Good morning from El Segundo, Insiders. The Kings took the ice shortly before 10:00 a.m. and aligned as such:
Looks like Dowd in for Amadio; Gaborik took loops as a fill-in D.
— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) November 9, 2017
-How do we feel about the switch from 140 to 280 characters, Insiders? It was an profound change in the nature of live-tweeting a game and raised immediate questions on how to use the platform. At least from @lakingsinsider, I think there will still be an effort to reduce everything to roughly 140 characters, and if it bleeds past that, well, fine. Apart from the occasional flowery goal description, I’m not planning on waxing poetic and using the full allotment of characters. As was discussed among several members of the media that attended today’s skate, the stretched out allotment will allow us to tweet names instead of numbers during line rushes, as shown above. Cool. Fun. Moving on.
-Jonathan Quick was the first goaltender off the ice, not Rollie the Goalie. He’ll be expected to start against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / KABC 790 / I Heart Radio). Christian Folin remained on the ice for some extra work, so he’s likely out. Based on rushes, it looks as though Nic Dowd will replace Michael Amadio in the lineup. After having moved up alongside Nick Shore in Tuesday’s win at Anaheim, Andy Andreoff could remain alongside Shore and Trevor Lewis.
-At the other end of the rink, Peter Budaj is expected to get the nod for the Lightning. From Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:
“They gave me a chance when nobody else would,” Budaj said. “This will always be a special place for me.”
After a bounce-back season with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, Budaj entered last season as the third goaltender before injuries to starter Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff unexpectedly thrust him into the No. 1 role. Budaj was stellar, among the league leaders in goals against average, before getting dealt to Tampa Bay in February in the Ben Bishop trade. Budaj then signed a two-year, $2.05 million deal in the summer to be Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup, giving him security he never thought he’d have at this point in his career.
“Thank God everything fell into place for me,” Budaj said. “It was pretty special the way things worked out. That’s why you never know what’s going to happen in hockey. I was very blessed that everything worked out in my favor. Sometimes, you don’t know how quick things can change.”
Derek Forbort played with Budaj for most of 2015-16 with the Ontario Reign, and again with the Kings over the 2016-17 season, when Budaj served as a competitive spark and resurrected his career with a 27-20-3 record, seven shutouts, a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage before his February 26 trade.
“He’s a funny guy,” Forbort said. “He’s always chatting and stuff, but he’s awesome. I know the guys really liked playing in front of him. That’s always good when you get a goalie that you want to go out there and really play hard for.”
-In addition to serving as an extra in line rushes, Marian Gaborik also endured a post-practice skate in which his legs got a good test. When he was finished, Jarret Stoll took the ice with Gabriel Vilardi for some one-on-one time that included stickhandling, shooting, passing the puck and faceoff work.
-Not particularly apropos of anything in the here-and-now, but Drew Doughty shared some context behind his conversation with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar about who would cover Erik Karlsson during the overtime faceoff in Ottawa two weeks ago. “It made no sense for me to cover him, because he was a D-man, so that’s why I said, ‘Brownie, you should probably be covering him,’ and Brownie didn’t want to,” Doughty said. “I’m not going to back down from that challenge. I love playing against that guy. I was fine with it. I was just kind of funny because he was hearing it all go down.”
-The Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL with an average of 3.94 goals-for per game. The Los Angeles Kings lead the NHL with an average of 2.27 goals-against per game. Simplicity says that tonight’s game comes down to one team being able to go out and instill its systems and will, right?
“Play our game. We can’t play their game,” Doughty said. “If we make them play our game in a tight-checking, two-one game, they’re not going to be comfortable. They want to get four or five goals every game, and they’re willing to give up three or four goals, it seems, too. They like to be in a high-scoring, kind of track meet type of game, and we like to play in the tight checking, low scoring games. We’ll try to make ‘em play our game.”
Doughty, selected second in the 2008 NHL Draft behind first overall pick Steven Stamkos, still enjoys the head-to-head competition afforded by the irregularity of inter-conference match-ups. Not all defenders would say that it’s “fun” facing the player who leads the NHL with 21 assists and 28 points.
“It’s fun competing against other top players and a guy I’ve gone against for 13 years,” Doughty said. “We’ve always kind of been in the top together and stuff like that, and we’re buddies off the ice, but when it goes out there, we’re obviously not that tight out there on the ice, and we’re both trying to outdo the other guy. I’m sure he knows that I’ll be out there every shift against him, and I know that I’ll be out there every shift against him, and I’m just looking for the challenge. I’m determined to win that battle, and it might not go my way, but I’m going to do everything I can.”
The Lightning, of course, are much more than simply Stamkos, or even the duo with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who leads the NHL with 15 goals. They skate with Vladislav Namestnikov, a point-a-game player who had two goals and an assist in last night’s 5-1 win at San Jose. There’s 21-year-old Brayden Point, another point-a-game forward who played under Mike Stothers with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. There’s Tyler Johnson, Chris Kunitz, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and other experienced scorers up front. On the back end, 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, a teammate of Gabriel Vilardi with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires the past two seasons who was acquired in the Jonathan Drouin trade, has four goals and 12 points in 16 games. He’s one of five defensemen on the Bolts who stands at least 6-foot-3.
“To be totally honest with you, the best team I’ve seen this year,” John Stevens said. “Their depth up front, they’ve got big defense that are good thinkers that are strong at the net. They dress 11 forwards a lot just because I think they’ve got good depth up front and they can get lots of minutes out of lots of guys, so they end up playing their good minutes more, which creates problems for match-ups, and you certainly have to be aware. The way they fight for space, how hard they compete on the puck, their ability to make plays in small spaces and always on attack mode has been impressive. I think it’s a little underestimated how physical they are on the puck and how well they check. There’s a reason they are where they are. … I don’t see a lot of holes in their game.”
The Kings have been giving up their share of scoring chances, and reducing that will be a point of emphasis against Tampa Bay. There is obviously subjectivity in placing a number alongside “scoring chances,” but by Natural Stat Trick’s methodology, Los Angeles yields the eighth most scoring chances per 60 minutes in the NHL, and the fifth most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes. As Stevens noted yesterday, one way to cut down on that number will be to improve puck management. Against a team that can make turn mistakes into goals quickly, strength on the puck and the ability to limit turnovers will be paramount.
“We know how good we can be at it, and we’ve got to be good at it tonight,” Adrian Kempe said. “We’re playing against a good team, a skilled team, and they’re going to come out hard. We’ve got to prepare for that. We’ve got to play the right way and the way we’ve played so far this season. It’s going to be a tough game, and it’s going to be fun.”
As Doughty alluded to, if the Kings are able to keep the score low and turn this into more of a tighter-checking game than an off-to-the-races track meet, they will put themselves in position to win.
“In terms of being physical on them, once they get their speed going, they’re pretty good and they’re pretty hard to defend,” Derek Forbort said. “The other thing is you can’t get stuck puck-watching because they’re going to be darting behind you and probably find that guy and create a scoring chance off you. I think head on a swivel is huge with these guys.”
-Tonight’s officials are referees Ian Walsh and Dave Jackson, and linesmen Shane Heyer and Lonnie Cameron. Pia Toscano will sing the national anthem. Let’s talk soon, Insiders. Lots more to come.
-Lead photo via Harry How/Getty Images