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The Los Angeles Kings’ Dustin Penner problem

Dustin Penner(notes) has been a special kind of terrible for the Los Angeles Kings over his last 27 games, which include six in the postseason.

Over the stretch, Penner has scored one goal and two assists, skating to a minus-8. That includes a 12-game scoreless streak to end the 2010-11 regular season, and his one assist in nine games this season for the Kings.

It's not just the stats. Consider:

• The expectations placed on Penner as a big deadline acquisition last season, with a considerable return going back to the Edmonton Oilers for him. (Defenseman Colten Teubert(notes), a key part of the deal, could face Penner and the Kings for the first time on Thursday night.)

• The motivation that should have come from GM Dean Lombardi's "career crossroads comment to The Sporting News: "He can choose to use his athletic ability to either become a dominant power forward in the National Hockey League or be a dominant number four hitter for the El Cid Lounge in a men's softball league — the choice is his."

• The motivation that should have come from this being the final year of his deal, as he attempts to validate or improve upon a $4.25 million cap hit as a UFA next summer.

• The fact that the Kings gave him an audition with Anze Kopitar(notes) and Justin Williams(notes) on their top line … and Penner responded with no points, one shot on goal and a minus-2.

So the Kings have a Dustin Penner problem. And it's a bit of a puzzler.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN is baffled:

He actually devoted himself more to working out this summer under the watchful eye of the Kings. He's in a contract year, eligible to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, and coach Terry Murray handed him the keys to success by starting Penner on a line with Anze Kopitar to begin the season. And even that didn't help. It really is a head-scratcher because Penner loves living in SoCal, so you would think he would be doing anything he can to stay there. It's only a month into the season, but so far the results aren't promising. I don't see the Kings keeping him around past this season unless there's a drastic turnaround in his play.

Still, the Kings see a player who wants to improve and has the potential to help the team. "He's working through some injuries but is learning to work,'' Murray told ESPN.com via text Tuesday. "He needs to get closer to the net; he's looking to pass the puck into it.''

Bobby Scribe of Surly and Scribe sees Penner's lack of production as (a) a product of his being on the third line most of the time and (b) because Terry Murray is his coach:

Now that he is underwhelming on the offensive stat sheet, I am starting to question if he will be here by the trade deadline. I also question if Dean Lombardi looks at Dustin Penner and regrets the trade.

Remember Teddy Purcell(notes)? Pretty damn impressive last season, eh? 17 goals, 34 assists and a +5. "It was a fluke!" Was it? This season, 10 games played, 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points. I know talking about such things may make beat writers shutter because the question, "coach, do you find it odd that players who struggle offensively here go on to have nice seasons elsewhere?" would never make the list (unless Surly is going undercover), but how many examples does one need? There have been a few, some would say more than a few. Does that mean Terry Murray is to blame for Dustin Penner's lack of production? Of course not. It's just a factor, but it brings me back to the Penner Paradox. Why the hell can't this 6'4″, alleged 245 pound bear score goals?

Well, it's probably not going to make S&S pleased to hear that Murray thinks Penner's been at his best while playing with Jarret Stoll(notes) and Brad Richardson(notes) on the third line, which is where he'll be against the Edmonton Oilers. From Rich Hammond of LA Kings Insider, here's Murray:

"I don't know if it was the fact that he started to play with Stoll and Richardson, or exactly what it was, but there seemed to be a little more work involved on his part of the game. I think there was more movement in the offensive zone, using his size. I liked the way he got involved in the physical part of the game, in several of those looks in the offensive zone in the past couple games. But I still feel that he is sometimes looking for the perfect play to shoot the puck. Get back to that movement, get back to cycling, get back to reading off each other, with a little better spacing in the offensive zone. When you work at that part of it, I think the offensive part falls in place much easier."

Huh … shooting more, eh? What a wacky notion, considering Penner's average shots per game is 1.1, down from 2.1 last season, down from 2.5 in 2009-10. So yeah, he's probably over-thinking things a tad.

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