Adjusting on the fly: Kovalchuk back with Kopitar, 70’s reunited. For now.

It’s safe to say that the LA Kings won’t be able to roll their intended group of forwards out on Friday night with injuries to right wings Dustin Brown, Jonny Brodzinski and Gabriel Vilardi.

With that said, what were the intended lines to begin with?

There were lines that management and the coaching staff had penciled in, but as happens every preseason, they were adjusted when injury struck. Los Angeles utilized a different forward contingent for each preseason game as they strove to acquaint themselves with options in the inevitable event that players would become unavailable. So, skaters got lots of work in with a wide variety of teammates as John Stevens adjusted lines due to availability and looked for a spark between players that might not have been aligned otherwise.

During a Tuesday practice that should serve as an indicator towards the season-opening lineup, that meant Ilya Kovalchuk skated opposite Alex Iafallo to the right of Anze Kopitar. In training camp, while Dustin Brown was healthy, Kovalchuk skated to Kopitar’s left. Switching wings shouldn’t be an issue for a smart player who has experience at both sides.

“He’s got such a skill set that I think he can make plays on either wall,” said Stevens, who was encouraged by Kovalchuk’s ability to sustain his pace. “He’s played so much of both that I think he’s got enough experience that he can play both positions well. I don’t think there’s any setbacks for one over another.”

As would be expected, they’ll look to communicate to hit the ground running and establish their chemistry.

“He’s known for his shot, but I think he’s an elite playmaker, as well,” Stevens said. “I think the fact that they think the game really well, I think they need to continue to spend time together, have conversations over what’s going on the ice, learn to be predictable to each other, but I certainly see some chemistry in what they’re doing out there and the line rushes, how they read off each other, anticipate where each other’s going. But that process takes time.”

With the adjustments, the Kings also reunited That 70’s Line, which hasn’t hit the same highs as the spring (and October) of 2014 but remains a productive hip pocket option. On a fleet-of-skate third line, Adrian Kempe centered Austin Wagner and Trevor Lewis, and the fourth line showed a four-man consortium in Kyle Clifford, Michael Amadio, Nate Thompson and Jaret Anderson-Dolan.

John Stevens, on the thought process towards constructing lines after losing another right wing:
Training camp is a little bit difficult in the sense that we had games in different places and a heavy schedule down the stretch. Really trying to get a look at new people in different situations, with Kovalchuk being one of them. We put him on the left side with Kopi and Brownie, we tried him with Carts and put Adrian up there for a while, and obviously with Brodzinski getting hurt on the right side and Brownie getting hurt on the right side, we had to really take a look at things. Had lots of conversations with all those guys – with Jeff, with Kopi with Kovy – just to get their feedback and what they’re feeling and seeing. We just feel like Kopi and Kovalchuk should work. Alex has always been a good fit there. He’s got an ingredient that he’s a real worker and a real tenacious forechecker and he’s a responsible player, and Kopi’s obviously one of the best at that, and Kovavlchuk’s always read well off guys like that, so I figured we’d give a look, and the 70’s line speaks for itself. Those guys have always had success together, and I think probably more than anything, where does Kovy play, but we liked the way it looked today, so I think we’re going to push ahead with that for now.

-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI

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