WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Wednesday, March 3 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: STAPLES Center – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio (Call-In 877-KINGS20) – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: After playing 12 of their last 16 games on the road, the LA Kings are finally back on home ice tonight at STAPLES Center, to kick-off a three-game homestand. The Kings host Arizona tonight for the first time this season in California, and the third time in total.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings enter tonight’s game at 2-0-0 against the Coyotes this season, with a pair of wins in Glendale to begin their six-game road trip. Forward Alex Iafallo led the Kings with two goals against Arizona, while he (2-1-3), Anze Kopitar (0-3-3) and Drew Doughty (0-3-3) led the team with three points apiece. Additionally, forward Gabriel Vilardi collected a point in each game, and also had the game-winning goal in the shootout on 2/18. For the Coyotes, forward Phil Kessel led the way with three points (2-1-3), while defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had two assists on 2/20.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings held an optional morning skate this morning in El Segundo, following two consecutive practice days, which falls in line with how the team has operated in similar situations so far this season. All skaters on the active roster were present and accounted for, with the exception of Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty.
On the surface, there’s nothing to suggest that the Kings will be making any lineup changes, but Matt Luff and Kurtis MacDermid are options to check-in if Todd McLellan does decide to alter things from the last game in Minnesota.
This morning, McLellan noted that there is “always a chance” that the team makes a lineup change, but did not commit to anything either way. Here’s how the Kings lined up last time out –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Athanasiou – Vilardi – Carter
Grundstrom – Amadio – Kempe
Moore – Lizotte – Wagner
Anderson – Doughty
Bjornfot – Roy
Maatta – Walker
Quick / Petersen
Both goaltenders started one game in Arizona and are both 1-0-0 on the season against the Coyotes. Quick stopped 20 of 22 shots on 2/18, his second in a string of three consecutive victories, while Petersen turned aside 22 of 24 shots two nights later, in a 4-2 victory in regulation. Petersen’s start against Arizona was the first of his NHL career, while Quick is 20-19-4 all-time versus the Coyotes, with a .906 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.
When asked what, if anything, the team needs to do differently tonight against Arizona, McLellan began by addressing the obvious – don’t spot the Coyotes a three-goal lead early. He put a focus on the start tonight, and if Arizona does get a goal early, or get some momentum, it’s about halting that immediately, and not letting them build upon it.
“We don’t want to find ourselves in a three-goal hole, we did that two games in a row in Minnesota, so we want to change that obviously,” he said. “The start has to be better, and the ability to stop the bleeding once it starts is going to be really important.”
COYOTES VITALS: As reported by Alex Kinkopf, the Coyotes’ team web reporter, Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet said yesterday that goaltender Darcy Kuemper will not be available against the Kings. Kuemper, who has a lower-body injury, started both games in Glendale, as he went 0-1-1 with a .902 save. Kuemper’s absence clears the way for goaltender Antti Raanta, who is 5-0-1 with a .957 save percentage and a 1.32 goals-against average. On the season, the 31-year-old netminder is 2-1-1 with a .895 save percentage and a 3.99 goals-against average.
Here’s how Arizona lined up in their most recent game, against Colorado –
Drake Caggiula – Nick Schmaltz – Phil Kessel
Lawson Crouse – Christian Dvorak – Clayton Keller
Dryden Hunt – Johan Larsson – Tyler Pitlick
Derick Brassard – Michael Chaput – Christian Fischer
Jakob Chychrun – Alex Goligoski
Jordan Oesterle – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Ilya Lyubushkin
Forward Conor Garland will return to the lineup tonight for the Coyotes, which will obviously alter those lines. Garland, Arizona’s leading scorer this season with 19 points (7-12-19) from 20 games played, was considered to be day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Garland skated with the team yesterday in their final practice before tonight’s showdown in Downtown Los Angeles, and appeared again at this morning’s skate.
Tocchet previously said that he held out Garland as perhaps more of a preliminary measure than anything against the Avalanche. He indicated that having one of his top offensive players healthy for the remainder of the season was more important than having him go at less than 100% in a single game, or short slate of games.
“There’s just some guys, you know, you’ve got to drag them off the ice for them to [not] play,” Tocchet said. “We had a great talk. I said I need you healthy for 36 games or whatever, if he plays the next game I’m not sure, then something lingering for the next two weeks. So, if we’ve got to keep him out for a week because of it, we have to do that.”
Tonight marks the return of a dynamic threat for Arizona.
The Kings have had a few players of their own battling injuries over the last few weeks. Mikey Anderson missed two games on the team’s most recent road trip with a lower-body injury, but returned on Saturday to play a career-high 25:09 against the Wild. Anderson has not missed a practice day, and is expected to play tonight.
McLellan provided an update this morning on forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who suffered an upper-body injury in Arizona, and has missed the team’s last five games. McLellan indicated that Anderson-Dolan has returned to the ice, but is still a bit off from joining the team.
“He has started to skate again, on his own, starting to feel better,” McLellan said. “I wouldn’t expect to see him at all from now through the weekend.”
Forward Martin Frk also remains out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, and we have not been given an updated timetable since learning he would miss the team’s recent road trip.
Forward Andreas Athanasiou rejoined the Kings lineup on their six-game road trip, and responded with points in consecutive games against St. Louis and Minnesota.
On Friday against the Wild, Athanasiou was moved up to the Top-6, skating alongside Gabe Vilardi and Jeff Carter. Athanasiou and Carter have played together before, as they started the season on a line with Blake Lizotte. Now, with Vilardi in the middle, Athanasiou feels the trio has found some instant offensive chemistry
“I think it’s been good,” Athanasiou said of his new linemates. “We’ve had some good chances and some good opportunities and I think any time you start playing with some new players, it takes a little bit to get the feel and the chemistry going, but it’s something we’ve had right off the bat. No matter what line you’re on, or who you’re playing with, [the entire team has] done a good job of meshing and building that chemistry quick.”
McLellan pointed to Athanasiou’s legs as a main reason for the move in Minnesota. He felt that Athanasiou was skating well, on a night when the team struggled as a whole to make plays, and that putting him alongside Vilardi and Carter could bring a bit of a jumpstart. It seemed to have worked, as the line played well in the second half of the game, combining on a tic-tac-toe goal late in the third period.
Athanasiou’s legs were helpful in more of a niche area on Saturday as well – 3-on-3 overtime. The Woodbridge, ONT native almost won the game in the extra session, with a good scoring opportunity. With the added space on the ice in 3-on-3 play, he feels his speed and skill can be an asset.
“Less players on the ice, there’s obviously a lot more room, so it’s [a situation] you can use your speed a little bit more,” he said. “I enjoy 3-on-3, it’s exciting, I like being a part of it. I definitely like winning games, so it’s something that comes with me for sure, is that winning instinct, and I like being out there in those times.”
A Swede Reunion
Hear from forward Carl Grundstrom, who returned to a line with forward Adrian Kempe on Saturday in Minnesota. Grundstrom talked about the chemistry the two have, whether he feels more of a burden to produce points when playing with Kempe, and what he’s looking for from the Kings tonight against Arizona.
Game Thread coming up next!