A good afternoon to you, Insiders. The LA Kings held a full practice at Toyota Sports Center at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday morning and aligned as such:
Defensive pairings appear to be Gravel-Doughty, Phaneuf-LaDue, Martinez-Folin. Brickley looks to be the extra. Will probably get a more concrete sense at tomorrow's AM skate.
— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) April 4, 2018
–ICYMI, Derek Forbort (lower-body) is “more week-to-week than he is day-to-day,” per John Stevens. Jake Muzzin (upper-body) is skating but hasn’t rejoined the team in practice. Don’t expect to see either player suit up in the remaining regular season games. Alex Iafallo (upper-body) did not skate and is therefore unlikely to play against Minnesota tomorrow night. “He skated yesterday, we kept him off today, so we’ll just see where he’s at coming into tomorrow. I don’t really have a timetable on him, to be honest with you,” Stevens said. “I don’t expect it to be long term, but I don’t have a timetable on it.”
-Clinching scenarios. If Chicago beats St. Louis in any fashion tonight – regulation, overtime, shootout, forfeit – the Kings are in. Minus a Blackhawks victory tonight, the Kings would need one point from either of their remaining games to qualify. Los Angeles still has plenty to play for. San Jose, which did not hold a 2-0 lead to Dallas last night, leads L.A. by two points for second place (and home ice advantage), and the Kings hold the tiebreaker between the teams. The Sharks’ remaining games are at home against the Avs and Wild.
-Your homework: Watch Blackhawks at Blues (NBCSN), followed by Wild at Ducks (Prime Ticket). Minnesota will go with Devan Dubnyk tonight in Anaheim, followed by Alex Stalock at Staples Center. Michael Russo of The Athletic also hinted that the Wild may rest some forwards; today it appears that will be Tyler Ennis. “Their team forechecks and hounds you and they create a lot of offense from their forecheck and they really wear you down and they play really fast,” Stevens said. “They’ve got a lot of speed and power on the wings on that team now. They’ve added the Greenway kid, who’s a big power guy, but outside of him, guys like Niederreiter and Coyle and Foligno, and you go up and down there. Parise, Zucker – he’s a speed and power guy. They’ve got the big centerman down the middle. They’re just a deep team that plays a fast game that really hounds you on the forecheck.”
-Players and coaches tend to employ blinders to get them through an 82-game season and while cognizant of a larger picture, they’re not necessarily preoccupied with it. So when the question arose whether home ice advantage was on the team’s mind at this point, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn that the team is mostly concerned with what they could control. “I think our biggest goal is just making the playoffs. We just want to take care of the next game,” Nate Thompson said. “I know it’s cliché, but you just take it one game at a time until the end of the season, so that’s our biggest focus right now.”
“I think right now, we just have to win games. We still have to go about business like we have been – being emotionally prepared for every game, I think that’s the most important thing. If you let your foot off the gas pedal at all this time of the year, it’ll bite you, so we have to make sure that we’re ready to go for every game.”
In other words, he’s not going to be watching tonight’s game from the edge of his seat, gripping his remote with white knuckles.
“I don’t think you can scoreboard watch right now,” he said. “We’re in a good position right now where If we take care of ourselves, we’ll be all right. I’m sure I’ll flip some channels and watch some hockey tonight, but I’m not going to count on them losing. I’m sure St. Louis is going to bring their A-game tonight.”
-More from Thompson on where the Kings have made their biggest strides since he joined the team: “I think in every zone. I think since I’ve been here, the team was already a team that played pretty well defensively. I think since I’ve gotten here, the way we’ve played in the neutral zone, the offensive zone has gotten a little better. I think the biggest thing for me I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is I think our forecheck’s gotten a little better, and that’s helped our game. I think whenever you can establish a good forecheck, it’s hard to play against, and that’s the biggest thing you want to be, you want to be hard to play against.”
-More on Thompson, not because it’s Nate Thompson Day or anything. But if there was such a thing as Nate Thompson Day, it would be at some point later in the spring, because he’s somebody that has the reputation of raising his game and the aforementioned emotional preparation during the playoffs. “He’s a detailed guy, and he can play all three forward positions. He’s a really good penalty killer,” Stevens said. “He’s a physical guy on the puck, which you need this time of the year. I think you always need a really good utility guy that can move around in your lineup because there are injuries or things that happen in a game. Nate’s got the ability to do that, and he’s got enough experience in the league that he’s been a really good voice for our younger players in our locker room, so you can pair him up on a line with some younger guys and he really seems to settle things down. I think his game is built for this time of the year.”
Photos, courtesy Jon Bradley: