WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Saturday, January 16 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: STAPLES Center – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: On Thursday we were back in black, and tonight we’re back in silver! The Kings will wear their silver, third-jerseys for the first time this season, as they conclude the season-opening, two-game set against the Wild this evening at STAPLES Center. Puck drop is slated for 6 PM.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: As a part of the 2020-21 NHL season, the Kings will play the majority of their schedule in sets of two against different opponents. Tonight’s meeting finishes the first series of the season, with Los Angeles and Minnesota squaring off for the second time in three nights. Forward Kirill Kaprizov led all scorers in the first matchup on Thursday, with three points (1-2-3), while Jeff Carter (1-1-2) and Anze Kopitar (0-2-2) each had multi-point games for the Kings. Kopitar now has seven points (2-5-7) in his last four games against Minnesota, while forward Dustin Brown scored his 300th career NHL goal on Thursday, becoming the sixth player in franchise history to hit the mark. For the Wild, defenseman Ryan Suter, who had an assist on Thursday, now has 25 in his career against the Kings.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings held an optional morning skate today at Toyota Sports Performance Center, so tonight’s lineup is not fully clear at this time. Yesterday’s practice showed no changes to the Kings lines from Opening Night, however Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid joined the team this morning, and are in play for tonight’s game. Both skated this morning, along with goaltender Cal Petersen, after the three players were activated earlier today.
While Petersen did re-join the group this morning, Jonathan Quick is still expected to get the nod between the pipes for the second straight game. Quick, in the opinion of his head coach, was sharp in the season-opening game, and really wasn’t at fault on the goals he allowed. All-time, Quick is 14-8-6 against Minnesota in his NHL career.
The team did not run organized “line rushes” today, but from Todd McLellan’s pre-game media availability, here is what we may expect tonight, assuming that nothing injury-related pops up between now and tonight’s game.
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Athanasiou – Lizotte – Carter
Kempe – Vilardi – Wagner
Moore – Amadio – Luff
Maatta – Doughty
Anderson – Roy
MacDermid – Walker
With regards to MacDermid and Walker, McLellan said that he’ll see how they felt after today’s skate, before a final decision, but assuming all good, expect to see them in tonight’s lineup.
“There’s a good chance,” McLellan said, of Walker and MacDermid playing. “They’re skating right now, optional skate this morning, we’ll see how they feel after. In normal circumstances, we’d say let’s get them a practice or two, but we’re not in normal circumstances. There’s going to be a lot of teams that go through this, throughout the season, where players are quarantined for whatever reason and come back and have to play. There’s a chance they will be in the lineup, we’ll just see how they feel at the end of the skate this morning.”
He also noted that barring any “bumps or bruises” during morning skate, we could see the same group of 12 forwards in tonight’s game. For a full rundown on today’s roster moves, see here.
Zach Parise – Victor Rask – Kirill Kaprizov
Marcus Johansson – Nick Bonino – Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno
Nico Sturm – Nick Bjugstad – Ryan Hartman
Ryan Suter – Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Jared Spurgeon
Carson Soucy – Greg Pateryn
Todd McLellan talked about Minnesota being a “big, heavy team”, and has praised the Wild’s ability to control the puck down low in the offensive zone, as well as along the boards with many of their forwards.
Regarding Kaprizov, the skilled forward became the first player in Wild history to collect three points in his NHL debut. The Russian-born winger also led all forwards in time-on-ice (21:52) and became the first player since 1991, and the third in NHL history, to score the overtime winner in his regular-season debut.
While his on-puck accomplishments were impressive, his play away from the puck also resonated with McLellan.
“His play without the puck was noticeable as well,” McLellan said. “There were situations and times during the night where he read the play, broke it up and it ended up going the other way.”
The forward is a Calder Trophy favorite this season, and for good reason. If Thursday’s debut is any indication, the Wild have a keeper on their hands.
“Minnesota’s lucky to have a talented player like that, the NHL’s fortunate to have him too. He looks like he’s going to be tremendous,” McLellan said.
Change, Change, Changeeeeee
Adding Walker and MacDermid back as a defensive pairing brings two unique skillsets back into the lineup tonight.
In Walker, the Kings get a member of their power-play back, with Walker having run the second unit behind Drew Doughty throughout training camp. Walker returning to the lineup means that Kale Clague likely departs it, a player who McLellan praised on Thursday for his play as the game went on. In any extent though, the Bowling Green product is still a welcomed addition to the lineup, with his skating ability a huge asset for the Kings.
“Walks is a guy that I think can take off, he’s got all the offensive tools you need to be a really good offensive defenseman, I really think he can take off this year,” Doughty said of his teammate on the blueline.
MacDermid, on the other hand, is a steady, physical presence on the blueline, and a player who has worked hard to round out his overall game.
“He’s front and center, he’s a real glue guy on our team, I can’t stress that enough,” McLellan said earlier in camp about MacDermid. “He looks after players, he’s got an intensity to him that’s really important off the ice and in the gym. On the ice, he works on his game as hard as anybody. He’s the type of player that everybody cheers for, and appreciates what he does.”
From my experience in the AHL, the second game of a back-to-back set can sometimes feature added intensity, physicality and the occasional display of fireworks.
Now, those games are typically played on consecutive nights, not with a day in between, so things that happened on night one are usually fresher in the minds of the players.
McLellan said this morning that he doesn’t feel like there was anything specifically from game one that he expects to carry over into a possible game two.
“I think every series of games will take on its own personality,” McLellan said, when asked this morning. “They are a big, heavy team to begin with, they like to play along the boards, especially a couple of their lines, so I don’t think they’re going to change their style. As far as the emotional stuff, there wasn’t anything in game one that would trigger an overabundance of it, but as teams get legs underneath them, they become more polished with their forechecks and their o-zone [play], I’m sure there will be heavier, harder hockey and we have to be prepared for that.”
Speaking with Alex Iafallo and Matt Roy, both players believed there could be some added intensity and physicality to tonight’s game, but weren’t expecting any fireworks as a result of Thursday’s game either.
Roy: Yeah, I think it’s natural for the physicality to pick up, you’re used to seeing the same guys on the ice. It just kind of naturally intensifies, so it’s going to be more physical for sure.
Iafallo: For sure. I think, playing a team back-to-back, is good because it gets a good atmosphere going, even though we don’t have fans. We’re pissed off that we lost, it’s going to be an intense game and we’re ready for it. It adds to the intensity factor for sure.
The Ontario Reign were scheduled to open their preseason slate this afternoon against the San Diego Gulls at 1 PM in Irvine. That game has been called off due to an “abundance of caution”, and a full statement from the Reign is listed below.
The Ontario Reign preseason game against the San Diego Gulls scheduled for today at Great Park Ice (Irvine, CA) has been cancelled out of an abundance of caution related to health protocols.
The two teams are scheduled to play tomorrow at Toyota Sports Performance Center and a determination on that game will be made at a later time.
Kings and Wild, coming up next!