News and notes from the Kings’ 11:00 a.m. practice at Toyota Sports Center:
–There were no changes to the alignment shown this week. The yellow-clad group was still a four-player consortium including Kyle Clifford, Michael Amadio, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Nate Thompson. We’ll get a better sense of which players may sit versus Detroit at Sunday’s morning skate.
–The Red Wings are down a pair of veteran defensemen in Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. They averaged 18:31 and 19:19 in ice time last year.
–There’s no silver lining with Dustin Brown’s broken finger. His absence, along with Jonny Brodzinski’s, adds some imbalance to the projected forward group.
But in Brown’s absence, Alex Iafallo was reunited with Anze Kopitar and seemed to be right back in midseason form, digging loose pucks free, playing with excellent pace and fluidly using his deception along the perimeter in the offensive zone to create space and work the puck to his teammates. He earned the secondary assist on Anze Kopitar’s goal with some excellent touches deep in the offensive zone. At ice level, what did it appear he was doing well? “Everything, really,” said Kopitar, who shared a scouting report on one of the team’s best forwards in the season opener.
“He skates really well, and I think he thinks the game exceptionally well. There’s not very many guys that can make small, little, quick plays like he does. It’s part of the reason we’re playing together, really, because I can really read his game and he can read my game. Even last year, me and Brownie on the line, we all know what Brownie’s all about. That’s not very hard to figure out. With Chucky here, it’s the same thing. I think he’s the glue guy on the line, really, because he does everything really well and just connects the dots all over the ice.”
Kopitar’s goal followed a deft deflection off Iafallo’s left skate that bounced right into his wheelhouse. Jeff Carter’s skate deflection in Vancouver nodded approvingly. There was a comment in the room that the touch was intentional; asking several players, answers ranged from “probably” to “definitely.”
It was a good sign that – like last year – Iafallo was again right at home alongside two accomplished and tenured forwards.
“Well, it’s an interesting conversation because some young guys get put with guys like that and they have a hard time playing their game here,” John Stevens said. “They almost get thinking too much, thinking about getting a puck to a guy or not playing the game instinctively because they’re with those types of players, and he’s had the ability to go in there and just play his game. Just put him there because of the skill set that he has, and he compliments the guys he’s with. I think it shows a lot of maturity in his part that he can step into that situation and play. We’ve tried other guys there, there’s even some young guys – I don’t necessarily want to say they ‘freeze,’ but they’re hesitant because they’re thinking instead of playing, where he’s had the ability to just play. Last year at rookie camp he did that. He was a good player. Then we got him to main camp, he was a good player. He got into the regular season, you put him with Kopi, and he continued to bring elements to the line that you saw in all those other situations. It’s a real credit to him and the confidence he had and his abilities and his willingness to continue to be that player, regardless of who he’s playing with, so I think it’s encouraging.”
–Stevens also praised Iafallo’s “motor,” which made my ears perked up. It’s the same term I’ve often used when describing Jaret Anderson-Dolan. That motor – the good competitiveness, willingness to move legs, skate hard and battle – is also a key part of the 19-year-old’s game. Are there similarities in their skill sets? Perhaps, though Anderson-Dolan plays both center and wing, whereas Iafallo is a winger. “But they both have speed and quickness, they have really good puck skills, they anticipate well, they’re around the puck a lot. Both have the ability to make plays,” Stevens said. “Jaret’s put up big numbers at the junior level, but they do have some attributes that are very similar.”
–Adrian Kempe etched out a solid performance Friday, even if it didn’t end his goal drought. He had great looks in the second period, following up a first period in which he used his speed to get in on the forecheck and play heavy in pursuit of the puck.
“I think we had some opportunities yesterday,” Kempe said. “It was a tight game. We had some good forechecks. I think we can be better, but I think we did some good stuff on the forecheck. We got a couple pucks back and we created some opportunities – a couple that we probably should’ve scored on. We didn’t do that yesterday, but hopefully we can step it up and do it tomorrow.”
Kempe is being encouraged to use his deceptive shot and ability to shoot off the rush as a player with a pretty good degree of skill and offensive awareness. These attributes were visible during a second period shift in which he was rebuffed by Martin Jones on a good look from the left circle, and after regaining entry to the zone, used his skating ability to move from the right wing into the high slot before dishing the puck to the left circle to Trevor Lewis, whose shot forced Jones into a difficult save.
In terms of raw shot attempts, Kempe, Iafallo and Lewis were the only three L.A. skaters who didn’t finish in the red. (All were 50%.)
“Yeah, I thought he was good early,” Stevens said of Kempe. “Like anyone, you want to see consistency over the course of the game, but it certainly looked like he was getting in on the forecheck, getting people pushed off pucks early, had the ability to use his speed a little bit there. Going to need him to provide some depth and balance in our lineup, especially with the experience he has now.”
–The power play appeared to be a work in progress during the preseason, posting a 1-for-17 mark in non-split-squad games. That’s not a particularly telling stat, given that the Kings were breaking in a key weapon in Ilya Kovalchuk and weren’t always dressing veteran-heavy lineups.
But losing Brown, who ranked second among team forwards with 15 power play points last season, doesn’t help, and Stevens didn’t like some of the things he saw in the opener, starting with the advancement up-ice after losing the offensive zone set-up.
“It didn’t look like we were organized coming up the ice or attacking with the speed that we needed to to allow us to have entries into the zone that can spend more time in the zone,” he said, noting he wants the organization and execution to improve. “I thought we got opportunities to make plays, didn’t. A little bit slow in our decision process.”
“At the end of the day, I want us to start thinking about shooting the puck a lot more. … Everyone knows the puck’s going to the net. I think it backs off your opponent and opens up space for your power play, and I’d like to see us thinking about shooting the puck a lot more.”
Stevens noted that he saw signs of power play momentum while getting work in this past week – the reads in practice, and the way the players communicated and moved off the puck improved, he said – and spoke about how he’d like to “expediate that process.”
“It’s a funny thing sometimes – chemistry is an important thing on the power play where you’re all reading off each other, you’re predictable to each other, but it still has to be a real working mindset with your power play. Penalty killing naturally amps up your intensity because you’re down a man, and if you don’t amp up intensity, you get scored on. Power play, you’ve got an extra guy, so I think sometimes subconsciously you want to relax, and you can’t. You still need that same type of intensity that five guys are going to outwork four, and I think with that your execution goes up but I just think that we need to combine that with a real mindset about getting the puck to the net. I think it’s going to help us.”
-Lead photo via Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI