McLellan looking towards split-squad set for “first chance” to see Kings in action

Tonight marks LA Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan’s debut behind the Kings bench, coming on home ice at STAPLES Center. McLellan, alongside Marco Sturm and Chris Hajt will direct operations for the home group, while assistant coach Trent Yawney and Ontario Head Coach Mike Stothers will be behind the bench in Arizona, with Bill Ranford monitoring from upstairs.

Lineups for tonight’s action (HOME and AWAY) were reported earlier today following the Kings’ respective morning skates.

“What do we want to get out of the game? We want to be competitive right off the bat and we want to see if we can adhere to some structure,” McLellan said following today’s morning skate in El Segundo. “I don’t expect them to be perfect or be in the right spot all of the time. The fear of a coach is you try to put some structure in place and you take away their tenacity and their pace because they become thinkers and we would like to avoid that as much as we can. A lot of unknowns going into the game, hopefully we’ll have some information to work with after the night.”

Tonight’s lineup in Los Angeles is a hodgepodge of experience, ranging from the veteran Jonathan Quick, as one of the evening’s two goaltenders, to Arthur Kaliyev and Jordan Spence, skating in their first NHL preseason games as 18-year-olds. Up front, expect to see nine of 12 forwards who played NHL games last season, with just two such players on the blueline. The group in Arizona features a little more experience on the backend and more youth at forward, with Jack Campbell and expected first-year pro Matt Villalta in goal.

We will have live blogs of both games here on LAKings Insider, running simultaneously. Follow along on the site for updates!

Todd McLellan on what he’s looking for with new circumstances and a lot of youth in the lineup
That’s a pretty broad question. I was asked that yesterday and I actually put some more thought after. We can’t just assume that we know Carter, we know Clifford, we know Lewis until we spend more time with them. That was an assumption I made and perhaps it was wrong, so this will be our first chance to see the veterans play, the usual names if you will, the “San Jose, Edmonton names” that we saw all the time, so we’ve got to deal with that group. There are some other players that are breaking into the league, and I think that’s Roy, Walker and Luff, those types of players that are close and their on the cusp. They’ve been here for a little while, but I don’t know a lot about them. We balance that out with the young prospects, some are going to go back to junior and our lifeline with them is running its course quick quickly, so we’ve got a lot to observe.

On what part of tweaking the systems will help the team most, if they get it, and hurt the team most if they don’t
It is a tough question to really answer until we get a little more evidence from the group. Some of the areas that we tweaked I think will eventually help them, but it may hurt them to start with, simply because of habit. Four of the five guys will be doing what we need to be doing and the fifth guy, out of habit, will go out of position and it affects everybody. The fear of making mistakes throughout training camp, you feel like you have to be perfect to make the team and we want our players to make mistakes right now, it gives us a chance to work on it. I think we need a little more time together, a little more evidence to see where we’ll be productive with changes and where it may hurt us for a little while.

On whether he’s been surprised to learn anything about the veterans he’s coached against for so long
At this point, no, but their personal characteristics. Take Cliffy for example – He was about as hateful as you could get as an opposition coach, a fan, or whatever because he just competed hard. He’s one of those guys that you didn’t like playing against but you loved having him on your team. Yet, when you come in here, you see his personal side, there’s some humor to him, there’s a little bit of a spark to him, an energy, you don’t know if that exists or not. For me, with those veteran guys, it’s been more about off the ice, the way they carry [themselves] in the locker room, their habits, who’s open to conversation, who’s a little more private, those types of things. You’ll eventually learn a lot more about them on the ice surface.

On the youth on the blueline and what he’s looking for out of those younger players
Just the confidence that that individual has in himself to believe he belongs. I think, once a young player gives himself permission…after warmups they’ll look around, big building. They’ll look over and they’ll see NHL players on the other side. The puck will drop, a couple shifts, maybe nervous and then they’ve got to give themselves permission, they’ve got to allow themselves to belong at this level. Some guys do it quickly, some guys never do it, but the youth part of it on the blueline is fine. We need to see people play and I’m not worried about the inexperience there. Will it hurt us or help us, I don’t know, but at the end of the night, we’ll have something to work from, we’ll have evidence.

On if he plans to do anything specific with special teams
Well, we tried to put a little bit of structure in place, whether it’s a breakout or a penalty kill forecheck. It’s likely going to look somewhat disorganized, just because we didn’t have a lot of time. We’ll have a few weeks now to work on it and build on it, but let’s hope that what we put in place we’ll see a little bit of.

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