Some additional pre-game reading in advance of tonight’s game between the LA Kings and Montreal Canadiens (4:30 p.m. PT / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network):
–Adrian Kempe, a major piece of the puzzle during the first half of the 2017-18 season while the Kings remained not just sentient and upright but sprightly and powerful – they were 24-11-5 on January 3 despite having lost the previous year’s leading scorer to a major injury – could very well have been a Montreal Canadien. Selected 29th by Los Angeles in the 2014 NHL Draft, he was scouted heavily by Montreal, who ultimately selected Nikita Scherbak with the 26th overall pick. “I spoke with them quite a bit, I think. I don’t remember, really, but I know they were interested in me,” Kempe said at Thursday’s morning skate. “…Obviously I really felt that L.A. liked me, and that’s what they told me, too, before the draft.”
“I didn’t have a really long meeting with [Los Angeles], they just told me they really liked me and thought I would fit well in a Kings jersey, so I really had a good first impression with those guys right away.”
For Game 4 of the 2018-19 season, Kempe will be reunited with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, the duo he found success with for much of Jeff Carter’s absence. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Kings outscored their opponents 21-13 in five-on-five play when Kempe was on the ice with Pearson and 22-9 when he was paired with Toffoli, even though the run of play favored the opposition in such alignments. Essentially, they were cashing in on their opportunities to a much greater degree than their opponents and were buoyed by beneficial zone starts. But you can’t argue with results, and Kempe did find success during early-season extended road trips when the team wasn’t getting its preferred match-ups.
“I think we were really good on the forecheck – we scored a lot of goals when they turned the puck over and we struck right at ‘em,” Kempe said. “…It’s really easy to play with those two guys. I know what type of game they want to play, and just try to do my job and work hard for them to create opportunities for them.”
Kempe, battling through a gnarly goal drought, last scored against Edmonton on February 7. That doesn’t sit well with someone with an immense amount of pride in his game and who has still been an effective skater and forechecker. He’s a player whose defensive awareness and physical play have kept him afloat in the lineup, even when he hasn’t scored. He graded well in the first two games of the season.
Even though Carter will open the game on wing – and should get some looks at center as an interchangeable piece alongside Michael Amadio and opposite Jaret Anderson-Dolan – he’s still someone who can be moved back up alongside Pearson and Toffoli when the situation calls for it. But to start the game, that slot will belong to Kempe.
“Obviously, [Pearson and Toffoli] really good at scoring goals and are playmakers, both of them. They know each other well, and I just try to fill that third spot.”
He did a good job doing so against Montreal last season, totaling four goals – including a hat trick at Staples Center last October 18 – and six points in the teams’ two meetings.
–Jaret Anderson-Dolan is projected to play in his second NHL game tonight, and will be supported by one of his mothers, Fran, when the puck drops tonight.
This will be another incredibly special moment for Fran, who recently saw her son make his NHL debut and will now play in the home of what has been her favorite NHL team. An ardent Canadiens fan, she keeps a chair from the old Montreal Forum as a memento back at the family home in Calgary.
“There are a bunch of pics with me when I was younger wearing a Canadiens jersey, which is kind of funny,” said Jaret, who noted that he wasn’t a Montreal fan growing up. “She just put it on me when I was a baby and then took some pictures, so I didn’t really have a choice.”
Is it a sign that we’re all growing older that Jaret said that he’s spent his whole life admiring Sidney Crosby?
“I was a Pittsburgh fan for pretty much my whole life until I got drafted here,” he said. “I loved Crosby growing up, so when he got drafted there, I kind of just jumped on whatever team he went to.”
While he’s excited to play at the Bell Centre against the Canadiens for their home opener, he’s not overwhelmed. The slick-skating forward who can play both center and wing isn’t quite as wide-eyed by his surroundings as the typical 19-year-old playing in the National Hockey League.
“I don’t think he gets intimidated by the moment. I think he’s a hockey player, and he looks like he gets more excited than he does nervous, and I think he’s excited about playing tonight,” John Stevens said.
“He’s a lot like Iafallo, to be honest with you. He’s got really good detail in his game, speed and quickness, he sees the ice really well. We just want to see him be a really consistent player out there that doesn’t have any peaks and valleys in his game. A little bit careful with him early, just because it’s a big step for him to take, but we’ve been really happy with his camp, and we certainly think he can help us. That’s why he’s here.”
John Stevens, on whether Los Angeles’ experienced and sizeable lineup helps ease Anderson-Dolan in:
Well, he’s a good player. Whether you’re big or small, you need to be competitive, and he’s competitive. I think you’re seeing that in the game. We’re all saying the game’s faster, guys are bigger, smaller, whatever the case is, you’re never going to stop being competitive. He’s got a really good skill set. He’s maybe not as big as some of the other guys, but he plays big and we think he’s got a really well-rounded game that can help us.
Stevens, on how he plans on handling Anderson-Dolan:
You do have to be conscious of the schedule, but if maybe we can track his fatigue and track his work numbers and all, I think he’s a really well-trained guy for a young player. We have Wagner here as a young player, too. [Jaret] did some really good things, so we made the decision to go with him, but he’s a kid again that can play center or wing. We’re going to evaluate our team every day, watch these guys in practice, how they perform, see where we think they can help us, and we think he can help us, but if he comes in and plays well, he’s got the consistency in his game, we’d have no problem keeping him in.
–Stick taps to Alec Martinez, who will appear in his 500th NHL game tonight. I’m having trouble locating his first career goal on YouTube (update: never mind; stick taps to thecanuck341 and PTJunky88), which was scored on Carey Price at Bell Centre on November 24, 2010, so
in lieu of a video, here’s a photo from that game, depicting Martinez in his early organizational number of 53:
UPDATE. The video:
-Lead photo via Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images