INSIDERS. The sweet hum of fluorescent lights welcomed us back to Toyota Sports Center on a quiet weekday morning. The LA Kings held a lengthy practice with contact the morning after a recovery day, and notes were taken.
–Expect Alec Martinez to get back into the lineup Thursday against the Ottawa Senators. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll be able to go tomorrow,” Willie Desjardins said. “We’ll see at the morning skate, but I think there’s a good chance. We’ll see.”
Martinez skated alongside Jake Muzzin during the morning skate, so there’s a good chance their partnership will be reprised against the Senators. This would be his first game since the 5-1 win over Vegas on December 8. As always, he’ll look to get his skates underneath him and establish his reads early, because there’s no substitution for an actual game. “No one in this room’s going to come down and bury me into the first row [in practice],” he said.
His activation could push rookie defenseman Sean Walker either down the lineup or out of the lineup altogether, though a better indication of who’ll be in and who’ll be out will be learned at the morning skate. Though there were changes defensively, the team didn’t appear to show any changes to their forward groups at practice. I sat down midway through the rotations, though, so let’s wait until game day to project the lineup. Or project away, it’s a free country.
(The Kings roster currently sits and 22, so they wouldn’t be obligated to make a corresponding move should they activate Martinez tomorrow.)
–Jake Muzzin, who is among the most likely players on Los Angeles to be traded in advance of the deadline and should fetch a handsome return – he’s on trade boards here, here and here – is enjoying one of his finest seasons as a pro. He drew notice in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column today: “Drew Doughty got the All-Star nod, but Jake Muzzin has been Los Angeles’s best defenceman. The price is high, but someone is going to seriously consider it,” Friedman wrote.
Here’s how Desjardins views Muzzin, updated amidst a reputation gleaned as an opposing coach: “He’s underrated in lots of ways, I think. He’s a good player. There’s one game where he logged about 30 minutes I think in Buffalo. Offensively, got a breakaway, a goal, and they had the breakaway in overtime. He’s more offensive than people think, and then he’s big and strong defensively, so he has a lot of things that we think are underrated with his game.”
“I thought he was more of a big defender, that he didn’t have that offense to him. He’s worked at his game – and he’s like Drew, too. Like, I talked about Drew and how valuable he is on the ice, but off the ice he’s huge at keeping the team together and helping the young guys. He’s good at that as well, so he’s been good.”
–More from Desjardins on defensemen. I’ve really liked Derek Forbort’s game over the last two or three weeks, which has coincided with Doughty’s most elevated and consistent play of the season. What, specifically, has Forbort recently graded well in alongside the top defensive defenseman on the planet?
“He’s a good defender,” Desjardins said. “He defends well, he’s good [against] the rush, makes good reads in the D zone. What I like with Forbie, a lot of times Drew gets into match-ups with the top line, and whoever plays with him has to be a good defender, and Forbie, he’s defended well for us.”
–Alec Martinez was only two years old when Tecmo Bowl was released in the United States, but like many who reached a certain age in the early 1990’s, the Nintendo game – the first video game to be licensed by the NHLPA and feature actual players – helped cement his Detroit Lions fandom. “Lions til I die, and Martha Ford knows that,” Martinez said.
This begs a follow-up question to anyone fitting squarely inside the two venn diagram circles of Those Who Own A Nintendo and Those Who Enjoy Football: who was the best player in Tecmo Bowl? Was it Lawrence Taylor? Bo Jackson? John Elway? Martinez, as would anyone from Southeastern Michigan, cast his lot for Barry Sanders. “A thousand percent. I don’t even think that’s a question,” he said.
Martinez dabbled in some hockey video games, but no one currently on the team is a fanatic of the NHL series. “The one that I did play was NHL 93 on Sega. That’s what I played all the time going to hockey tournaments,” Martinez said. “I remember I was always Montreal because Patrick Roy was in net. Kirk Muller was just nasty in that game. If I played against my dad, he’s from New York, up around Buffalo, Niagara Falls, so he would be the Sabres. I remember Pat LaFontaine in that game, it was pretty cool.”
“But for the most part we weren’t inside playing video games. We were outside, and he was pitching me baseballs or feeding me passes in hockey, stuff like that,” he added.
Two players known to spend time playing video games are Adrian Kempe and Jonny Brodzinski. They’re not necessarily playing NHL, or even Red Dead Redemption II, but rather FIFA, Call of Duty, and, of course, Fortnite. “I like to variate and play sports games and video games. … I play NBA – I still do that today,” Kempe said. “…It’s a hobby.” He’s even gotten into a few Madden games, even though that’s not exactly a popular franchise in Sweden. Living with a huge Minnesota Vikings fan in Brodzinski might’ve been an influence there.
If there’s a figure in the Kings family who gets some good mileage out of the NHL series, it’s someone who falls into more of a literal translation of “family” than a metaphoric one. It’s Willie Desjardins’ 19-year-old son, whom the Los Angeles coach referred to as a “high-end” gamer. “He beat some of the guys that ended up going to the All-Star Game,” he said.
Of course, there was a silly story with some legs at the start of the season about the Vancouver Canucks banning Fortnite on the road. This isn’t a surprise; there are many hours of the day, only so many of which are allocated for practice, meetings and treatment. When the team traveled to China last year, several players invested in Nintendo Switch systems to keep them entertained during the long flights and down time.
Desjardins chuckled when answering if he had ever considered enforcing video game ban in an NHL dressing room.
“It’s funny – we were in the room the other day and we were asking guys who takes their stuff with them on the road, and it doesn’t sound like many guys take anything with them on the road,” he said. “It certainly can be pretty addicting. It’s interesting, because my son’s a really good gamer – like, he’s a high-end gamer – so I understand it well. But, no, I’ve never had a policy. It’s like anything, you hope that gets monitored inside the room itself. To me, the policy is winning, and if you’re doing things that take away your chances to win, then you can’t do it. I think our group’s pretty committed trying to find ways to win, so I think they monitor it themselves pretty well.”
Willie Desjardins, on whether Drew Doughty is still “trying to do too much”:
You’ve got to love guys that try to do too much. It just shows how much they care. Like, it’s so easy not to let other people do it. You’ve got to admire Drew for the energy he brings every night. I think maybe some other guys have helped relieve a little bit of that pressure so he’s not having to do as much, but every night he brings a lot to the game. His energy level and his drive on the ice is pretty contagious and it’s a big reason we’re playing better, I think.
Desjardins, on areas that need to be improved for the Kings to continue taking steps:
I think we’ve done some addressing in the specialty teams, and I think they’ve been a little bit better. But saying that, we need to find ways to score more. Like, we have to find ways to create more, and there are so many different ways to look at it. Like, one of my [inaudible] is if you defend well, then you win off your transition game, and I think that’s still [inaudible]. But then we’ve got to be quicker on our strikes. When we get our chances, we’ve got to go quicker, we’ve got to be after it. So, it’s ‘how can we create more scoring chances,’ and a lot of your chances come off your power play, so we’ve got to draw more power plays. We’ve got to get to the net more, we’ve got to make teams take penalties. Because if you get a power play, usually you get two chances at least on a power play, maybe three if it’s a good power play. All of a sudden your chances go way up. I think last game San Jose got six shots on their power plays. Like, if you would’ve switched that, if they took six away from them and gave us six, that’s our game. We’re in the game. You’ve got to create more power plays. I think our D are way better at joining. I think we’ve got lots out of our D that join and more movement in the offensive zone, so I like that part of the game. We’ve got to find a way, though, to keep probably a little bit more sustained pressure in their zone. Everybody get up, and when we get pressure, we’ve got to keep it. There’s lots of areas we can improve on, and even if you improve a little bit, it can make a big difference. Things for us to look at, for sure.
–Lead photo via Johnny Vy/NHLI