Good afternoon from our nation’s capital, Insiders. The Kings practiced on the Capital One Arena ice at 11:30 a.m. and aligned as such:
-Jonathan Quick left the ice first and is expected to start in goal. It appeared for a moment that he may have awkwardly weathered a shot during the morning skate, but he recovered and continued his normal morning routine. It’s the front end of a back-to-back, so the #LAKingsGoalieTweetOff applies. Los Angeles is 2-1-1 on the first night of back-to-back sets this season. Quick is 7-2-0 in his career against the Capitals with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
-Still no Torrey Mitchell. The update from this morning is that he is still in Detroit as he awaits finalization on his work visa. There’s a theoretical chance he could be available tonight, but I’m not sure if the team would put him in the lineup on a day he flew to Washington and did not take part in the morning skate. That of course, would require his work visa to be completed, which as of this morning hadn’t happened yet. I asked whether the current process was unorthodox and was again told that it’s due to complications of arranging a work visa during and in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday.
-Kyle Clifford was the lone skater to remain on the ice for extra work. He skated in a non-contact purple jersey and remains on injured reserve. Don’t expect him to play on this trip.
-Jake Muzzin, after yesterday’s practice, on what he liked about the team’s five-man connected play in the win over Detroit: “Wherever the puck was, we had five guys around the puck. When we get stretched out and big gaps in between, we’re not as effective. Especially in our zone, the puck stops, all five guys are stopping and we’re working together to get it out. I think that’s a big, most important one for us.”
-The Kings will face a Washington Capitals team that has once against loaded its top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. After having been separated during training camp and enduring the first 22 games of the season on separate lines, the two were reunited in a 5-2 win over Ottawa on November 22 and have remained tethered at the hip as the Capitals have won all three of the games they’ve played together by multiple scores. Ovechkin has five goals over that span, with Bakstrom assisting on all four even strength markers.
“That’s going to be tough to play against them,” Drew Doughty said. “No matter how good you play, they’re going to get scoring chances. That’s just the bottom line. It’s a tough line to play against, and they make this team roll.”
Of course, one of the ways to cap Ovechkin’s productivity is to shut off the distribution – especially on the power play – that allows him to have the time and space necessary to fire off the puck. It’s not easy to do.
“He’s really good,” Doughty said of Backstrom, who has 556 assists and 747 points in 758 career games. “I wish we got to play against teams in the east more, because it seems like they have all the superstars and stuff like that. Backstrom’s really good. A very wise player, very smart. Great passer. He makes that whole power play unit work, just moving the puck around. It’s all based off him. He’s a good player, a very good player, tough to play against. When I come here or when they come to us, I really enjoy playing Washington.”
Who are the most purely skilled players in the league to defend?
“I would say McDavid, Crosby, Ovechkin. Those three are probably the three most skilled guys,” Doughty said. “Like, when they’re coming down on me, I’m kind of like, ‘OK, I’ve got to think about what they’re going to do right now,’ whereas I guess the rest of the guys in the league, I kind of just play them the same way as everyone else.”
Doughty seems to relish playing in these types of games in which there are high-profile match-ups against fellow league superstars.
“We obviously respect each other as players but when it comes down to it we both have a big desire to not lose and we’ll do whatever it takes to win and I’m going to run him and he’s going to run me,” he said on March 10 before the teams’ last meeting. “That’s just the way it is.”
-As for the Caps, they’re expected to use line combinations of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Wilson, Vrana-Kuznetzov-Oshie, Graovac-Eller-Smith-Pelly and Stephenson-Beagle-Chiasson, and defensive pairings of Orpik-Carlson, Orlov-Niskanen and Djoos-Bowey. Djoos has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury but is expected to return tonight. Andre Burakovsky remains out after undergoing thumb surgery. He has missed the last 16 games. With 56 man-games lost to injury entering tonight’s play, Washington has already surpassed last year’s remarkably low total of 49 man-games lost.
-There was a big trade within the division today as Anaheim sent defensemen Sami Vatanen and a conditional third round pick to New Jersey for centers Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick. It was a typical hockey trade, one in which teams trade from a position of depth for a position of need. “Obviously they’ve got some depth at the defensive position there,” John Stevens said of Anaheim. “They’ve had a lot of injuries up front. Adam Henrique, I think he’s a really solid, 200-foot player. There are some good players going both ways there.”
-Meanwhile, former King Brayden McNabb inked a four-year, $10-million extension that Vegas announced yesterday. McNabb was effective against Los Angeles in his first outing against his former team. Friendships will obviously be put off when a divisional rivalry is rekindled, but his ex-mates are happy for him.
“Yeah, he got a great contract,” Doughty said. “Nabber’s a great player, a great person. He’ll be one of my friends for the rest of my life no matter where he plays. Really happy for him, and it’ll be fun that we’ll get to see him for the next four years.”
-An Austin Wagner update:
Re: 20 y/o Austin Wagner (AHL-bound or @WHLPats bound?), who has recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, I'm told the team will know more after a Friday doctors appointment. Appears the decision isn't set in stone at this point.
— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) November 30, 2017
-Tonight’s officials are referees Brian Pochmara and Dean Morton and linesmen Brian Murphy and Pierre Racicot. I’ll be joined by Bill Ranford during tonight’s LA Kings Live pre-game coverage, and will join Ben Raby and the Capitals Radio network (listen live here) at 2:05 p.m. PT and the NHL Network for some FaceTime at 3:05 p.m. PT. Let’s talk soon, Insiders.