Good morning from drizzly El Segundo, Insiders. The Kings took the Toyota Sports Center ice shortly before 10:00 a.m. and aligned thusly:
-Nic Dowd and Christian Folin were extras that remained on for extra work with Darcy Kuemper, so they’re not projected to play tonight against Toronto (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / KABC 790 / I Heart Radio). Jonathan Quick left the ice first and is projected to draw the start in net. It’s expected that Los Angeles will face Curtis McElhinney after Frederik Andersen stopped 28 of 29 games while backstopping a 3-1 win in Anaheim last night. The last time the 34-year-old McElhinney faced the Kings was when he stopped 44 of 46 shots through overtime before denying two of three shootout attempts in Columbus’ 3-2 win over Los Angeles at Nationwide Arena last December 20. The victory was the Blue Jackets’ 10th straight win during their 16-game winning streak.
-Kurtis MacDermid should remain in the lineup to face the Maple Leafs for the first time in NHL career, which is expected to expand to eight games of experience. His hometown of Sauble Beach, Ontario is a Canadian city, so allegiances are potentially split to a wider array of NHL teams, “but for the most part, it’d probably be the Leafs,” he said of local preferences.
“They’re a very highly skilled team and a fast team, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re thinking defense first and creating our offense from good defense and making sure we’re playing above them. They’ve got to come through us to get to our zone, so that’ll be a big key tonight,” he continued.
MacDermid was among the players to grade well on the 4-2-0 road trip in limited usage. Though he was in the nine-to-13-minute range, his play on the trip aligned with his identity as a hard, competitive player capable of winning puck battles and equipped to play in his own zone. Overall, he logged one goal, five shots on net and an even rating over the four games he played.
“[Speed] is one of their strongest points, so we’ve got to make sure we’re hard physically on them,” he said. “Those puck battles are very important tonight, so we’ve got to make sure we tighten those things up.”
-Bovada updated its Stanley Cup odds, and the Kings were major risers in leaping from 22/1 to 14/1. Los Angeles is now tied with the Blackhawks for the fifth best odds in the NHL, courtesy of our good buddy Jimmy Shapiro. Tampa Bay and Toronto top the list with 7/1 odds, followed by Pittsburgh (10/1) and St. Louis (12/1). Adrian Kempe is now officially On The Board with 15/1 Calder Trophy odds, moving even alongside Vancouver’s Brock Boeser. The best odds for the NHL’s rookie of the year is Arizona’s Clayton Keller (5/8), followed by Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev (4/1), New Jersey’s Will Butcher (11/2), Boston’s Charlie McAvoy (8/1) and Nico Hischier (17/2) and Jesper Bratt (12/1), also of the Devils.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) November 1, 2017
-Tanner Pearson totaled only one point on the road trip – a goal in Monday’s 4-2 loss at St. Louis – but his play appears to be trending well.
“I felt mid-road trip that line really came on,” John Stevens said. “I mean, you look at the Toronto game, they started to come on and that was early. We didn’t think they were great in Columbus, but we talked to the line just about getting more involved in their puck battles and playing with a little more pace on the puck. They’ve done a good job checking for us, but we thought they could amp it up a little bit in terms of puck battles offensively, and I thought as the trip progressed they got better and better.”
Stevens spoke with Pearson several times over the course of the trip, and several of the conversations detailed ways in which Pearson could continue to forecheck effectively in an effort to recapture the responsible play that meshed well with his career-high 24 goals and 44 points.
“Making plays on the wall, getting pucks in to create a forecheck and not turning it over at their blue line – just little things like that that can go a long way at the end of the picture,” Pearson said.
Thus far, Pearson has two goals, four points and a plus four rating in 12 games that’s been backed by a team-best 57.8% Corsi-for percentage. But the raw possession rate doesn’t precisely depict the number of shots and scoring chances generated by Pearson’s forecheck, which is essentially a major pillar of his game. Though there were challenges early, the line’s forechecking ability grew as the trip progressed, and even though the team lost the finale in St. Louis, both Pearson and Tyler Toffoli were able to generate chances after pressuring the Blues with a regular presence down low in the offensive zone.
“I think maybe at the beginning of the season I got away from my game with the forecheck, and I think that’s where we’re strong,” Pearson said. “Something John mentions is Carts with speed up the middle, and a good forecheck. When we’re on top of our forecheck game we create a lot of chances, and I was finally able to put one in on the back of the check.”
The line was still highly effective on the trip, with the Montreal game serving as an important bridge between the two ends of the six-game jaunt. In that game, Kempe and Toffoli scored off turnovers created when Los Angeles got numbers in the offensive zone and forced the Canadiens into difficult zone exits. Pearson made an important play on Toffoli’s goal, weathering a hit along the boards to set up an odd-man rush that Toffoli capitalized on.
“Adrian’s been a good fit with those guys in terms of chemistry, but even as we ended the trip in St. Louis … I thought they had really good energy, created a lot with their forecheck and speed and attacking the net,” Stevens said. “I think it was almost like a momentum thing for them. It was a big ball rolling down the hill as the trip went on. They seemed to get a little more momentum, so I thought they played better and better throughout the trip.”
The numbers suggest Pearson has some goals in his stick that could be released relatively soon. Apart from the garden variety raw possession rates, he’s also a high-percentage shooter who to date has notched only one goal in a five-on-five situation this season. Last year, he had 18 five-on-five goals.
Still, his situational work has helped continue refine him into a more complete player, and should he continue to find success by inserting himself appropriately on the forecheck, he’ll be in position to continue to build out his identity and reputation as a hard, 200-foot player armed with a hard, accurate shot.
“I think as you get more older you want to be more accountable. You want to be out there in the six-on-five situation. You want to be on the PK and power play,” he said. “As you get older you get more responsibility, and that’s kind of happening and I’ve just got to keep playing my game and earn it at the same time. If you’re not playing well, Johnny’s going to let you know. It’s the same thing as any coach would do, so I’ve just got to be responsible and play my game.”