Good afternoon from Edmonton, Insiders. The Kings skated at Rogers Place at 11:30 a.m. and aligned as such:
-The vitals: Jonathan Quick was the first goaltender off the ice and will be expected to start against the Oilers (6:30 p.m. PT / NBCSN / KABC 790 / I Heart Radio). He’s 20-3-5 in his career versus Edmonton with a 1.83 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and one shutout. There was a slightly larger group of players to remain on the ice for extra work. In addition to Andy Andreoff, Jonny Brodzinski, Oscar Fantenberg and Christian Folin, Kevin Gravel and Alex Iafallo also remained on the ice. This raised the question of whether the Kings might go with seven defensemen tonight – Fantenberg was on the second-unit power play at practice in Vancouver on the 31st – but was likely just an example of younger players getting extra work in at the outset of a month in which the team contends with two separate lapses to the schedule in the bye week and the All-Star break.
-Their vitals: Edmonton’s skate was optional this morning. Jason Gregor of TSN 1260 and Oilers Nation penned a forward group that looks like Maroon-McDavid-Puljujarvi, Cammalleri-Draisaitl-Caggiula, Lucic-Nugent-Hopkins-Strome and Auvitu-Letestu-Slepyshev with a defensive rotation of Nurse-Larsson, Sekera-Russell and Klefbom-Davidson. Cam Talbot, who is 4-6-0 in 10 career games against Los Angeles with a 2.79 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and one shutout, is expected to start in net.
-Someone will have to win this battle: the Kings’ road power play ranks 31st in the NHL at 9.6%, while the Oilers’ home penalty kill ranks 31st in the NHL at 56.1% (!) and 31st overall at 71.8%. I’m going to throw a few more exclamation points out there, because it nears absurdity – Edmonton has allowed 25 power play goals at home on only 57 shorthanded situations (!!!).
-Drew Doughty has often been on the right side of defending Connor McDavid, if that’s even possible, but did recall getting beaten badly by the ultra-fast superstar during a one-on-one rush in a game between the teams on March 20, 2017.
“I’ll never forget. You know, I don’t forget those things ever, so I kind of owe him one,” Doughty said. “And the only way I can really owe him is by out-skating him, I think, and it’s kind of hard to do that.”
It was suggested that an overtime game-winner could provide that opportunity.
“Yeah, maybe that too,” Doughty said. “But I’d have to dangle him to get him back, and I don’t think I’ll have that opportunity.”
Doughty is more interested in wins than style points, though the presence of another league superstar often brings a good performance out of the defenseman, according to John Stevens.
“He’s extremely competitive. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever coached,” Stevens said. “I think he loves the challenge, he loves being counted on, he wants the match-up, he wants to play against the best players in the world, and that’s a great trait to have.”
-Jussi Jokinen, meanwhile, will face the Oilers for the first time since the November 14 trade that sent Michael Cammalleri north. It was a trade that provided the appropriate type of player for both teams. Jokinen has one goal and five points in 16 games with Los Angeles (after one assist in 14 games with Edmonton), while Cammalleri has two goals and seven points in 18 games with Edmonton (after three goals and seven points in 15 games with the Kings).
It’s not necessarily particular to Edmonton, but Jokinen is motivated to come out with a strong performance against his former club.
“For sure. I think that’s every player,” Jokinen said. “When you get traded, you’re not happy. You want to show what they lost and you still have a chip on your shoulder, for sure.”
Jokinen said that he did not complain about his role on the Oilers during the rough start to the season. He sat out four straight before logging 10:13 of ice time in Saturday’s 4-3 win at Vancouver and is enjoying playing for a team that is winning to a greater degree than Edmonton had during his Rogers Place tenure.
“I think … this team has the chance to do good things in the spring, but it’s still early in the season,” he said. “It’s still 40 games left. You still have to get the playoff spot and every game and every point is so important. Even now, looking back to all those teams, they have a chance to get into the playoffs and once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen. So, it’s a big game for the both teams.”
-For those interested in how the bettors look at the Kings, have at ‘er:
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) January 2, 2018
LAKI thinks the Preds at 14/1 is an interesting bet. (LAKI is also well in the red in his gambling career.)
-Congratulations to Cayla Barnes, a 1999-born former L.A. Junior King who was named to the United States’ women’s team roster for the upcoming PyeongChang games. A native of Eastvale, Calif., located just outside of Corona in Riverside County, Barnes played with the LA Selects’ AA-Elites team at the Quebec Invitational Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, and, as Helene Elliott of the LA Times noted, also played for the Junior Kings Bantam-AAA team. She’s a freshman at Boston College.
“She’s got a great hockey IQ and feel for the game,” said coach Robb Stauber, the former Kings goaltender. “When we’re playing our best we’re moving and hitting seams, and she gets that. She gets the movement so well, in some ways some other players can look at her and they can learn from her, which is a good thing.”
She scored a goal against Finland in her first game in the Four Nations Cup. “I had to jump in to a team that’s been together for at least three months when I came in. That was hard,” she said. “I had to adjust and I had to learn things they already knew and I had to jump in. But everyone was super supportive and once I got the hang of things, it’s been an awesome experience.”
Barnes is the only Californian named to the women’s Olympic team; a full roster is here.
-Prospect notes: 21-year-old center Michael Amadio was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Month for December. The 2014 third round pick has assists in 11 straight games and was boosted by a five-goal, 21-point outing over 14 December games, bringing him to seven goals 26 points in 24 games on the year. With Los Angeles earlier this season, he recorded one goal in eight games.
Matthew Villata is also on a nice little run for the 32-3-2-0 Soo Greyhounds:
Congrats to @LAKings prospect @MattVillalta31 of @OHLHoundPower named @VaughnHockey #OHL Goaltender of the Month for the second straight time with a perfect 7-0 December record. pic.twitter.com/FbeQwcirJ4
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 2, 2018
-Several links: First, a ($) Pierre LeBrun interview with Darryl Sutter from The Athletic. This was interesting:
LEBRUN: One thing Dean told me last summer before the season even started was that he felt for sure L.A. would have a bounceback year. Obviously, he’s been proven right. Was that your sense, too? Anze Kopitar seems to have his game, back, for sure…
SUTTER: The key there for sure is Jonathan (Quick). It’s not even close. You look at their goaltending, it’s like a 100 percent improvement. And they haven’t had a good backup goalie since Jonesy (Martin Jones) was there. The goalie this year (Darcy Kuemper) already has a better record than any other backup goalie they’ve had since. But Jonathan is the key. You can coach however you want, but the key, no question, is the goaltending. He’s an ace and he’s healthy. And you talked about Kopy, he’s really on his career numbers this year. He had a tough year last season but he’s on his career numbers now. He’s almost a 50-assist career guy and a 25-goal career guy. He’s ahead of his goals. He’s right back. People wondered what was wrong with him last year. I can tell you this, he’s the best player I’ve ever coached other than (Chris) Chelios.
Secondly, ESPN.com published a story titled “Why the Kings are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders” that contains a bunch of nuggets that you’re already aware of, but also several interesting stats, such as the fact that Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown has logged the second-most minutes out of any line in the NHL. (RIP, Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown, at least for now.)
-Next, Jake Muzzin. He’s having a pretty good season overall, but one that wasn’t without a few ups-and-downs. Muzzin was praised at the outset of the season for his training and approach towards the start of the year, but roughly one month in, found himself once again in a little bit of a lull. Over the last month, though, he’s been dy-no-mite.
Muzzin is only a 0.43 CF%Rel since being reunited with Drew Doughty on November 25, but in that game and since, two-thirds of the five-on-five goals he’s been on the ice for have found the opponent’s net. That’s a significant raise from last season, when he finished with an uncharacteristic minus-21.
“For us, when we’re together, we’re pretty good at the breakout, pretty good at defending, we don’t spend a lot of time in our own zone,” Doughty said. “You know, he’s playing a lot better than he was at the start of the season. And we need him to play well in order for our team to be successful. He’s our number two defensemen, and he needs to play well for us to win.”
Related: Muzzin has again emerged as a #2 this year, and the Kings are 23-11-5 heading into tonight’s game.
They’re also 11-3-2 since Muzzin and Doughty’s reunion, a record that takes into account the shootout win over Anaheim in which they were placed together midway through the game.
“I think Muzz has gotten back to maybe his identity as a player a little more,” John Stevens said. “I think he played really, really well early on, and I think he went through a stretch where he probably didn’t play as well as he would like or we would like, but I think his game is rounding back into form, and his game for me is shutdown guy first. When he’s really good without the puck, when he plays a firm game, his gaps are good, he’s killing a lot of plays along the walls. It usually seems to feed his confidence with the puck, and that’s what we’ve seen from him. We’ve put him back with Drew here as of late. It’s been a good pair in the past, and we think it’s a good pair moving forward. A lot of those guys have played with different people, but in terms of Muzz, playing a little bit of a quieter game instead of a busy game really helps Muzz, and having a real identity to his game has really helped him.”
That description of what they’re looking for from Muzzin was representative in the Vancouver game, when he was shutting off plays and allowing the team to transition to the opposite end of the ice.
“He’s got good hockey sense,” Doughty said. “He’s quick on getting on guys so he doesn’t give them a lot of space. We communicate well. He talks a lot. I talk a lot. And yeah, he’s physical. Got a good stick. He’s got all the traits you need to be a good defender and he takes a lot of pride in it too, so that’s why he does a good job.”
Stevens has also praised the team’s ability to not let one event dictate the way 60-plus minutes of a hockey game progress. This is representative in the team’s 11-9-3 record when they allow the first goal. Brushing off the more jagged moments of a game may have been a challenge for Muzzin in the past, though his ability to rebound personally has improved alongside his all-around play.
“When I was younger, obviously it was tougher,” he said. “But you learn to deal with it. You’re going to make mistakes and the way you rebound from them is crucial. And now, I’m a little bit older, been in the league a little bit. You learn to deal with that kind of stuff and you know, there’s a lot of game out there. There’s a lot more games and you’ve got to get yourself ready for the next one or the next shift, whatever it may be.”
“I think it’s important for everyone to stay focused and keep the intensity and emotion going every game because every game is important. You know, every night you’ve got to get two points, and me personally, I’ve got to be the best player I can be to help the team win. A lot of guys are in the same situation and you really you can’t take any nights off. Obviously, you’re going to have bad games and good games, but you know, focus more on the good games and getting ready for each night.”
-Alex Faust and Jim Fox will have the call on NBCSN in the rare Edmonton 7:30 p.m. local start. Tonight’s officials are referees Brad Meier and Wes McCauley and linesmen Michel Cormier and Ryan Gibbons. I’m scheduled to pre-tape an interview with TSN 1260 that will air during the Oilers’ pre-game show; check out my Twitter timeline to see when exactly it’s scheduled to air.
–Make sure to follow FOX Sports West producer Steven Dorfman (aka Hoover) on Instagram, which he recently joined. You will receive excellent, uh, pancake recommendations: