Good afternoon from El Segundo, where a blue-and-green-clad group of divisional rivals have invaded Toyota Sports Center. Before their arrival, the Kings practiced shortly after 11:00 a.m. and aligned as such:
-Marian Gaborik skated in a black jersey alongside the defensemen. After practice, Gabriel Vilardi got in some work with Nelson Emerson. There was good intensity and focus to his raised one-on-one pacing.
-So, “puck management” has been a term creeping into post-game vernacular and morning-after analysis. How, exactly, can a team use practice time to improve its ability to make good decisions with the puck? It comes from getting touches in practice, as John Stevens noted.
“I think it’s important to put them in situations where there’s resistance, and at the same time, still manage their rest,” he said. “It’s a busy week, so you can’t grind your players every day in games and then continue to grind them in practice, but I do think you can get on the ice and put them in game-like situations where they have to execute quickly, go through their reads, get some pressure on ‘em, some reaction, reinforce some of the structure, and then also get them into the competitive environment and just leave an imprint in their mind in some of those situations.”
The expectation is that repetition through pressure in competitive drills serves as adequate game simulations.
“Today we did a little drill with a little pressure in breaking pucks out, so just kind of getting used to feeling that pressure and making the breakout passes that are presented to you,” Derek Forbort said.
Are the improvements that the team can make rooted more in the play in their own zone, or through the neutral zone?
“I think it’s both,” Forbort continued. “I think it starts in our D-zone, ending plays and getting ‘em going the other way, and then getting pucks in deep and getting the forecheck established. We’ve kind of gotten away from that the last two games. It’s important we get back to that and being smart with pucks and not turning pucks over.”
-Adrian Kempe made a slick pass to Tanner Pearson that sprung his winger loose for an open chance on goal that nearly doubled Los Angeles’ third period lead. Alas.
“I just tried to reach the blue line first, and then I tried to stop a little bit because I saw Tanner coming with speed. I just tried to put the puck between the D-man’s stick and skates,” Kempe said.
Such a play has the ability to handcuff the defender, and it’s a play that Kempe has always had in his arsenal. It wasn’t the first time he put a puck close to a defender’s body that caught his winger on a path towards the net this season. It worked against Tim Heed on Sunday, even if the play wasn’t finished off.
“I saw that [Pearson] came with a lot of speed, so I just tried to take the blue line and then get the D-man a little flat-footed and stop a little bit. So [Heed] stopped, and it was just an easy read to put it behind him.”
Something John Stevens shared after media availability: Kempe is not slowed down by the puck. When he has it on his stick, he’s not losing speed, and space and options are opening up for him. This provides the ability to back defenders off and create additional space that may not be there for his linemates.
-The Vancouver Canucks are one of four Western Conference teams tied with 18 points. Two of those teams are in Wild Card positions. For a team that finished in 29th place overall last season, that’s cause for optimism, right? ::tugs collar::
• If any other team loses two straight games in California, the reaction is generally, no biggie, those are tough teams in Anaheim and San Jose. There are 80 other games on the schedule. Let’s concentrate on those.
But the Canucks, as you must know, aren’t most teams. Somewhere in the fog of their 28th and 29th place finishes over the last two years, and their own depressing history, the Canucks took away their supporters sense of perspective. Now, when they lose two straight in Cali and look over-matched in the process, it’s not a couple of games in a six-month season. It’s a sure sign this team is headed for another disaster.
On their three-game California swing, the Canucks are 0-2-0 thus far. It would be misleading to say that they’ve been outscored 9-1, even though they have been, because the game in San Jose featured a gritty road performance and a 2-0 deficit before two empty-netters and a penalty shot provided an end result more cushy than the actual on-ice battle. But there have been offensive challenges beyond the Baertschi-Horvat-Boeser line, which has combined for 39 points through the first 17 games. Daniel Sedin has eight points (3-5=8), and Henrik Sedin five (1-4=5); the two are averaging a shade more than 14 minutes per game, depicting an evolving Canucks personnel group. Still, this should be a tightly structured outfit under Travis Green, and the Canucks have received standout goaltending from both Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson to the tune of a .912 team-wide save percentage that’s tied for 12th in the league. It wouldn’t be a shock to see a game similar to Sunday night’s tightly checked, low-scoring affair.
-No one’s looking past Vancouver, but there are some injury notes to pass along for the Boston Bruins, who visit Staples Center on Thursday for yet another game against a team visiting Downtown Los Angeles on the second night of a back-to-back set. David Krejci (back) practiced in a non-contact jersey Wednesday before traveling west with the team and said he plans on playing at some point on the trip. It’s not clear whether the Kings will see Brad Marchand (concussion) or Anders Bjork (undisclosed), neither of whom traveled Wednesday but could join the team on their three-game California swing. “(Marchand) and Bjork got nicked up the other day. They both got hit. They won’t travel today with the team and then we’ll see where it leads from there,” Head Coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters, as captured by Stephen Harris the Boston Herald.
“Krejci is traveling. I guess now he’s called more day-to-day than week-to-week. So we’ll see where he’s at with a good team practice tomorrow, and then we’ll have a better idea whether Wednesday is possible.”
-John Stevens quotes will follow. Let’s talk soon, Insiders. Enjoy your Monday.
-Lead photo via Juan Ocampo/NHLI