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The Kings’ mood is lighter, but they know there is still plenty of work to do – Daily News

EL SEGUNDO — Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin had what can only be called a connect-the-dots goal during the first period of his team’s 2-1 victory over Arizona on Thursday night at Staples Center.

Muzzin took a shot from just outside the top of the left faceoff circle. The puck hit the sticks of first one, then another, Arizona player before caroming into the net after hitting the visor of Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Muzzin was asked after practice Friday if he had ever scored a goal similar to that one. He laughed.

“No, that was … I was just in shock more than anything that it found its way into the net,” said Muzzin, whose Kings (15-20-3, 33 points) next host Vegas (21-15-4, 46 points) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Staples Center. “But, I mean, sometimes you get those bounces. I’ve never had one like that. I’ve never seen one like that. But I’m going to take it for sure.

“You know, I think we were due for some bounces. We got a few on that shot, so we’ll take it.”

Muzzin was laughing again, having a good time. Winning four consecutive games after going 11-20-3 over the first 34 games can do that.

The team’s mood, in general, is now more uplifting than somber.

“Well, it’s definitely a lot lighter mood when you’re winning,” Muzzin said. “Losing sucks. If guys are having fun when they’re losing, there’s something wrong. And we’ve lost our fair share of games at the start of the season and it hasn’t been that fun.

“So as long as we stay focused, we could enjoy it.”

Muzzin then spoke in cautionary tones.

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“But we still have lots of ground to cover,” said Muzzin, whose team is eight points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot. “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

“We still have to continue working and trying to get better at some things. But, definitely, we could enjoy it as we do it.”

Interim coach Willie Desjardins has noticed the overall vibe of the team has changed.

“You do notice a difference,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to come to the rink when you’re winning than when you’re losing. But I think saying that, I think that’s the time when we probably have to be harder on our guys.

“It’s easier to be hard on your guys when you’re winning.”

Desjardins knows the team has to continue to improve if it is to realize its goal of making the postseason.

“We know we’ve gotta be better, but it’s sure nice to win some games,” he said.

CLIFFORD MILESTONE

Forward Kyle Clifford had an assist in Thursday’s victory and now has 100 points for his career. He took some pleasure in reaching the milestone in his ninth season. But he is not known as a scorer, so he said neither he nor anyone else is going to make a huge deal out of it.

“It’s not one that I’m going to talk about very much,” he said. “Our mindset is winning games and personal success comes with that.”

Clifford was jokingly reminded that, of course, he is no Wayne Gretzky, so he’ll never catch him. He smiled, and took the bait.

“Well, you never know,” he said, laughing. “I mean, it’s never too late. Really turn on the jets here.”

Seriously, though, Clifford admitted a bit of honor comes with this achievement.

“The guys on our team, we take pride in the way we play as individuals because it helps the team out,” he said. “Everybody knows their role and knows what they’ve gotta do out there.

“Whether you’re Drew Doughty, (Anze) Kopitar, (Derek) Forbort or myself, you take pride in your game and that helps the team win.”

THIS AND THAT

Defenseman Dion Phaneuf (upper-body) skated again Friday and is getting close to returning, said Desjardins, who said he didn’t think that return will be Saturday. Phaneuf has missed the past six games. … After playing Vegas, the Kings will hit the road for a New Year’s Eve game at Colorado and a New Year’s Day game at Vegas. … The Kings sent defenseman Daniel Brickley to Ontario of the AHL.



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