INSIDERS. The second of the LA Kings’ 12 back-to-backs is upon us. There’s usually one instance per season of a dual-home back-to-back set – last year there were wins over Buffalo and the New York Islanders on October 14 and 15 – and this year will stay true to form. In fact, tonight’s game is the first of only two back-to-back sets that even opens at home; the second will be versus Calgary on April 1 and at Arizona on April 2. Hope you’re enjoying the factoids, Kings fans. Los Angeles aligned as such in advance of tonight’s Hockey Night in LA game against Vancouver (7:00 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network / Hockey Night in Canada):
–The vitals: Cal Petersen left the ice first and will be expected to start in goal against the Canucks. Peter Budaj and Jonathan Quick were also present for the morning skate. Adrian Kempe was among the first skaters to take the ice and appears set to play after missing the second and third periods with a lower-body injury against Colorado Wednesday night. Paul LaDue remained on the ice to get in some extra work with Gabe Vilardi and the goalies, and Willie Desjardins acknowledged that he’s doing the right things to get back into the lineup for the first time since the game at Minnesota on October 25. “He is, for sure. It is a tough situation for him because you get tired of practicing and you want to play. I totally understand that,” Desjardins said. “You want to get him as close as you can. We’d like to get him in a game here pretty quick, so I think that’s something we’re looking at. First, we thought maybe somebody would go down and he’d get his chance that way, and that’s not happened, so we’ve got to get him in here pretty soon, though, because he’s done his part and he needs a chance to show what he can do.”
On Tuesday, Desjardins had said that LaDue was “probably waiting for an injury before he’ll get his chance,” so perhaps there’s an extra thrust to get LaDue in after hearing today’s assessment. It’s Desjardins’ first time going against Vancouver, whom he coached from 2014-17. He didn’t acknowledge any extra emotions. “I think everything, once the puck drops, is always the same. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s a game day as usual,” he said.
–Their vitals: The Canucks fell 4-0 in San Jose last night, their eighth straight loss (and seventh in regulation). Anders Nilsson went yesterday at SAP Center, so expect Jacob Markstrom to play today. He’s 7-8-2 on the season with a 3.42 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage and in six career games against Los Angeles is 1-3-2 with a 3.12 GAA and a .908 Sv%. Alex Edler (knee) is expected to return to the lineup today, but Vancouver is still expected to be without Brock Boeser (groin), Brandon Sutter (shoulder), Jay Beagle (arm) and Sven Baertschi (concussion). Vancouver has allowed a power play goal in 12 of their last 13 games, which includes a stretch of seven straight games in which they’re 21-for-31. This presents a particular challenge for the visitors, who rank second to last in the league by averaging 11.7 penalty minutes per game.
Establishing offensive zone time will be key to earn additional power play looks. Considering the repetitions they received in practice this week, they’ll be looking to put their tutelage to work.
“I think we have to make sure we go to the net,” Desjardins said. “The thing for us is we’ve got to draw some penalties. Like, we’ve got to get in position to make teams take penalties on us. Maybe this is a good chance for us to get in the offensive zone and get to the net and maybe get some power plays. We’ve worked on our play, it’d be nice to get some chances with it.”
Los Angeles ranks last in the league with a 12.7% rate. They didn’t draw a power play in St. Louis on Monday and were 0-for-3 in the 7-3 loss to Colorado at Wednesday.
“The more you have the puck the more penalties you’re going to draw and you look at some of the games that we haven’t drawn any penalties and we haven’t had the puck very much and it kind of goes hand in hand,” Dustin Brown said. “The teams that have really good puck control and that sort of thing, they tend to draw more penalties so you know we can just get the puck more and be cleaner on our breakouts. That’s where I think we create a lot of the penalties against is passing well. I’ve always said that. Our team’s changed, but I still think that sort of stuff is key to our team. When we’re passing the puck well coming out of our zone, better things happen at the other end.”
–Does Desjardins share some additional detail and inside knowledge about a group that he used to coach? “There are some things I know about guys. Most of it, it’s more structure that you share. There’s not individual tendencies that really make a big difference, and the structure, it’s like any other team,” he said. “You’ll do your pre-scouting and go through that.”
This will be the Kings’ first look at the ultra-skilled Elias Pettersson. Selected fifth overall by Vancouver in 2017 (and profiled in a Royal Lineage feature), the 20-year-old Pettersson has 12 goals and 19 points in his first 19 NHL games.
“He’s a highly skilled kid,” Nate Thompson said. “You watch the way he plays the game and he’s got a really high hockey IQ, great vision, skates well, really good with the puck and those kind of guys are pretty dangerous when they have it.”
When asked, Thompson took a few moments to consider which young player with an explosively dynamic skill set had largely entered the league and played to an extremely high level, as advertised. There are a number of younger players to choose from, even apart from the obvious Connor McDavid.
“I think for awhile there’s been so many good, young players coming in the league now,” Thompson said. “Maybe Steven Stamkos. When I was in my first few years in the league, he was in the league and he was a good, young player and he kind of blossomed the first couple years and started scoring a lot of goals and you could just see how dangerous he was when he got a shot off, it was almost an instant goal.”
–Matt Luff and Austin Wagner are among several of the younger players who’ve taken advantage of limited ice time recently. What about the more tenured players? What about the need for the top guys to provide additional dividends from the time they receive? “I think the one thing is our top-end guys should play better with a little less ice time,” Desjardins said. “I think they all want lots of ice time. A few games, though, our minutes were pretty good, and then they went up in the third for our top end guys. It changes, too, when you don’t have any time on the power play. Like, all of a sudden you have no power plays, that’s probably three minutes or four minutes that they lose of ice time that they’d normally get. It kind of gets lost in that. We’ve got to get some power play time – their minutes will stay pretty well the same if they get that.”
–It’s a Hockey Night in Los Angeles broadcast that also coincides with a Legends Night honoring Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree. On tap:
Hockey Night In LA returns tonight:
🔘 One of HHOF’s newest inductees, Willie O’Ree, joins the set
🔘 “Teddy Talks” Ep 2: @teddypurcell16 with @NateThompson44
🔘 Derek Armstrong returns to the panel, will join forces with @KingsMenPodcast
Kings vs Canucks, 6:30p @FoxSportsWest
— Alex Faust (@alex_faust) November 24, 2018
–Tonight’s officials are referees Graham Skilliter and Jake Brenk and linesmen Derek Nansen and Michel Cormier. Courtney Daniels will sing O Canada, followed by Pia Toscano’s performance of The Star Spangled Banner. Lots more to come on a Saturday night game day, Insiders. Let’s talk soon.
–Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI