INSIDERS. A very happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and friends. The LA Kings held an optional skate at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday morning at Toyota Sports Center in advance of tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network) and did not hold line rushes. “Wait for the song,” it has been suggested once or twice.
–Jonathan Quick took the ice at 9:30 a.m. and saw shots from Bill Ranford and Dusty Imoo for the second consecutive day, and though he remained on to face shots from players arriving on the ice for the morning skate, did not formally join the team for practice. He spent a little over 20 minutes on the ice and continued to show good movement and competitiveness when the situation called for a touch more improvisation, rather than a more controlled and repetitive process of facing shots. A loose/general ballpark on his return centers around the start of December.
–The vitals: Los Angeles made a roster move on Wednesday, assigning forward Michael Amadio to AHL-Ontario. Amadio wasn’t projected to play against Colorado, so he’ll be inserted into the Reign lineup for tonight’s game in San Diego. (Hopefully the Reign left two hours ago so they may arrive before the start of the second period.) Paul LaDue remained on the ice for extra work with Gabe Vilardi and Peter Budaj and isn’t expected to play tonight. Cal Petersen left the ice first at the morning skate and will be projected to start against the Avs. Per ColoradoAvalanche.com, Semyon Varlamov will draw the start for the visitors. He’s 7-5-2 in his career against Los Angeles with a 2.19 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and a shutout.
–Willie Desjardins, on facing the combination of Gabe Landeskog (13-9=22), Nathan MacKinnon (13-16=29) and Mikko Rantanen: 8-24=32): “For us, I like rolling four lines, so all four lines have to be able to handle them. Like, if you don’t, then obviously you get in a hard match-up. But I think our lines are build where I feel they can all check. Sometimes I will load up a line if I know that we’re going to hit MacKinnon’s line. I’ll split the third and fourth unit so I can make it a little stronger. But, the top two units are going to have to be able to play against him, for sure.”
Per the NHL, Rantanen and MacKinnon became the first teammates in Avalanche/Nordiques franchise history to begin a season on simultaneous point streaks of nine games. It marked the 14th time in NHL history, and second time in as many years, that teammates began a season with simultaneous point streaks of nine or more games; Lightning duo Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos opened with 11-game runs in 2017-18. Nine of the top 15 point-getters in the NHL are age 23 or younger, including each of the top four (Mikko Rantanen, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Mitchell Marner). Overall, 46.4% of players to appear in at least one game this season are age 25 or younger (375 of 808).
–Yesterday, Desjardins answered a question as to why Paul LaDue hadn’t gotten into a game since he took over as head coach. One reason cited was that he didn’t want to disrupt the confidence of another player by taking them out of the lineup. That player holding down the final defensive spot is Oscar Fantenberg, who will play his ninth consecutive game tonight and the eighth straight since Desjardins took over.
“I feel like I’m playing better and better every game, so I just have to keep working hard,” he said. “I want to contribute a little bit more offensively, but I’m taking a step in the D-zone. It’s all of what we think about lately, playing good defensively, and then offensively stuff’s going to come.”
Fantenberg’s yet to record a point through his first 12 games, but there’s a real tenacious aspect about his game when it’s going well. He totaled two goals and nine points in 27 games last season – that’s a 27-point pace over a full season – but when he’s on his game is more of an all-around, competitive player than someone whose value is limited to offensive or power play situations. He’s able to generate power through high-force skating strides that really push him down into the ice. It results in powerful skating, which, coupled with his bulldog nature, allow him to attack the corners and boards with the force and energy of someone larger in stature. It works in concert with a respected work ethic both on the ice and in the weight room, according to those who’ve been privy to his training and practice habits.
“I want to play hard,” he said. “I wouldn’t say big, but I’m strong and I want to use it a little bit more and use that and be on the right side [of the puck] as well. It’s some small things we were working on in the beginning of our season with Johnny. I’ll just keep building on that, but I feel more confident especially when playing more games in a row — it feels like you’ve grown into it and you get in a rhythm in two games and it works.”
Though he’d been a 12-to-14-minute player under John Stevens, he logged three games between 11:22 and 12:16 early under Desjardins before ranging from the mid-13’s to mid-15’s over the past two weeks. His 13:38 average time on ice this year is below his 14:16 average last season.
“Oscar’s been playing well,” Desjardins said. “I think he’s getting more and more confident when he’s going along, which is a good thing for us. That’s sometimes the upside of a coaching change – guys just feel maybe they get a different chance and a different look. It’s not like I thought other coaches maybe read it wrong, it’s that he’s more excited, so now he’s playing better, and I think he’s getting rewarded for it.”
–Of all of the congratulations Matt Luff received for his first career goal, there was nothing better than hearing from mom and dad, first via text, and then over the phone.
“I could just feel how excited they were just through the text because you talk about starting with a hockey stick, then it’s your first NHL game, then your first NHL goal,” he said.
Luff’s first career goal was the game-winner Monday night, a top corner laser after a pinpoint Adrian Kempe saucer pass freed up a seam towards the net during a high-speed rush.
Among those to take notice? Toronto Maple Leafs superstar John Tavares. Luff admitted to being a little starstruck by the well wishes.
“He sent [the text] to Matt Moulson because they’re good buddies and he sent it to me and I was like, ‘Wow.’”
Luff lives with the Moulson family, and as he described it, met Tavares when the Leafs were recently in Los Angeles and had stopped by the house during their stay.
The fun didn’t stop there.
“And then I think Andy Lassner from the Ellen show DM’d me. I told him it was probably one of the coolest DMs I’d gotten and he was like, ‘No way.’ He’s funny.”
If one recalls back to Luff’s earliest days in pro hockey, after the conclusion of his 19-year-old season with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, he had struck up a relationship with former Reign forward Paul Bissonnette, now an ambassador and radio color commentator with the Arizona Coyotes and co-host of the Spittin’ Chiclets hockey podcast. There was some rookie joshing, but Bissonnette was among those to take Luff under his wing as an older and charismatic veteran and eased his transition into the pro game.
This is probably old news for those who remember Bissonnette giving Luff the business through a series of Instagram stories after the rookie had splurged to buy a fancy belt after receiving his signing bonus.
“He talks to me the odd time just to see how I’m doing, and he comments on all my photos to see what I’m buying,” Luff joked.
“I think he helped me fit in right away. I was a nervous kid, so as soon as I got there I was just nervous to meet guys because I didn’t know anybody on the team. So, he brought me in and made those videos and was funny, so he was a guy I could talk to. Even now, we still talk and he just wishes me the best and I message him. And you see how he’s doing well with Arizona and the podcast, so I’m happy for him and he keeps it light and is a great room guy.”
–Dion Phaneuf will receive his silver stick in a ceremony before the game to commemorate 1,000 NHL games played. Don’t be surprised if there’s a Sutter or two in attendance tonight. Tonight’s officials are referees Furman South and Trevor Hanson and linesmen Ryan Gibbons and Kiel Murchison. Arron Aguayo will perform the national anthem. It’s a game day, Insiders. Let’s talk soon.
–Lead photo via Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire