INSIDERS. A good afternoon to you. Thank you for the patience yesterday as I amply consumed liquids and rested. It’s back to LA Kings hockey today as the Nashville Predators make their lone Staples Center visit (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports app / LA Kings Audio Network).
–The vitals: Jonathan Quick left the ice first at the morning skate and is expected to start versus Nashville, against whom he is 5-11-2 with a 2.93 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage in 19 career games. Paul LaDue, Kurtis MacDermid and Jonny Brodzinski remained on the ice for extra work, so tonight’s lineup should look something like Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown, Grundstrom-Kempe-Toffoli, Leipsic-Carter-Kovalchuk and Clifford-Lewis-Wagner up front with pairings of Forbort-Doughty, Martinez-Roy and Phaneuf-Walker. Martinez, who missed yesterday’s practice with an illness, should be good to go tonight. “Marty’s good,” Willie Desjardins said. “Will he play? We’ll see after the skate today. But he’s out skating, and that’s a good sign.” Austin Wagner is expected to play his first game since leaving the win over Chicago on March 2 with an upper-body injury. He missed four games.
Desjardins was also asked what he’d like the team to accomplish over the remaining 13 games, and lo, the timing was quite good for such a discussion. “That’s the same question I just asked the guys this morning. I said, ‘what do we want to do? We’ve got five games at home here. What do we want to do?’” Desjardins said. “The response was good. We want to make sure we come with lots of energy and passion. We want to play with good structure. We want to build, we want to get better as we go. We all know these are tough games. These are teams that have been building for the playoffs. It’s not like there’s anything easy in here. It’s going to be tough. But we just want to take care of ourselves and make sure that we come and compete every night.”
It begins with establishing habits and tendencies in practices, and the team had a pair of them this week to prepare for tonight. There had been some irregularity in the speed and focus of certain practices, particularly prior to the bye week and All-Star break. On Thursday, Desjardins referenced the good energy at practice and the ability of the players to compete and play with speed, especially during competitive rotations on Wednesday in which the losers of a drill took part in a short conditioning skate.
“I think for a lot of the guys, just practicing like we’re going to play,” Tyler Toffoli said. “Every time you shoot, every time you get opportunities to score goals, you try and score goals. In those battles, you’re competing and trying to get better.”
–Their vitals: No goalie has been announced yet for the Preds, who did not skate this morning. The word on the street is that it may be Juuse Saros, who earned his first NHL win against Los Angeles in November, 2017, stopping 36 of 39 shots through 64:40 before Viktor Arvidsson ended the game in overtime, giving Nashville two points in a game they led 3-0 entering the third. It’s Saros’ only career appearance versus L.A.
The Predators’ power play ranks 30th in the league but is 3-for-7 against the Kings this season and looking to accentuate a 4-for-14 stretch, while their penalty kill is a middle-of-the-pack 15th. They’re a strong even strength team and a strong possession team, as one would expect out of a Stanley Cup contender, though with an 8-9-1 record entering tonight’s game and 20 wins in their last 41 games, they haven’t played their best hockey of the season in 2019. Those who cover the team have noted this. Nashville has won five straight in the series since Jaromie Iginla’s overtime goal at Staples Center on March 9, 2017 and will go for their second consecutive season sweep tonight. Interestingly, the Predators lost all three games in 2016-17, a season in which they reached Stanley Cup Final and the Kings did not qualify for the playoffs. Dan Hamhuis (lower body), Zac Rinaldo (shoulder) and Miikka Salomaki (upper-body) are on injured reserve. Wayne Simmonds has one assist in six games since joining Nashville at the trade deadline and played with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen in a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday, while Mikael Granlund, who skated with Nick Bonino and Arvidsson, has a goal and three assists in five games since joining the club.
–The LA Kings will celebrate Pride Night tonight, and ticket packs purchased through this link will come with a commemorative long sleeved shirt. (Stick taps to the courageous folks at r/losangeleskings, some of whom are newly out or only out among their closest friends and will attend tonight’s game in support of this important cause.)
Dustin Brown has served as the Kings’ You Can Play Ambassador in years the NHL has promoted a player representative on each team and has used the bully pulpit as a high-profile athlete to promote equality. “It’s a responsibility more than anything,” he said.
“A lot of people are … watching athletes and celebrities, and I think there are better role models out there than both of those examples, but it is part of the way our society works right now, so it’s important for athletes and people who are in the spotlight to get out there and spread the message.”
The recipient of the 2011 Foundation Award and the 2014 Mark Messier Leadership Award, Brown has long been one of the Kings’ most community-minded players and a well-spoken advocate of LGBTQ rights. Such support comes naturally for him and his wife Nicole and is passed down to their four children.
“Some of our closest friends are gay, and we just explain it to [our children] like it’s a personal preference,” he said. “I think it’s hard for them to understand, especially the younger two. The older two, they get it. Especially today, the connected society, they’re seeing a lot more at a younger age – good and bad – so they’re much more aware of it. Growing up, I know my sister had a couple gay friends that we knew about it, but it wasn’t a thing. There’s much more awareness around it now, and it’s just getting it to the point where it is normal and we don’t have to have special nights to bring awareness to it because it’s just part of our culture and our society.”
–At least one more story to come from Staples Center, Insiders. Tonight’s anthem will be performed by the West Coast Singers of the LGBTQ Chorus of Los Angeles. Tonight’s officials are referees Jake Brenk and Trevor Hanson and linesmen Lonnie Cameron and Derek Nansen. Let’s talk soon.
–Lead photo via Juan Ocampo/NHLI