INSIDERS. A happy Wednesday to you and yours. The LA Kings convened on the Toyota Sports Center ice at 10:00 a.m., and though there weren’t actual line rushes, there were groupings that suggested that some changes could be in the works when the Kings host the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow night at Staples Center on Sean O’Donnell’s Legends Night. Tyler Toffoli was situated to the right of Anze Kopitar for several drills, so it’ll be interesting to see if they’re paired together during a seven-game span in which Toffoli has five goals and nine points. Kopitar and Dustin Brown were on the ice for three even strength goals against an none for; Iafallo was on the ice for four even strength goals against and one for.
“We’re looking at some different things today,” Willie Desjardins said. “Lots of units have played well, and sometimes you just try different things. You want to see what a different combination will [do] – maybe it’ll spark guys. Somebody goes on a line, it’ll spark them, it gives another guy a different role on a different line. But I know for us to be successful, you need all our lines going, and my job is just to try to get the most out of everybody, and that’s the challenge sometimes. Sometimes moving guys around helps a little bit. It doesn’t mean it’s permanent. It just means you’re trying it out to see how it looks.”
–Jeff Carter skated on his own prior to practice and lingered on the ice as the full-team skate got underway. This represents a modest step forward from his solo laps in Boston, but he’s still a little ways away, as Desjardins had previously noted. Don’t expect him to play Thursday, and Saturday seems unlikely. Should we talk Monday? Let’s talk Monday.
–As a bit of a rink rat, Oscar Fantenberg is someone hard to pry from the ice on practice days. With the way he’s been playing recently, he’s also been hard to prevent from going over the boards every third shift.
Fantenberg has logged at least 19 minutes for five straight games, his longest stretch of such usage this season. After Jake Muzzin’s trade to Toronto, he’s played the right side on the second defensive pairing, with Alec Martinez moving back to the left. With goals in each of the last two games, 13 shots in his last five and possession and shot rates in the black during the six-game road trip, he’s provided quality minutes during a period of widened opportunity.
“It’s nice when they go in, especially when you’ve been working on that for a while and you get results,” he said. “I was talking about it the other day. I want to create more offense for the team and jump into the rush and be a threat up there, too. Luckily they went in the last two games.”
Playing his off-side reprises the duties of picking the puck up from the walls with his backhand, but it also allows him to walk the blue line and fake a shot to open up lanes with better comfort. It also allows him to tee up the one-timer – which is how he scored his goals against Boston and Washington.
“Marty’s been feeding me one-timers for the last couple games, and I think it’s nice when it’s finally paid off there,” he said. “That’s the thing – when you get a little bit of time and space when the forwards are a little bit low and my D-partner has the puck, he can feed me for the one-timer. It’s hard for the forward to be in the lane because it happens so past and it’s the wrong way to go, that shooting lane, because everybody’s so good being in shooting lanes, so if you don’t shoot a one-timer, they’re going to be in the lane and take away the shot, and I’m just lucky they went in.”
–Derek Forbort is a big basketball fan, so when LAKI suggested that his no-look, between-the-legs pass to set up Austin Wagner for a goal was reminiscent of Jason Williams, circa 1999, the defenseman was well aware of the reference even if he was six years old when White Chocolate debuted in Sacramento. “Number 55,” he said.
The fun didn’t stop there. We had to know what was said to Forbort after arriving back on the bench immediately after the sexiest assist of his 229 games to date. “What the [—-] was that?” he shared.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) February 12, 2019
“I just knew he was driving to the net,” Forbort said. “I got lucky that it hit his tape and went in like that, but that just seemed like the fastest route to get the puck back into the scoring area.”
Forbort’s key strengths lie in his mobility and his ability to use an excellent stick and a long wingspan to disrupt plays and passes while defending the rush and in defensive zone coverage. He’s not a player generally associated with jumping into the play. But just as Matt Greene showed with goals against St. Louis in the playoffs in 2012 and at home against Florida early in the 2014-15 season, even defensive-minded forwards with Grand Forks roots can pick their spots once in a while. And Forbort also nearly jumped for a second time in the game, seizing an opportunity at the end of a penalty kill to sprint towards the attacking end during what appeared to be a developing breakaway, but no pass was issued.
“It was a good play, and I think Derek’s been playing well,” Desjardins said. “He’s been giving us more offense. The strength of his game and what we need out of him is to defend, and he’s done a good job defending, but lately his feet have been moving as well, and he’s been getting in the play, so it’s been good.”
Drew Doughty is Drew Doughty and is among the most intuitive players in positioning and reading and relieving pressure from his defensive partner, and that doesn’t even begin to describe his multi-dimensional all-world play that includes the same understanding of when to jump in as an extra man on the attack.
“Playing with Dewey, I always kind of stay back a little bit and let him get up in the rush. We’ve kind of worked well in that sense, but he’s been on me on getting up on the rush myself. I think his legs get a little tired doing it all the time,” he said.
“I pick my spots, but it’s just about reading the play. I don’t want to be the guy who’s too aggressive and giving up two-on-ones back the other way.”
Forbort isn’t a gifted offensive player – hence the expletives when he returned to the bench – but has still been encouraged to cautiously pick times to jump in. The Kings are looking for offense without sacrificing their structure, and if the situation calls for it, Forbort has that green light to do so.
“I think it’s just getting comfortable and reading the times,” Desjardins said. “A lot of times he’s with Drew and Drew was always going, so he’s more of the safe guy back there a little bit. For him, too, he’s just got to read when the opportunities are there, and he has been more involved lately.”
–After posting a 3-0-0-0 record with a 1.26 goals-against average, a .956 save percentage and by virtue of a 6-for-6 shootout performance that included an impressive scorpion save, Kings goaltending prospect Jacob Ingham was named the OHL’s Player of the Week.
— caitlin berry (@caitlinsports) February 9, 2019
Ingham is 22-19-2-1 on the season with a 3.23 GAA and an .896 Sv%, numbers that are improvements from those he posted a year ago and completely respectable in the offensively minded Ontario Hockey League, where only five goalies with more than 20 games played this season have GAAs under three.
Impressively, the 2018 sixth rounder has logged 2,617 minutes – more than any other OHL goalie and the fourth most minutes in major junior hockey this season. That regularity has helped him build consistency for a Mississauga team coached by a former member of the Kings development staff, James Richmond.
“The beginning of the year he was having a rough go, and after that, I think his playing time has been the biggest thing for him,” Dusty Imoo, Goaltending Development said. “Regardless of win, lose or draw, J.R. is throwing him back in there, and over this amount of time, I would take less credit as that he has just settled, and I think he over time is just developing more consistency.”
Imoo noted that early conversations with Ingham were just to “settle him down” after a rocky start. Because Ingham was a highly thought of goaltender entering the OHL, are there any similarities between him and Jack Campbell, who also has good size and has had to play alongside the lofty expectations set for him?
“I don’t know if it’s the same, but one thing that’s similar with guys that people have high expectations for, pressure is put upon yourself from yourself, and that’s similar,” Imoo said. “Especially when you’re that young and things don’t go well, things can really go south quickly, and that’s kind of what happened with him – I think he put way too much pressure on himself.”
Ingham has a .925 save percentage since January 19 for a Steelheads team that sits in fifth place in the 10-team Eastern Conference with a 26-21-5-1 record.
–I’ll have more on Vancouver tomorrow, but they’re playing in Anaheim tonight, where Jacob Markstrom will return to action after missing Monday’s home game against San Jose due to back spasms.
Because there were no other healthy goaltenders on NHL contracts, the Canucks were pressed into recalling 19-year-old goalie Michael DiPietro from OHL-Ottawa on an emergency basis for Monday’s home game against San Jose. That’s a very tall task for a rookie currently playing major junior, and DiPietro, a former Memorial Cup champ who posted standout numbers at the World Junior Championship for Canada this past year, allowed a Timo Meier goal on the first shot he faced and seven total goals on 24 shots.
Vancouver was pressed into acquiring some goaltending depth because of such depletion, and yesterday acquired Marek Mazanec from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2020 seventh round draft pick. Via Jeff Paterson of TSN 1040, Mazanec will back Markstrom up tonight against the Ducks; there’s no word yet on who will start at Staples Center tomorrow. Mazanec, 27, is 8-13-4 with a 2.98 GAA and an .895 Sv% over 31 career appearances with Nashville from 2013-17. He has a 3.01 GAA and .903 Sv% with AHL-Hartford this season.
The Canucks are currently without the services of goalie Thatcher Demko, center Brandon Sutter, forward Sven Baertschi and defenseman Alex Edler, all of whom are on injured reserve.
–More to come on the Beijing Kings – and LA Kings alum Todd Elik. Let’s talk soon, Insiders.
–Lead photo via Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire