Newcomers, including Folin, Iafallo, comfortable in Kings debuts

Six players who did not play for the Los Angeles Kings last season dressed in the season opener Thursday night, an entertaining 2-0 home win marked by excellent goaltending in both creases.

On one end, there was Michal Neuvirth robbing Anze Kopitar with an excellent glove save following a pinpoint saucer pass from Alex Iafallo, who made a deft touch in the neutral zone to direct the puck away from Shayne Gostisbehere to set the wheels in motion on the impressive play.

That play didn’t ultimately lead to his first career point, but there will be plenty of opportunities to come for the 23-year-old.

“We battled all training camp together, and it was just fun to get to play the home opener with such an amazing team and amazing players,” he said. I couldn’t have pictured it any better than that.”

At the other end of the ice, there was Quick robbing Claude Giroux and a number of other comers in a typically sound 35-save performance.

He teamed with a reformed contingent of defensemen in the wake of Alec Martinez’s injury whose contributions pieced together to serve as the backbone of two key late game penalty kills.

Shorthanded time on ice for the defensemen: 4:19 for Christian Folin, 3:44 for Jake Muzzin, 2:15 for Oscar Fantenberg, 4:54 for Drew Doughty and 4:48 for Derek Forbort. That’s some overtime pay.

And while Doughty is the featured artist of anything related to the Kings’ back end as a whole, it was Folin, as one of the six to make their Los Angeles debut, who emerged with among the most noteworthy performances.

Harry How/Getty Images

“I thought he was just real solid,” John Stevens said. “He’s a first-pass guy with the puck that defends with really good gaps and is firm with his battles, and I thought he was all of that last night. He looked really comfortable. I think he’s really worked hard and is a really well conditioned athlete coming into the season. We needed some extra minutes out of him last night with Marty out of the lineup, and I thought he did a good job for us.”

Folin signed as a free agent over the summer after three seasons with the Minnesota Wild, a team that has added good team speed in recent years but had formed an identity, similar to Los Angeles’, as a tightly structured premier defensive club that operates with noteworthy detail and positioning.

Such similarities aren’t lost on Folin, a player who spent the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, which ranked fourth out of 58 NCAA Division I teams with an average of 2.02 goals-against per game in his first season. The next year, the River Hawks led all D-I teams by yielding 1.88 goals-against per game.

“We were a really defensive team, we had a lot of older guys, bigger guys and we liked to defend, so that has actually helped me with my transition from going from a good college player to an NHL player,” he said. “But definitely the way we played in Minnesota too, you learn how to play defense first, and if you want to be successful, you’ve got to start at your own end and build from there, and that’s something I’ve been really pleased with the way we’ve been doing so far this season.”

He said similarities in structure and checking between Minnesota and Los Angeles weren’t necessarily the reasons he chose to sign with the Kings, but rather that there was good comfort and an appreciation of his game.

“I knew L.A. was looking at me when I was signing as a free agent, and there had been talks back and forth a little bit, so I always knew there was an interest,” he said. “When I got a chance to come here, I said ‘yes,’ right away.”

The Kings were one of a long list of teams to go hard after Iafallo over the summer. Fresh off a 42-game, 21-goal, 51-point season with the Bulldogs, the comfort he exhibited in his first NHL game wiped away a few “nervous jitters” that would be inevitable for anyone playing their first pro game.

“It was a home opener, so skating out there and looking out there at the crowd and Staples Center was pretty special,” he said.

“We battled all training camp together, and it was just fun to get to play the home opener with such an amazing team and amazing players. I couldn’t have pictured it any better than that.”

Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI

Christian Folin, on whether he felt good personally in the season opener:
Yeah, I felt really good. It was fun being out there. I’ve been waiting for a long time. Training camp was fun and all, but it’s way more fun when the regular season starts, so it was good to be out there, and I think we played well as a team. It’s always good to start with the shutout.

Folin, on whether he felt comfortable playing his own game:
Yeah, absolutely. Muzzin did a good job helping me, too. Such an easy guy to play with, so it made it a lot easier for me, too.

Folin, on whether there were any adjustments with shuffled defensive pairings:
Not really. I mean, we all do the same things. I played the first preseason game with Muzzin, so it’s not a big deal. Even during the games, we kind of switched on and off here and there, like PK and power play and all that kind of stuff. You get mixed up during the game, and I don’t think it’s anything that phases anyone specifically. It’s always nice – a little extra chemistry.

Alex Iafallo, on being on the ice for the national anthem during his NHL debut:
A great singer, you know. It was an amazing feeling. It’s pretty sad what happened in Vegas with Christiana. That was good to recognize her and everybody at the Las Vegas shooting, but other than that, the national anthem gave me some chills at the time, so it was very cool.

Iafallo, on seeing his parents after the game:
Just big hugs. I finally got to the level and was happy that they were there to experience that. They had a lot of fun up there, and it was pretty cool for them to experience that.

-Lead photo via Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI

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