The Kings hit the ice today with a new look to their lineup.
In last night’s game, Todd McLellan shook up the lines in the third period, as he looked to add a “spark” to the group. Those changes included bumping up Trevor Moore top the top line, along with Anze Kopitar and Alex Iafallo, and shifting Dustin Brown to a unit with Adrian Kempe and Gabe Vilardi.
Today saw Kempe moved up with Kopitar and Iafallo, while the pairing of Vilardi and Brown remained together. The two seemed to show some chemistry last night, as that line showed well in their limited shifts together.
McLellan felt yesterday that the Kopitar line needed a bit of a speed-infusion, and inserted Moore to do so. Kempe filled that role today and he certainly meets that speed criteria. The trio already skate together on the man advantage, and Kempe scored his first goal of the season last night on the power play after he had a goal taken away in consecutive games via video review.
Here’s how the Kings lined up today, with some asterisks
Kempe – Kopitar – Iafallo
Athanasiou – Lizotte – Carter
Andersson – Vilardi – Brown
Moore – Amadio – Wagner
Anderson-Dolan – Grundstrom
Maatta – Doughty
Anderson – Roy
Clague – Walker
MacDermid – Bjornfot
Quick / Petersen / Ingham
The bottom six groupings are not fully clear. With 14 forwards on the ice, the combinations were interchanged a bit, meaning it wasn’t set who played on the third, fourth and fifth lines. The groupings shown were from the first line-rushes of the day.
“It’s a little bit about shaking some of the lines up,” McLellan said this morning. “We’re happy with the Lizotte line, they seem to be going well, and we don’t want to dramatically want to make changes. Just trying to tweak it a little bit, see if we can get some more out of some individuals.”
When asked this morning about the Vilardi – Brown combination, McLellan indicated that the former is a big body, who has the ability to play at multiple speeds and make plays with a variety of players. Brown has the nose for the net and thrives working around the blue paint and in the corners. The Kings’ Head Coach feels that their games might complement each other well.
“Gabe has the ability to speed up or slow the game down and play either way,” McLellan said. “He’s got good vision, good hands, makes good plays. Brownie can do some corner work and some net work for him, and I think those two things will complement each other.”
On the backend, today’s rushes show that Kale Clague may get another look tomorrow, in place of Kurtis MacDermid. McLellan thought that Clague settled into the game well in the season opener, but drew out of the lineup in the last two games with MacDermid and Sean Walker checking back in after clearing COVID-protocol.
McLellan spoke at length today about Clague’s progress, both on his personal development curve, and as it relates specifically to this season. He believes the young blueliner will get another look in the lineup relatively soon, which could come tomorrow night.
“He was trending well,” McLellan said of Clague. “He earned the opportunity to start the season, and he played well in the game that he was in, and he’s going to get another chance quite soon to get back into the lineup. You think of his development path coming out of juniors and into pro, his development here, from what I was aware of, matches his development in juniors. By the fourth year, he was a dominant defenseman in juniors, it took him a little time, and [defensemen] take a little longer. I think he’s done a tremendous job over the summer to come into camp prepared, to compete for a position. He’s got good legs and good vision, he was very capable the night he played and I’m sure he’ll get another opportunity coming up.”
– With regards to Lias Andersson, the forward was assigned back to the taxi squad earlier today, with Boko Imama reassigned to Ontario in a corresponding transaction. While on the surface the move comes as a bit of a surprise, because Andersson played and played well last night, McLellan clarified that it’s not a reflection on Andersson and that similar moves will come throughout the season, to help manage the active roster, the taxi squad and the Reign roster.
“Expect that stuff to happen all year,” McLellan said. “It’s moving parts, it’s roster – not a cap thing for us – but just managing roster spots.”
Andersson is on an entry-level contract, and is waiver-exempt, meaning he can be assigned between the active roster, the taxi squad and the AHL without having to clear waivers.
After last night’s game, McLellan pointed out Andersson’s game as one he was happy with, in his LA Kings debut, and confirmed this morning that he was still happy with his play after reviewing the tape.
Additionally, after today’s skate, the Kings reassigned a pair of defensemen, with Mark Alt moving to the taxi squad from the AHL’s Ontario Reign, and Tobias Bjornfot going the other way.
Alt was previously assigned to the AHL on Sunday, and now rejoins the Kings group. Bjornfot has stuck around at the NHL level, between the active roster and the taxi squad to begin the season, and will now join the Reign, who have several upcoming preseason games in the next 10 days.
Bjornfot’s assignment will give him some much-needed game action at the AHL level – the Reign play Friday, Sunday and Monday in exhibition action – so that a top, 19-year-old prospect isn’t sitting in the press box for an extended period.
– Regarding injuries, McLellan said that there are no further updates regarding Matt Luff and Martin Frk. Neither player skated with the group today, and neither player is available to play tomorrow against Colorado.
Luff was labeled as day-to-day earlier this week, while Frk was labeled as week-to-week with a lower-body injury as of early last week.
– Speaking with Trevor Moore today, after not playing on the penalty kill last season, he has averaged more than two minutes per night on the PK through the first three games. Obviously, most SHTOI numbers are inflated for the Kings, seeing as they’ve been shorthanded for more time on a per-game basis than any other team in the league, but Moore’s involvement feels like something that could continue.
Finding forwards in the bottom six, especially on the fourth line, that can kill penalties is a huge bonus for the Kings. All five forwards averaging more shorthanded TOI than Moore are currently slotted in the Top 6, and the ability to mix in a player in the bottom six is big for not overworking others.
Moore said that while he didn’t necessarily “practice” for the penalty kill in the offseason, he did see that role as a possibility for him coming in.
“I knew, coming into this year, that there might be an opportunity there, to kind of carve out a role,” Moore said. “So far it’s gone alright.”
Last night, McLellan labeled Moore as a player who has skated well over the first few games of the season. When asked today, Moore agreed that the penalty kill was an area of the game that he could use his speed to be effective.
“Totally, I think that I’m able to get around the ice alright,” he said. “When you have MacKinnon coming down on you like that – [Not that I can] exactly keep up with him, but maybe be able to keep some sort of pace with him – slow him down a bit. In-zone it’s the same kind of thing.”
-Defenseman Mikey Anderson also spoke with media today, and touched on the keys to moving the puck up ice against Colorado, defending their power play, imposing the Kings’ game 5-on-5 and how he prepared for the season expecting to make the NHL roster.