Los Angeles Kings left winger Dustin Penner took just 19 games of NHL experience into the 2006-07 NHL season, when he was playing for the Anaheim Ducks. His first full season turned out to be a special one; he scored 29 goals as the Ducks won the Pacific Division, the Western Conference and then the Stanley Cup.
“It was interesting,” said Blues forward Andy McDonald, Penner’s teammate then. “If you look at what our team was composed of, we had a lot of balance between older guys and younger guys, and (Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) were coming into their own.
“It was kind of a breakout year. Getzy and Perry were a little ahead in how they develop, but he came on strong in that playoff run. He was great for us.”
Six years later, Penner is a veteran who has gone from Anaheim and a Cup to Edmonton, which is about as far from the Stanley Cup as you can get nowadays, to, since the trade deadline last season, the Kings.
This hasn’t been a great season for Penner, who had just seven goals in 65 games, his lowest production since 2005-06, when he had four goals in 19 games. But after picking up assists on two of the first three goals in the Kings’ 5-2 win over the Blues in Game 2 on Monday, he has six points in the posteason. Penner had two goals — the game-winner in Game 1 of the Canucks series and an empty-net goal to seal Game 1 against the Blues — and four assists in six playoff games and is plus-5 after being minus-7 in the regular season.
“He’s been playing well for a while now,” said Mike Richards, who scored the Kings’ first goal after Penner forced a turnover and got the puck to the net. “He’s starting to get the bounces. He got a nice bounce in Vancouver, a nice bounce on the empty-net goal. He’s earning his bounces. He’s working hard for them. He’s getting in the right spots, and he’s a big body; he’s hard to move.”
At 6-foot-4, 242 pounds, Penner brings a physical nature to his game.
“He’s always a player that has the ability to use his size, and he has a lot of skill,” McDonald said. “He can hurt you if you’re not paying attention to him. He’s a guy you want to keep your eye on.”
Penner has been a goal-scorer. He had 32 for the Oilers in ’09-10 and 21 in 62 games the next season before being traded. The Southern California success he had with the Ducks hasn’t made it up Interstate 5 to the Kings, with whom he has had just nine goals in 84 games. Asked Monday if the season had been frustrating, he replied, “Very frustrating.”
But now it seems to be coming together.
“I’d like to believe I’ve earned a few bounces, but they don’t come without hard work; that’s what I’m focusing on,” Penner said. “Any player that gets bounces will tell you it’s a byproduct of working hard.”
Penner said he’s starting to see similarities between this Kings team and that Ducks team on which he was a kid and won the Cup.
“I definitely notice some similarities and it starts with the intensity,” he said. “It starts with (general manager) Dean (Lombardi) and Darryl (Sutter) when he came in (as coach) and goes down the list to each player
“When you get down to eight teams, ... it’s natural for guys who are competitors to understand the situation and the opportunities you have.”
The Kings had been concerned about their start in Game 1, and they came out flying in Game 2, scoring four goals in the first period.
“We tried to narrow our focus and concentrate on that first shift, then the next one, and it’s tough to do in a hostile environment on the road against a top three team in the league,” Penner said. “We got pucks in deep, we got shots to the net, we didn’t let them get any zone time. You couldn’t ask for a better first period.”