INSIDERS. You look wonderful today. Don’t change a thing. The LA Kings host the San Jose Sharks for the first time since opening night (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network) and hinted at the following lineup during today’s morning skate:
— The vitals: It’s another 11-forward, seven-defenseman lineup, Willie Desjardins confirmed. “It gives some of our center ice men a little bit more ice time. Lewie can play wing, so we’ll mix it around a little bit,” he said. Ilya Kovalchuk, who was on the ice for the morning skate but did not participate in line rushes, was confirmed to be out of the lineup for the second consecutive game, while Jonny Brodzinski and Dion Phaneuf remained on for extra work with the coaches and are presumed to be out of the lineup. Jonathan Quick, who is 16-11-6 in 35 career appearances against San Jose with a 2.52 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage and three shutouts, left the ice first at the skate and is the projected starter.
— Their vitals: Martin Jones is the confirmed starter. He’s allowed 10 goals on the last 67 shots he’s faced and was pulled after 12:24 in his most recent outing but has maintained excellent numbers against Los Angeles, going 11-3-3 over 17 appearabces with a 2.04 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and one shutout. Joe Pavelski (lower-body) and Erik Karlsson (groin) are out of the lineup. Via Kevin Kurz of The Athletic, no lineup changes are projected from Monday night’s game, an emotional 7-3 home loss to Vegas in a probable first round preview. Expect groups of Meier-Couture-Nyquist, Kane-Hertl-Donskoi, Sorensen-Thornton-Labanc and Haley-Goodrow-Karlsson with defensive pairs of Ryan-Burns, Dillon-Braun and Vlasic-Heed.
— Expecting Carl Grundstrom to grab a hold of the narrative with the same vigor as he did in his first two NHL games would’ve been quite a bit to ask. Grundstrom, who scored in each of his first two NHL games, has been quiet in the last three, recording just one shot on goal – his two-on-one bid in the third period Monday – since his first period goal at Anaheim.
And that’s to be expected! When a player debuts, the conventional wisdom is that he’ll they’ll flying on adrenaline over the first several games, and then there will be a natural, expected dip. Unless that player is Connor McDavid, there will be oscillations in the play from game-to-game while accruing more than just a handful of games to their name.
“I think it’s a big adjustment,” Desjardins said. “I think his first two games were good, not just because he scored. It just happened that he scored on those ones, but I think he had lots of energy there. I think the NHL is a hard game, a hard level to play, though, and you can never kind of relax. The last couple maybe he hasn’t been quite as good, but I don’t think that’s surprising. As a young guy, he’ll learn the league as he goes. So, I’ve been happy with his play. I think he’s a good two-way player, I think he can score, I think he plays hard in front of the net, so lots of good things I see in his game.”
Goaltending and defense are better at this level, and as other players become more familiar with his tendencies, he’ll also look to make adjustments to both unique personnel and the raised speed and skill in general.
“I think you learn that, and I think you learn that everybody’s good,” Desjardins said. “Like, you never get easy match-ups, and I think you learn how it has to be every shift. Every shift has to be a good shift. You just don’t have any room for error.”
— So this is Dustin Brown’s 79th career game against San Jose and Joe Thornton’s 79th game against Los Angeles as a member of the Sharks. Of all the players who suited up in the March 31, 2003 game between the Kings and Sharks at Staples Center – Brown’s first in the rivalry – only Brown and Patrick Marleau remain in the NHL.
Scott Thornton played in that game, but not Joe, who was still two years away from his cross-continent move from Boston that helped redefine the balance of power in the Western Conference. Given the histories of these teams’ leaders and former captains, either player could provide a thorough scouting report on the other, and Brown recalled a moment from early in his career in which the future Hall of Famer left an impression during some film study.
“Obviously he’s had two knee injuries back-to-back, which at any age will slow you down. But the thing with Thornton is he never really relied on his speed to begin with,” Brown said. “It was always his size and his skill level. I still think he’s probably one of the best passers that I’ve ever played against. I guess the one story I always remember early on, I think it was Jack Johnson was playing a one-on-one. We froze it [in a team meeting] – it was a video thing, a teaching thing. I think Thornton opened up, like over-skated on his strong side, and Jack Johnson’s got inside position on him. He’s cutting to the middle of the ice. Jack’s a pretty good player, and it doesn’t matter what you do, the puck’s six feet away from him. Thornton’s reach, you know? And he’s able to make plays with it out here, so how do you defend a guy that you can’t reach? I think it gives him an extra half a second to make a lot of the plays he does, because his reach and his skill level is just elite.”
Thornton, who will appear in his 1,558th game tonight, is five assists behind Steve Yzerman for eighth place on the NHL’s all-time assist list and seven games behind Nick Lidstrom (1,564 games) for 12th place on the all-time games played list. The center who turns 40 in July has 16 goals and 44 points in 64 games and isn’t signed beyond this season.
— More from Brown. The Kings-Sharks series, which simmered under medium heat prior to the beginning of this decade, boiled over during the playoff series of 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016 and in their aftermaths. Even apart from their springtime match-ups, there have been flare-ups of emotion in the fall and winter months.
Though the rivalry exploded as each team reached their competitive pinnacles, this will be the first meeting since the final game of the 2014-15 season in which one of the teams (or, neither team, in the case of that match-up) had nothing to play for. Before that meeting, you’d have to go back to 2008-09 for a Kings-Sharks game with more minimal stakes.
That shouldn’t matter tonight. If the recent Kings-Ducks game served as any template, it was that “emotional investment” shouldn’t serve as a reflective post-game talking point. Los Angeles played its best game in months two Sundays ago, limiting Anaheim’s scoring chances and possession time as part of a good meshing of structure and purpose.
“I think the Ducks and the Sharks are probably the two teams – they’re just fun games to play. I think it’s just the California thing,” Brown said. “Regardless of standings or who’s in, who’s out, if you look at the Ducks game we had last week, it was a fun game to be a part of. There’s just a little extra out there.”
What about tonight’s starter, Jonathan Quick?
It has been a familiar talking point among those who cover the team upstairs, but is there a possibility of Jonathan Quick, well, getting into a goalie fight in one of these divisional rivalry games?
“I think Quickie’s been looking for a fight for about 10 years,” Brown said with a smile on his face.
And even if such a thought is asked with genuine curiosity, it’s also expressed with the supreme respect over Quick’s fiery temperament and how it has helped catalyze his team’s performance in the rivalry. Billy Smith had a similar effect on another team that won multiple championships. More importantly, these players are human beings throwing punches at other human beings. Brown and Quick have kids, and there’s another goaltender on the opposite end who may or may not have children. Fighting increases the likelihood that a player gets hurt. So, these thoughts are shared with regard for the players’ well-being and toughness and with the inherent understanding that unless one has been in a hockey fight before, they don’t really have the best grasp what it’s like.
“He’s just an emotional guy and he gets fired up and sometimes it boils over,” Brown continued. “I think he’s been close a few times, and I think if he had willing partners in a couple of those situations, he would have. At the end of the day, I think he really wants to fight.”
Quick's first gloved punch of the season comes 40 minutes in.
— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) October 6, 2018
Brown noted that “Quickie’s teetered on the edge [of fighting] a few times,” and while there has been some bad blood between the Kings and other teams they’ve met in the playoffs, the veteran who will move within three games of Dave Taylor’s all-time franchise-record games played record tonight still has respect for the long-time greats he’s been in the trenches against, as represented above. And that extends beyond Thornton’s natural ability.
“They always have a good team,” he said. “They have a good core group and they’ve always found ways to be a competitive team, which is not easy to do. We’re not having the year we want, and they’re having a really good year, and it’s one of those things, they’ve been able to put a pretty good product on the ice, year-in and year-out. My first year, I thought they were the best team that I played. In the first few years, they were just so good.”
— A reminder: CANNONBALL. Renowned San Diego news anchor Ron Burgundy will make his NHL debut on the Kings’ broadcast tonight alongside Alex Faust and Jim Fox. More to come from Staples Center, where I’ll share Akil Thomas’ scouting report. Tonight’s officials are referees Kelly Sutherland and Marc Joannette and linesmen Tony Sericolo and Lonnie Cameron. Lorelei Sinco will sing the national anthem. Let’s talk soon, Insiders. Thank you as always for reading and following along.
— LAKingsPR (@LAKingsPR) March 21, 2019
— Lead photo via Harry How/Getty Images