Good afternoon from Buffalo, where the snow is just beginning to come down a little bit. Inside, KeyBank Arena (née Marine Midland Arena, HSBC Arena and First Niagara Center) wasn’t much warmer. Among the topics discussed by reporters while waiting for the Kings’ dressing room to open was that the Sabres’ home rink is among the very coldest buildings in the league — not that Staples Center is exactly the San Fernando Valley on a summer day.
Lines and pairings!
-There was some tinkering to the Kings’ forward lines. Dwight King reunites with That Other 70’s Line, while Tanner Pearson moves alongside Nick Shore and Dustin Brown. Kyle Clifford is expected to jump back into the lineup to skate alongside Andy Andreoff and Jordan Nolan, which leaves Nic Dowd and Devin Setoguchi as tonight’s projected scratches. No changes are expected on defense, where Tom Gilbert remains the odd-man out. Peter Budaj left the ice first during the morning skate and is expected to draw the start in net.
-Drew Doughty, who left practice early on Sunday one day after an awkward fall near Los Angeles’ net during Saturday’s game against Ottawa, is ready to play. He called his injury “something minor” and noted “it’s just good to get one practice off and get ready for today.” Doughty declined to go into specifics of the nature of the injury but said “it was literally just something small but, yeah, I kind of did the splits and … there’s no point with me really going on the ice with two days in between games, so yeah, I feel good, ready to go.” Quell alarums.
-As you’re most likely aware, Anze Kopitar hasn’t been scoring goals. He last scored in the second period of the 3-2 overtime win over Columbus on October 25 but has endured a dry spell in the 16 games since then. Is he still getting good chances? “The last couple games there were not a whole lot of chances, but before that I’ve hit a couple posts here and there, so I wouldn’t say I’m getting a ton of chances, but I’m also not just floating around,” he said, “Usually just go with the hot hand, so [I’ll] give it to Lewy again.” While Kopitar hitting posts is probably a legitimate thing, he also ranks 10th on the team in individual shots per 60 minutes of five-on-five play with 5.4. (Marian Gaborik leads with 13.6, followed by Jeff Carter at 10.6 and Tyler Toffoli at 10.5)
-It’s always interesting to hear opposing coaches and players talk about what they see in Los Angeles, and this is from former King Dan Bylsma: “I think the Kings have a good understanding, a good sense of what they need to do to win hockey games and how they need to play, and they stick with that through thick and thin. They haven’t scored a lot of goals, either, and I think some people talk about them needing to score more goals, but they don’t approach the game that way. They’re going to defend and they’re going to play a hard checking game, and they’re going to play that for 60 minutes, and that’s where they’ve had success, that’s what they do well, and that’s what they’re going to continue to do. They’ve had some injuries. They’ve had the goaltender out. They’re not pressing to play a different way. They’re going to play that hard checking game, they’re going to limit your opportunities and play the game the right way, and that’s what they’re going to keep doing, and that’s where they have had success.”
-I asked Bylsma about the evolution of Rasmus Ristolainen, who ranks fifth in the league with an average time on ice of 26:49. Not surprisingly, the minutes he plays factored into his answer. “I don’t think there’s any other way to talk about his game without him just being a horse, a hard guy to play against,” Bylsma said. “He can skate, he can play physical, he can use both of those attributes to defend. I think the evolution of his game is on the offensive side with his puck distribution and being a main guy, the top guy on our power play. That’s been a little bit of the evolution. He squeezed his stick with not being able to get a goal, not scoring a goal, but he’s still providing the assists, he’s still providing the puck movement on the power play that we need, and that’s kind of where his game is evolving even a little bit more from last year.”
-Robin Lehner, who is 1-6-3 in his last 10 starts despite having played well over that time, will draw the start for Buffalo. The Sabres have received quality goaltending for the second straight year and are tied for sixth in the league with a.921 save percentage. The issue has been goal scoring; Buffalo ranks 30th in the league with an average of 2.04 goals per game. They’ll stack their top line tonight with Jack Eichel centering Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo, the latter of whom is expected to play after becoming ill over the weekend. Former King Matt Moulson, who has seven of the Sabres’ 56 goals, is likely to see a fourth line roll and could play alongside former L.A. farmhand Nic Deslauriers, though the physical, burly Deslauriers is likely a game-time decision, along with Derek Grant.
-Buffalo hasn’t lost at home to Los Angeles since February 21, 2003, a game in which Ziggy Palffy and Bryan Smolinski each scored twice and Jamie Storr allowed one goal on 32 shots. Ryan Miller and Brian Campbell are the only players from that game who remain in the league.
-Darryl Sutter quotes are up next, followed by my seemingly annual The Kings Have Trouble In Buffalo story. If you’re near a TV, I’ll also be reporting from the penalty box on the NHL Network’s Arena Cam at 1:50 p.m. PT. Enjoy your Tuesday, Insiders. Let’s talk soon.