemen.

But Burns went cold earlier this month. During one stretch, he went nine out of 10 games without finding the scoresheet, and finally snapped a 16-game goal drought with an overtime winner on Tuesday against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Karlsson has been heating up. A two-time Norris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2015, the Senators defenseman has 13 points in his last 14 games. As of Wednesday morning, Karlsson was just five points behind Burns in scoring, with 15 goals and 53 assists for 68 points and a plus-seven rating.

There’s talk Karlsson could take home a third Norris, snatching it out of Burns’ grasp.

But, probably not.

In an anonymous poll among 21 PHWA members, most of whom get a vote for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, Burns’ designation as the frontrunner seems fairly safe with just six games to go in the regular season.

Of the writers polled, including a broad swath from across North America, 14 told CSN they would likely vote for Burns as the league’s best defensemen if the season ended Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Three were leaning towards Burns, while only four said they would give it to Karlsson.

One writer polled had Burns first, Tampa Bay’s Viktor Hedman second, and Karlsson third.

Of course, 21 votes is just a small sample size of the PHWA membership. Last season, 183 writers took part in voting for the Norris, according to the final tally. Burns finished third in voting, well behind winner Drew Doughty, while Karlsson was second.

Still, as long as Burns stays in front of Karlsson in the scoring race, it appears he remains in line to become the first Sharks defenseman ever to earn a Norris Trophy.