INSIDERS. A happy Friday afternoon to you. The LA Kings showed the following forward alignment in advance of their game Saturday afternoon against the Vegas Golden Knights (1:00 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network):
–Austin Wagner has been assigned to AHL-Ontario and is expected to play in both games against Tucson this weekend. This is a move to get him playing time when he may not have been pegged for a spot in Los Angeles’ lineup. “Yeah, it wasn’t that he hadn’t played well,” Willie Desjardins said. “He’s been pretty good up here, and that’s what we want from our young guys. When they’re not getting a lot of ice time here, it’s better for them to go down and get some ice time. So, it’s not a case that we were disappointed with how he played. I was quite happy with the way he was playing. For a guy that came up, basically, he was playing well, but we have a couple guys. We’ve got to get these other guys and take a look at them, so that’s the only thing that’s happened.”
–Without an extra forward – the roster is down to 21 players – it’s also possible that the Kings go with an 11-forward, seven-defenseman balance against the Golden Knights. If that’s the case, then Michael Amadio would likely be the odd-man out, with Paul LaDue entering back in. The defensive pairings at practice rotated; Jake Muzzin did get some shifts alongside Drew Doughty, but so did Derek Forbort. “Wait for the song,” etc, etc. Jonathan Quick was the first goalie off the ice, which is usually an #LAKingsGoalieTweetOff indicator for the practice before matinee, but Cal Petersen didn’t exactly dither, so I’m holding off on projecting a goalie. (This is a very loose way to say I have a slight inclination that it’ll probably be Quick.)
–Their vitals: Good news, everyone! Vegas is 7-1-0 in their last eight, and four of the teams’ five games this season will take place over the next 25 days. That the Golden Knights are surging is not a surprise at all. They’re getting healthier, Nate Schmidt has returned from suspension, Marc-Andre Fleury has been better since Thanksgiving and they’ve moved past the natural “hangover” part of the early season in which it may take time for Cup finalists to regroup and refocus, as we have recalled. Their PDO is tied for second-lowest in the league at .973; their raw five-on-five Corsi-for has been healthy all season and ranks second at 54.8%. This is a playoff team through and through, and they’re coming in hot. Paul Stastny and Erik Haula remain out with lower-body injuries; per David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, expect groups of Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith, Pacioretty-Eakin-Tuch, Carpenter-Nosek-Lindberg and Carrier-Bellemare-Reaves up front and defensive pairings of McNabb-Schmidt, Theodore-Engelland and Holden-Miller. “They were a good team last year. They created a lot, they were a high-scoring team. We certainly know that. We know that we have to defend well. Especially in our D-zone, I think we can get a little bit better,” Desjardins said.
–Nikita Scherbak’s visa status has been resolved. He is eligible to make his LA Kings debut (and his 2018-19 NHL debut) Saturday afternoon. The near-23-year-old called it “a weight off my shoulders” and has begun to visualize how he’ll work in concert with Adrian Kempe and Tyler Toffoli, should he play where he was slotted in practice. “I watched two games now, and I kind of figured out what kind of style we’re trying to do here, what we’re focusing on,” he said. “…I’ll try to talk to them a lot. I think they’re going to be talking to me a lot, because it’s a different system a little bit from Montreal. It’s going to be a little bit hard, but I think I should be fine. They’re good players, and I’m excited to play with them, for sure.”
Kempe and his linemates have been relatively productive as of late, and with goals in two of his last three games, he now has three goals and six points in his last 12. “I like Kempe,” Desjardins said.
“Just Kempe himself, he’s pretty darn good, and I think you get that with young players where they’re a little bit inconsistent,” he continued. “The more consistent they get, the more you can rely on them. The one thing as a coach, you want to know when you send a guy out what he’s going to do, and when they’re young, you’re not quite as sure. You’re more sure with your older players, and that’s why they get a little bit more ice time, I think. But Kempe’s proven that he can be a good player and he can log some minutes. But, Toffoli was good, too. That line was good last game. It’s going to be good to see Nikita on there. He has lots of skill, and it’ll be really interesting to see how that line works.”
–Carl Hagelin (MCL sprain) hasn’t resumed skating, nor is that next step on the upcoming docket. “He’s a ways away, yet,” Desjardins said. His timeline is four-to-six weeks; the injury took place on November 24. He has missed the last seven games.
–Fun news! Actor/Comedian Jeff Garlin will join the FOX Sports West broadcast tomorrow on Hockey Night in Los Angeles. If you see him at the rink, you might not want to pitch him Curb Your Enthusiasm ideas.
More from Desjardins:
On whether new players in a lineup have the potential to provide energy:
I think it does. It depends on the player, though. Obviously, the player has to come in and play well. That was the case with Leipsic. Scherbak’s another guy that we see good things in, and he can brings one stuff to our lineup, as well. We have to see if it translates from practice to the game.
On whether it was strange that top scorers were quiet on a night secondary scorers produced:
A little bit. It seems like there’s always something going on with us. Overall, though, the Kopitar line’s carried us for quite a bit. I think they’ve been good. Last night wasn’t quite their best, but they’ve certainly been good before that. It’s good when you look at some things. I thought Kempe had a good night with that line with Toffoli, so there are some encouraging things to see. We just have to put it all together.
On pucks not going in for Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli:
I don’t know, it’s tough when you go through a stretch when you’re not scoring. I think Carter’s a heck of a hockey player. I look at him, and he does so many things well. He’s got a great attitude when he comes to the rink. Lots of good things about him, and it is tough sometimes because nobody’s as upset as he is with his play. Like, he’s certainly frustrated with how things are going. Two or three games ago, he was creating the most on the team. He was playing well. It’ll come around for him. He’s just got to keep going with it. He’s a very good player.
On Drew Doughty’s comments, and trying to properly channel frustration as coach:
Well, we’ve got to figure out why we’re frustrated. There are areas of our game we can improve and be better, and I think that gives us hope. Like, when we look at video, we go, ‘oh, yeah, we can be better in that area’ or ‘we can be better in this area.’ For sure, we made mistakes, but it also gives us hope because we know we can improve on those things. And they’re small things – it’s not like it’s huge. I think we out-chanced the other team the last two games, so it’s not like we haven’t played – we played OK. Can we be better? For sure we can be better, but for us, we all have to get on the same page and go together.
On any concerns that Drew Doughty’s comments might have a negative effect in the dressing room:
No, it doesn’t concern me. Everybody in that room’s a professional, and they’ll take what they need out of those comments. We all have to look at our own game and what we’ve done, and that’s what we have to do – and coaches included. It’s not just players. So, when comments are made, we’ve got to evaluate it. Do we have more? Yeah, I think we have more. I think we can find more. That’s all Drew wants, and that’s what everybody in the room wants. It comes from getting consistent. We have to build on that. We’d like to build on it quicker. That’s kind of what you want, but it’s a process, and none of us like the process. We all want to go right to winning right away, and it doesn’t happen right away. Like, we have to build. While that’s going on it’s a little bit frustrating, but we have to keep working through it.