Game Day in Columbus, as two teams with five-game point streaks, the Kings (4-0-1) and the Blue Jackets (3-0-2) battle it out tonight. (4:00 p.m. PT / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / LA Kings Audio Network). The Kings held just an off-ice workout yesterday afternoon at Nationwide Arena and were on the ice for a (near) full-team skate, more on that to follow.
KINGS VITALS: Jack Campbell was first off this morning in Columbus and Todd McLellan confirmed in his post-skate media scrum that Soups On tonight in Ohio. Campbell has faced the Blue Jackets just once in his NHL career, as he made 26 saves on 27 shots in a 2-1 victory in January. When McLellan spoke with the media yesterday afternoon, there was an indication that the Kings will line up the same way as they did on Tues…..but wait!
Forward Dustin Brown was not on the ice this morning, in any capacity. McLellan called Brown a game-time decision tonight.
“He’s back at the hotel, feeling better today, just didn’t make a lot of sense to bring him to the rink,” McLellan said after today’s practice.
Matt Luff, currently the only extra forward on the roster, skated in Brown’s place in line rushes this morning, with all other groupings unchanged. Kale Clague rotated in with MacDermid & Walker, but was on the ice late after morning skate, which would indicate that he is not in line to make his NHL debut tonight. My interpretation from this morning’s scrum, and how the lines were positioned in rushes, is to expect Brown in the lineup tonight, but it’s something that we won’t know for sure until we’re back at the rink later today.
The Kings enter tonight’s action off of a very hard-fought, very emotional win on Tuesday against Boston. The Kings had the non-game day yesterday, which helps to reset the meter closer to zero, but is it challenging to re-focus the group and make sure that there is no letdown after such an emotional victory last time out?
“Well, there’s no way to make sure that doesn’t happen,” McLellan said of a possible letdown. “There’s been a lot of games this year where I thought we played well and didn’t get the reward and I had the concern of us not getting it. Lately it’s gone our way, so the concern switches to complacency and I don’t think we’re a group that can fall into that by any means, based on where we are and how far we have to go. I’d like to think that this Columbus team’s going to motivate us, because they are a pretty straight forward, meat and potatoes, hard-working hockey club. If we’re not aware of that, or prepared for that, they’ll surprise us quite quickly.”
From the point of view of forward Adrian Kempe, who tallied shorthanded against Boston on Tuesday, the goal is not so much to think about a letdown, but to keep the momentum that the Kings have gathered over the last five games rolling tonight.
“Well, I think the last couple of games have been very good for us and you just want to keep the momentum going,” Kempe said. “I think we have a good thing going here as a team, and the energy is really good. All [four] lines are bringing something to the team, and that’s what we need to win games, especially against good teams like Boston and going in here tonight [against Columbus] as well.”
BLUE JACKETS VITALS: Speaking of that Columbus hockey club, the expectation from the their camp is that goaltender Joonas Korpisalo will be between the pipes tonight for his 28th appearance of the season, and his second career start against the Kings. Korpisalo has posted a respectable 14-10-3 record this season, to go along with a 2.64 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. Korpisalo lost his only career start versus Los Angeles, as he surrendered five goals on 34 shots in a 5-2 Kings victory on 3/1/18.
Torts: Wennberg (puck high last game) is in, Peeke (hand) out. Korpisalo in net. No other changes. #CBJ
— Alison (@AlisonL) December 19, 2019
Per John Tortorella’s media availability earlier today, reported by Alison Lukan of The Athletic, expect Alexander Wennberg, who took a puck up high against Detroit, to be in the lineup tonight, while defenseman Andrew Peeke (hand) will not play after he was placed on IR today. The expectation is that defenseman Scott Harrington will check in in place of Peeke on the blueline, per Jackets Insider Jeff Svoboda, but defenseman Gabriel Carlsson was recalled earlier today on an emergency basis from AHL-Cleveland.
Joonas Korpisalo in net for #CBJ tonight. Scott Harrington in for Andrew Peeke. And perhaps a roster move on the horizon as the Jackets have only 18 healthy skaters at their disposal at the moment.
— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) December 19, 2019
Columbus, like the Kings, enters tonight’s game with points in five straight games, something that hasn’t been lost on McLellan.
“Torts has their team playing real well,” McLellan said. “They’ve been able to overcome injuries and the guys that have popped in have given them good games, good energy type games. We better be prepared.”
Leading the way for the Blue Jackets this season is forward Gustav Nyquist, who tops the Colulmbus scoring charts with 23 points, and is tied for the team lead with 15 assists. The 30-year-old Nyquist is a veteran of 534 NHL games with Detroit, San Jose and now Columbus and signed a big ticket, four-year contract with the Blue Jackets this past offseason.
Nyquist was a teammate, and linemate, of Adrian Kempe at the IIHF World Championships in 2018, as the pair represented Team Sweden, with Calgary’s Michael Backlund the third member of that line. The trio combined for 22 points (8-14-22) at the tournament as a “third line”, helping Tre Kronor to a Gold Medal, with Nyquist scoring four goals, including one in the gold-medal game against Switzerland.
“I think he’s been good for many years now,” Kempe said of Nyquist. “He works hard and he always produces, wherever he goes. He’s the type of player that can play anywhere with anyone and I was actually linemates with him at my first World Championships two years ago, him and Backlund, it was very easy to play with him. He’s a good goal-scorer, he’s always around the paint and things like that. He’s a pretty good all-around player.”
Kempe talked about the ease of playing with a player like Nyquist, and Backlund for that matter, with the three NHL’ers gelling pretty well as a unit.
“I think we were the third line, but we still ended up with, I don’t know how many points we had, but we played well together,’ he added. “Like I said, it’s pretty easy to play with those two guys, they’re both good goalscorers, good passers, everything. And he’s a very nice person too.”
Some quick hitters from forward Tyler Toffoli, who will enter tonight’s action with points in five consecutive games. Toffoli has collected eight points (3-5-8) over that five-game spell and has seen his points come in a variety of ways.
The 27-year-old forward has moved over to the left wing on a line with Michael Amadio at center and either Matt Luff or Nikolai Prokhorkin on the right wing. While it has changed his game a bit, Toffoli seems to be excelling offensively on the left side and collected points both at even strength, as he did twice in Pittsburgh, and on the power play, as he did yesterday in Boston.
Toffoli’s Head Coach wasn’t sure if it was strictly the switch to the left wing that has jumpstarted his production as of late, but regardless of the reasoning, Toffoli has been a big part of LA’s success on their current five-game point streak.
I chatted with Toffoli about his switch to the left side and how he’s handled the adjustment.
Tyler Toffoli on his adjustment to play the left wing
I think it’s definitely different, positioning wise. In our own zone, trying to look over, basically you’re doing everything backwards, the other way, so it’s definitely been a bit of an adjustment. At the same time, getting into the zone, I feel like it’s not necessarily easier, but different, being able to make different plays coming in and being ready to shoot all the time.
On the offensive side of the switch, being able to come down the left wing and cut to the middle on his forehand to make a play or shoot the puck
Yeah, it was in Pittsburgh where I did that and passed it to Walks and he basically walked right in. It’s little things that are different, but you’re not necessarily just playing on the one side. You’re coming into the zone, if you’re the first guy back the way we play you stay low and you’ve got to communicate. Just find ways to get the puck out as fast as possible and go play in the offensive zone.
On if playing with a new set of linemates has possibly sparked him offensively
Yes and no. I think I’ve definitely had some really good opportunities earlier in the year that just didn’t go for me. Hopefully things keep going the way they’ve been going. I’ve just got to getting to the net and keep working and like I said, hopefully those good things keep going.
Game Thread is next!