December 28 practice notes; feature

Good morning from El Segundo, where the Kings are trickling out of their facility to grab a quick bite before catching the charter flight to Calgary.

16 players skated today: 10 forwards, five defenseman and one Martin Jones. Darryl Sutter didn’t take the ice at practice, which was run by John Stevens, Davis Payne and Bill Ranford. Because of the optional skate, no line rushes were held. Robyn Regehr, on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, didn’t skate.

I had some interesting conversations with Trevor Lewis, Anze Kopitar and Davis Payne earlier today and will post a few stories once we get up in the air. To hold you over until then, here’s my most recent story, called Defense First. It’s about how the Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez extensions appropriately signaled the team’s approach to solidifying its blue line, which is buoyed by a young and accomplished core.

An excerpt:

While the players aren’t consumed with their contract situations and negotiations, they’re certainly cognizant that they exist.

“I’d be lying if I said I never thought about it,” Martinez said. “You obviously think about it. I just tried to take the mentality that if I just kept on working on my game and if I took care of hockey, the rest of it would just take care of itself. I guess you think about it a little bit, but I mean it’s not like it consumed my days by any means.”

The level of improvement in Martinez’s game is evident. It’s based heavily in his experience; none of the other 10 players who have signed extensions this season are able to call on having won multiple Stanley Cups during a period in which their development was the most accelerated. With the injuries and complications to Los Angeles’ back end brought on by the departure of Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov’s absence, Martinez’s versatility and gained trust has resulted in a significant spike in his usage. His overall time on ice average has leapt by over four and a half minutes from 15:41 a season ago to 20:18 this season, while his power play usage has increased incrementally and his penalty killing time on ice per game has quadrupled.

“Marty’s been pretty solid,” Darryl Sutter said. “…I mean, he shows up for work every day. Not just game day. He shows up every day, works at his game.”

In case you missed the link earlier, it’s right here. Stay tuned – there’s plenty more to come on a Sunday travel day to Calgary. As always, thank you for reading!

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