A fine afternoon to you, Insiders. If youre looking for the Tkachuk/Doughty/Lucic stuff, click here or here. The LA Kings skated on the Scotiabank Saddledome ice from 11:30 a.m. to just past noon and aligned thusly:
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 8, 2019
— The vitals: Jack Campbell left the ice first and is expected to start against Calgary, against whom he is 1-1-0 in three appearances with a 0.46 goals-against average, a .988 save percentage and one shutout, which came at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 25. Joakim Ryan, Kurtis MacDermid and Austin Wagner remained on the ice for extra work and aren’t expected to play tonight. More on lineups in a moment.
— Their vitals: David Rittich, 2-0-0 against the Kings with a 1.00 goals-against average, a .956 save percentage and one shutout, gets the third straight nod in goal. Via Pat Steinberg, expect to see forward lines of Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm, Tkachuk-Backlund-Bennett, Lucic-Ryan-Mangiapane and Rieder-Jankowski-Frolik with defensive pairings of Giordano-Brodie, Hanifin-Hamonic and Kylington-Andersson. This is the second game of a two-game Flames home stand that will be followed by a Dallas-Vegas-San Jose three-in-four.
— Back to the lineups. The only L.A. change will be to insert Carl Grundstrom for Calgary native Austin Wagner. Before we go any farther, I want to use one Todd McLellan quote that I’d transcribed and has been sitting at the bottom of a word document, begging to be used in a story. On October 4, the Kings coach noted that eight of the Kings’ 21 skaters are yet to play 82 games in the NHL. “Those types of guys, we just assume they’re veterans. They haven’t even played a full year yet, so there are a lot of players to look into with that status,” he said last Friday. “We want to make sure they feel comfortable, we want to make sure we use them in the right spots, so they feel good about their game. We want them to enjoy it, yet we need them to be productive with it, and we’ll encourage them to do that.”
That endeavor was indirectly referenced again this morning when McLellan was asked about making lineup changes and the challenges young players face when opponents become more familiar with them. “They don’t know who you are, so they don’t know how to play you, and all of a sudden, they figure it out and they play you a little bit tighter and it becomes more difficult. It’s amazing that the star players can keep doing it every year, because everybody’s trying to figure ‘em out. How do you stop Connor, how do you stop Johnny, how do you stop Kopi? We’re all trying to figure those things out, but the star players have that stay-a-bility. I don’t even know if that’s a word. Sustainability. And the players that are just establishing themselves have to get to that point.”
In any sense, Wagner is out. He’ll be back in. He’s one of the eight skaters with fewer than 82 games of NHL experience. There may be more acute adjustments needed in his defensive zone play and his understanding of structure, but that’s true of a lot of young players looking to establish themselves. He’s not being removed because of mistakes, he’s being removed to give another young player a look and an opportunity, from what we’d gained.
“I think that Grunny was trying to play perfect at times [in the preseason] and satisfy the teacher, or the coaches, if you will,” McLellan said. “But he’s a tremendous player, he’s a good kid, he’s going to have a nice, long career, and he’ll get his opportunity to play and stay in the lineup.”
— McLellan spoke about choosing his lineup and shared the importance of having “an impact on the game.”
“You don’t have to score a goal, you don’t have to set up the winning play. You might have to break something up, you might have to block a shot, but if you go empty the whole night and haven’t contributed, regardless of how many minutes you’ve played, it begins to get us to think about making changes, and they dictate that based on their play.”
One in-game change McLellan made on Saturday was to insert Alec Martinez alongside Drew Doughty at the start of the third period, which moved Tobias Bjornfot alongside Matt Roy in five-on-five play. That even strength play didn’t last long, given the two power play goals and the four-on-four goal that the teams combined for in the period. I’ve written about the seldom-used Martinez-Doughty pairing before and asked McLellan what he’s looking for when they play together, independent of game situations.
“Well, there’s got to be a comfort level with the maturity, the experience that’s on there,” he said. “They understand who they’re playing against. They’ve been through the league a number of times, so they get the strengths and weaknesses of the players they’re competing against, and they’re used to eating up a lot of minutes. Will we see it? I don’t know. We’ll mix pairs up as we evolve as a team. This first go-around, these three games, we’re still trying to figure the players out, they’re trying to figure us out, we talked a little bit about shuffling lines and moving pairs around after Game 1, but I don’t even know if that’s fair. We’ve got to give everybody an opportunity to either clean up a weaker game or build on a strong one.”
Over the past three seasons, 53 combinations of Kings defensemen have logged at least 20 minutes together, according to Natural Stat Trick. Martinez and Doughty rank 15th over that span with 174 minutes and 18 seconds of five-on-five time accrued together, though their Corsi, Fenwick, shots, goals and expected goals rates are all below 49%. Such metrics don’t tell the story of why they are or aren’t together; at this point, it’s just something McLellan tried out in a tied third period and while Los Angeles was protecting a lead.
“I mean, we’ve played with each other long enough,” Martinez said. “Obviously if I have a hard time playing with Drew Doughty, then it’s on me. He’s one of the best D-men, I think the best D-man in the world. So if I have a hard time playing with him, that’s pretty tough. Obviously we know each other really well, we’ve played together a long time, so really, it doesn’t change. Whether I’m playing with any of the guys, our mindset stays the same. We want to be strong defensively, get pucks out, break out cleanly and play in the other end.”
He likened his relationship to regular defensive partner Matt Roy “to when I came into the league and Matt Greene was really good for me,” and he’s paying it forward. It’s not just with Roy – Martinez is a positive dressing room figure for all the young defensemen.
Martinez described McLellan as “relatively even keel” behind the bench, though he admitted he only had one regular season game to use as data. But McLellan, like any coach, will choose times both on and off-ice to get his message across more directly. We’ve seen him raise his voice while directing traffic in practice, but has he really barked at the group yet?
“Obviously we’re still getting to know each other and all that, but if I were to sum him up, he’s hard, but he’s honest,” Martinez said. “If we’re not doing what we should be doing, he’s going to let us know and he’s going to pipe up and yell at us. It happened in preseason a couple different times. He’s good at knowing the difference of whether a guy needs a pat on the back or a guy needs to get reamed. As a player, I think you respect that in anything. No one wants a BS-er. You just want him to shoot you straight if you’re not doing something that he wants you to do.”
— It sounds silly, but we’d heard in the past year or two of a so-called handshake agreement in which Milan Lucic wouldn’t take runs at his old mates. He’d play physically, sure, but not excessively so or with particular malice.
I asked Tyler Toffoli on Monday whether this arrangement was real or bunk. He scoffed at the suggestion.
“Everybody has a lot of friends on different teams, and once you get on the ice, it’s a hockey game. You’re working, you’re getting paid to do something, and he’s going out there doing his job, and we’re going out doing our job.”
But when Lucic moved on to Calgary, did he ever think about that added element in an already volatile rivalry?
“I feel like it’s one of those things where it’s another game. If something happens and he feels the need to step in, then he’s going to step in. If he doesn’t, then he’s going to play his game. We’re going to try and win the game, we’re all out there, we’re all working, we’re all doing what we’re paid to do.”