WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Saturday, February 20 @ 4:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Gila River Arena – Glendale, AZ
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio (Pre-Game Call-In: 877-KINGS20) – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings and Arizona Coyotes return to action this evening to conclude their two-game set in Arizona. The Kings skated to a 3-2 victory in the shootout on Thursday to begin six straight games on the road.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings got points from six different players on Thursday evening. Forwards Anze Kopitar and Gabriel Vilardi each collected an assist in the victory, as well as a goal in the shootout, while forwards Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter each scored in regulation. Kopitar’s assist was the 56th assist and 77th point of his career against Arizona, his most against any opponent. With an assist on Brown’s goal, Drew Doughty collected his 35th career point against Arizona, tied for his most against any one team. For the Coyotes, Conor Garland and Phil Kessel each scored goals, with Garland scoring again after leading the team in points against the Kings a season ago.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings did not skate this morning, considering the earlier puck drop, so we’ll get a better sense of tonight’s lineup later in the day.
One thing we likely do know is that we can expect to see Cal Petersen return between the pipes tonight. Jonathan Quick started each of the last two games for the Kings, both victories, after Petersen started the three games prior. Todd McLellan said yesterday that he expects to see Petersen in net tonight.
“We’ll likely see Cal back in [tonight], give him his opportunity to go back in the pipes,” McLellan said. “I wouldn’t say we don’t have a number one, we have two number ones. Quickie has proven that again over the past two nights, but it will be Cal’s turn to get back in there and give us a real good game.”
Petersen earned the victory his last time out against San Jose, which capped a stretch of just under 11 straight periods in goal, after he entered in relief less than two minutes into the second period in Vegas on February 5.
The Iowa native has yet to start against Arizona in his NHL career. Bolstered by his efforts last Thursday, Petersen is tied for sixth in the NHL amongst qualified goaltenders with a .926 save percentage and per Hockey Reference, ranks inside the league’s Top 10 in Goals Allowed Adjusted and Goals Saved Above Average.
In terms of lineup makeup, the two biggest decisions likely lie at the forward position, surrounding Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Andreas Athanasiou.
Anderson-Dolan suffered an upper-body injury late in the third period on Thursday and has already been ruled out for tonight’s game. The rookie forward has played well for the Kings, after he was inserted into the lineup on February 5, providing an energetic, and threatening, presence in the bottom six.
In terms of replacing him, on what had been a strong, new-look third line, will we see one of Michael Amadio or Lias Andersson check back into the lineup, in a straight swap? Could we see Blake Lizotte elevated to that line, after he made his return to the lineup on the fourth line on Thursday? Or will there be a larger reshuffling amongst the forwards?
The other factor in play here is how does Andreas Athanasiou enter into the equation? Athanasiou was deemed “pretty darn close” to being ready to go after yesterday’s practice and has played both center and wing throughout his NHL career. McLellan said on Thursday that players do not automatically re-gain their roster spots when returning, however it seems likely that we’ll see Athanasiou at some point soon on this road trip.
Without a morning skate today, we won’t know exactly who moves in and who, if anyonem besides Anderson-Dolan exits.
COYOTES VITALS: Similarly to the Kings, the Coyotes held a short team practice yesterday, in advance of tonight’s game. The team welcomed back defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from injury on Thursday and could see Drake Caggiula return today.
“Drake had a good practice, it’s two practices in a row now,” Arizona Head Coach Rick Tocchet said yesterday. “We’ll talk tomorrow to see if he’s in the lineup or not.”
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper was in net last time out for Arizona, as he started for the 13th time in 16 games played so far this season. Kuemper, a former King, fell to 5-6-2 on the season with the overtime defeat, but still holds a .920 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average on the season. Kuemper’s 13 starts are tied for fourth in the NHL this season, and if he goes again tonight, he’d move into a tie for second leaguewide.
Here’s how the Coyotes lined up last time out, per former LAKI contributor Alex Kinkopf –
Keller – Schmaltz – Garland
Crouse – Dvorak – Pitlick
Hunt – Brassard – Kessel
Hayden – Larsson – Fischer
Ekman-Larsson – Demers
Chychrun – Goligoski
Oesterle – Hjalmarsson
Kuemper / Hill
The Coyotes are expected to wear their Reverse Retro jerseys tonight, making it the first time the Kings have faced off against a team in their RR jerseys.
Vila River Arena
As mentioned above, forward Gabriel Vilardi returned to the scoresheet on Thursday, as he tallied an assist for the second consecutive game. The rookie forward also scored the game-winning goal in the shootout, with the third of three Kings goals in the skills competition.
Vilardi has shown signs of the player he can become, a big, puck-controlling center with great vision and playmaking ability. It’s still important though to realize we’re talking about a player with just 25 games of NHL hockey to his name. With seven points from a limited 10-game sample size at the end of last season, expectations were sky-high entering this season, perhaps unfairly high even.
“We’ve got to let this guy breathe a little bit offensively,” McLellan said after Thursday’s win. “Even I looked at his ten-game stint at the end of last year, he’s almost a point-per-game guy, that’s great, he’s going to get 60 points, 20 goals for us, it’s a hard, hard league offensively. We’re trying to establish a complete game with him, faceoffs, defensive responsibilities, the ability to check the other team’s top players.”
Vilardi has bought into what he’s being told and is learning the importance of the smaller details of the game. His faceoffs have been a topic of conversation throughout the season. Vilardi was terrific in the dot last season with AHL-Ontario, and was counted upon in early games to take key faceoffs in all situations.
He’s had his strong games, and some lesser games, and it’s all amounted to just over 48 percent of faceoffs won. The 21-year-old center was 3-of-9 at the dot on Thursday, and is learning the importance of winning faceoffs towards having offensive possession.
“I’m really learning the importance of faceoffs, it’s so huge,” he said. “Todd talks about it and I’m starting to understand it more. I feel like when I’m really good on our draws, we have the puck a lot more, and then tonight, I’m not so good on the draws and we’re chasing it a bit more.”
McLellan reinforced that he has no qualms about Vilardi’s offense, and believes it will continue to grow and open up as he continues to develop. He also stressed he feels that Vilardi continues to do the little things better than he did them last season, the puck just hasn’t gone in at quite the same rate.
“I think [his offense is] going to open up as time goes on,” McLellan said. “He’s doing the same things he did last year, when he put points up all the time, in fact, I think he’s doing them better right now, it’s just not going in quite as much and that’s fine. We’re okay without it right now, just keep working on your game and become an overall better player.”
Bonus Video – Blake & White, The Noise Boys
Enjoy the latest edition of the LA Kings Black & White series, with a behind the scenes look at the crowd noise operators at Kings home games this season. Mason Donley and Ryan Miller, typically leaders of the team’s ticket sales efforts, have been transitioned into board-ops, running the crowd noise at STAPLES Center this season.
A cool look behind the scenes, at one of the unique elements of this season.
Game Thread is coming next, from Glendale!