WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Tuesday, January 26 @ 5:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center – St. Paul, Minnesota
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings continue their first road trip of the season with a visit to Minnesota, in a rematch from their season-opening set of games. The Kings enter tonight at 1-1-0 on the road so far this season, with a split from the two tilts played in St. Louis.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings hold a 0-0-2 record this season against Minnesota, after a pair of 4-3 losses at STAPLES Center to open the 2020-21 campaign. Forward Jeff Carter leads all Kings skaters against the Wild with four points (1-3-4) in those two games, while forward Andreas Athanasiou scored in both games. On the other side of the coin, Minnesota was led by rookie forward Kirill Kaprizov, who tallied three points in his NHL debut against the Kings on Opening Night, and has four points (1-3-4) in total across the two games. Defenseman Matthew Dumba collected three points (2-1-3) to lead all players on both sides from the blueline.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings were back on the ice for morning skate today, following an off-day on Monday. Off first this morning for the Kings was goaltender Cal Petersen, who could see his first-ever start at Xcel Energy Center tonight. Petersen has faced the Wild just once so far in his NHL career, as he stopped 25 of 28 shots against on March 7 of last season, in a 7-3 victory on home ice.
Here is how the team lined up this morning during rushes –
Kempe – Kopitar – Iafallo
Athanasiou – Lizotte – Carter
Andersson – Vilardi – Brown
Grundstrom – Amadio – Moore
Anderson – Doughty
Clague – Roy
MacDermid – Walker
From what we saw this morning, do not expect to see any changes for the Kings. The line groupings appeared intact from Sunday during the skate, with Austin Wagner the extra at forward and Olli Maatta the extra on the backend. Todd McLellan confirmed in his post-skate media availability that the Kings do not expect to make any changes from Sunday in St. Louis.
Tonight’s game for the Kings will be their first against an opponent they have already faced this season. McLellan noted this morning that having those games against the Wild already provides more evidence for pre-game preparations. It’s something they can apply to various situations, and see how they played against the Kings versus what they did in the games that followed against Anaheim and San Jose.
“We have more evidence, tactically and strategy-wise, we’ve got a good idea of what they were trying to do to target our weaknesses, and vice-versa,” he said. “Special teams, you can find tendencies a little bit more. When we look at the pre scout, we look at did they change anything against San Jose, or Anaheim, from when they played us and if they did, why and what can we do to fix those things.”
While the additional information is helpful, McLellan went on to note that the most important thing for this group is to first and foremost take care of their own game, rather than focus on what the opponent is doing.
“For the most part, we’re still at the stage where we’ve got to get our game in order,” he said. “We’ll give the players as much information about the opponent as we feel they need, but the rest of it is about our execution, positioning and our game.”
WILD VITALS: Goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen is expected to appear in his fourth consecutive game for the Wild. Cam Talbot, who played the entirety of both games in the first set between these two teams, suffered a lower-body injury on Friday against San Jose and yet to appear in a game since. Kahkonen, who has never faced the Kings in his NHL career, is 2-1-0 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage so far this season.
Here is how the Wild are expected to line up tonight, per Michael Russo of The Athletic –
Parise – Bjugstad – Fiala
Johansson – Bonino – Kaprizov
Greenway – Eriksson Ek – Foligno
Sturm – Rask – Hartman
Suter – Spurgeon
Brodin – Dumba
Soucy – Cole
In a graphic shared by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski yesterday, the Minnesota trio of Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Marcus Foligno has played the second-most minutes together as a line amongst groupings that have yet to allow a goal at 5-on-5. Of note, also included on that list was the duo of Anze Kopitar and Alex Iafallo, listed twice with both Adrian Kempe and Dustin Brown as the third member of the line.
While they have been effective as a checking unit, as evidenced by the lack of offense against, McLellan feels that they have also been able to showcase some offensive ability as well. Foligno scored against the Kings on Opening Night, while Eriksson Ek scored the second night, with Greenway tallying two assists.
“They were probably designed to be a checking line and play against the other team’s top lines and shut them down, but they’ve been very effective offensively as well,” he said. “There’s no better way to check than to play in the other team’s offensive zone and they’ve been able to do that. I’ve been impressed with that group. I don’t know what Dean Evason would tell you, but just from our perspective, they’ve been pretty darn good for their team, and we have to be aware of them.”
No Change For The Sake Of Change
Up front, things appear to be unchanged for the Kings, and that should not be surprising after Sunday’s win in St. Louis. The forwards played their most complete game against the Blues, with three of four lines scoring, and the line that didn’t was praised by McLellan postgame for a strong bounce-back effort.
McLellan indicated after Sunday’s game that he isn’t going to just swap out a guy on the fourth line simply because they’re playing on the fourth line. He said that the players on that unit will continue to play if they are effective, and they were on Sunday, with Carl Grundstrom getting rewarded for a very strong first period with the go-ahead goal.
“We’re looking for combinations, and when individuals play well, we don’t want to take them out of the lineup,” he said after Sunday’s win. “We’re not just going to take fourth-line players out because they’re fourth-liners and give somebody else a chance. If they’re playing well, we’re going to keep them alive.”
When asked earlier today, McLellan reinforced the point of not changing things up for tonight’s game. The answer was in response to a question about whether or not he subscribes to the theory that you don’t make any moves after a win, and he pointed to how it depends on the game.
Look back to the team’s win over Colorado – Despite the victory, lineup changes were made between that game and the next one against St. Louis. It comes down to the specific win, how the team won, and a variety of other factors.
“I think it depends on the type of win, and how certain individuals played,” McLellan said. “In our case, we’ll keep the same lineup. We thought the group as a whole, Player 1 through Player 20 played at a high enough level to stay, and give them another opportunity to win.”
A Strange Off Day
Yesterday marked the first “off day” of the season for the Kings on the road.
While there were still team-centric activities, the group did not skate in Minnesota, following the back-to-back over the weekend, and the travel that followed the game.
From McLellan’s point of view, he said that the day felt a little bit longer than it might’ve otherwise. He also noted that while it was still a busy day for the staff, he would like to know how the players handled the different kind of day.
“We had enough work as a coaching staff, but [for the] players, it would have been interesting to see how they adapted,” he said. “I know there was a lot of facetime with family and stuff like that, but normally they’re probably out and about a little bit more, but we don’t want too many off days on the road, I can tell you that.”
Talking with Michael Amadio this morning, he said what I think a lot of players probably would have. Some guys went for a walk, to get some outdoors time, while others packed a video-game console to be able to have some in-room entertainment.
“We had a workout in the gym here, just to get moving, so we weren’t just sitting around all day,” Amadio said. “Some guys went for a walk, just to kill the time. I brought my Xbox to play some video games, but that was pretty much it.”
For his teammate, Blake Lizotte, it was especially strange. Lizotte, a Minnesota native, likely would have had no shortage of options yesterday, when it comes to seeing friends and family in the area. With the restrictions in place, that was not an option.
Lizotte admitted it was frustrating at times, to be so close to home but not be able to see anyone, but also understands why it’s the way that it is.
“It’s definitely unique, it’s kind of frustrating at times,” he said. “Yesterday, we had an off day and we’re about 45 minutes from home, so it’s pretty tough not to see anyone and make a trip home quick. At the end of the day, it’s about safety for everyone and it’s good to be back playing. It’s a sacrifice that we all have to make, but it’s worth it for sure.”
More to come on the “Minnesota Men”.
Game Thread is coming up next!