Several additional notes learned from today’s media sessions that didn’t make it into the practice notes:
–Ilya Kovalchuk, who whistled a shot above Jonathan Quick’s left ear at practice Thursday that may have nicked the underside of the crossbar, was back to the left of Jeff Carter, opposite Adrian Kempe. He’s comfortable skating on both the left and the right side. “He just reads the vacant ice so well that he always ends up in the right spot,” John Stevens said. The coaching staff likes the speed down the middle of the ice and on the wing on that line. It also provides good lineup balance, given that Alex Iafallo proved himself last year alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. “Whether [Kovalchuk-Carter-Kempe] stays that way or not, I’m not sure, but we’ve liked the look of it through the little bit of time we’ve had to look at it.”
–All Kings players are encouraged to talk – in the room, on the bench, when hopping over the boards – for the purpose of digging into their emotional investment. It makes the team faster, per Stevens. Dion Phaneuf, as advertised, is a strong communicator. “He’s talking all the time, he’s talking in the room, he’s talking in practice, he’s calling for the puck, he’s commenting on things that are going wrong. That’s his personality,” said Stevens, who noted that it’s the same in Los Angeles as it was in Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa. Stevens reinforced that players speak highly of Phaneuf, who gives and receives respect. It doesn’t matter whether he wears a letter; he’s a part of that leadership group. “What’s interesting about Dion, he’s had a lot of great coaches along the way, and he’s really high on all of them,” Stevens said.
–DID YOU KNOW: Between 1988 (2-5-2) and 2016 (3-4-1), the Kings never posted a sub-.500 preseason? Now you do! Do you know what those 25 straight .500-or-better preseasons are worth? About as much as Los Angeles Xtreme season tickets. But just as the Xtreme won the 2001 Million Dollar Game over the San Francisco Demons, the Kings also have an important date approaching with a Bay Area squad. Los Angeles opens against San Jose on October 5, and they’re looking to get certain players their reps and evaluations, which they’ve done in a preseason in which they’ve tipped their hand to what may approximate their full-team roster only once, a 4-1 win over Vancouver in which the Canucks played most but not all of their top players. Overall, they’re 1-4-1 in the exhibition slate with two games remaining. Stevens doesn’t put a ton of weight into preseason outcomes. “It’s an evaluation, but at the same time, I think that any time of the year, whether it’s preseason or not, it’s important how your team’s playing, how they’re practicing, if they’re getting better in certain parts of your game you want to improve on,” he said. Stevens used Alex Iafallo’s 2017 training camp as an example. He wanted to see whether he could maintain his rookie camp performance through main camp, and lo and behold, there he was on opening night, skating alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Jake Muzzin, who was coming off a rough year, came into training camp and played very well, and it carried over into the regular season. With different lineups and schedules, preseason lineups, especially in advance of the final exhibition game or two, aren’t always evenly matched. But it’s still possible to evaluate players, a necessary preseason endeavor.
–Austin Wagner is a “tenacious worker” who does a good job getting in on the forecheck and getting to loose pucks. “People talk about his time in juniors – I think he led the league in breakaways in junior hockey just because he had such great speed,” Stevens said. Wagner isn’t necessarily a natural finisher but can improve there. “He certainly looked good doing it last night,” said Stevens, who also noted Wagner’s defensive game and puck skills. For him to take the next step, that defensive awareness will need to continue to improve, as will his detail. “I think a guy that’s going to play his role has got to be really, really sound in his own zone,” Stevens said. His consistency will come with an ability to maintain his pace through shifts and games, and he’s taken a significant step there. As learned last night, Wagner will need to be able to extend his shifts to 45 seconds and not be exhausted at the end of them. He’s improved there.
-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI