INSIDERS. A fine Monday morning to you. Let’s hope the freeways aren’t too clogged when we make the first of our two weekday commutes to Honda Center this month. In advance of Freeway Faceoff: Round 1 (7:00 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / LA Kings Audio Network), the LA Kings aligned thusly:
— The vitals: Jack Campbell was the first goalie off the ice and projected to start versus the Ducks, against whom he’s 1-2-0 with a 3.32 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage in four career games. Paul LaDue, Ilya Kovalchuk and Matt Luff remained on the ice for extra work with Jonathan Quick and are not expected to play. Because of the unbalanced scheduling matrix, the Kings will play the Ducks five times this season – three at Honda Center and two at Staples Center – and all other Pacific Division teams once. (This year, the need for an extra home game is made up by facing four Central Division teams twice at home and once on the road, and three Central teams once at home and twice on the road.)
Anze Kopitar, who has 24 goals and 66 points in 68 career games against Anaheim, is three points (322-593=915 points) from tying Wayne Gretzky (246-672=918 points) for fourth place on the franchise’s all-time points list. “When he doesn’t have his A-game – which isn’t very often – he’s still really effective because he thinks the game and maneuvers on the ice appropriately when he doesn’t have the puck,” Todd McLellan said. “Selke Trophy winners usually do those things, and he can have an impact on the defensive side – faceoffs, power play, penalty kill. On his complete nights, when he’s 100% going, he’s as good as there is. On off-nights, he checks off a lot of those other boxes where he’s capable of contributing, and usually when you do that, you have star status. Some of the not-superstars but still important players can’t often do that.”
Marcel Dionne (550-757=1,307) is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, followed by Luc Robitaille (557-597=1,154), Dave Taylor (431-638=1,069), Gretzky and Kopitar.
— Their vitals: John Gibson is ill, so Ryan Miller will draw the start. That was provided by Eric Stephens of The Athletic, who also shared that Anaheim may roll out forward lines of Shore-Getzlaf-Terry, Rakell-Steel-Silfverberg, Ritchie-Henrique-Kase and Deslauriers-Grant-Rowney with defense pairings of Lindholm-Del Zotto, Fowler-Gudbranson and Guehle-Holzer. Miller, who leads all American goalies with 381 career wins – Jonathan Quick ranks second with 315 – is 9-6-4 in 20 career games against Los Angeles with a 2.40 GAA, a .928 Sv% and two shutouts. The Ducks are without hardened defenseman Josh Manson, who skated with the team this morning but has missed the last 16 games and remains on IR because of an MCL sprain.
The most recent four games of Anaheim’s current 2-6-4 stretch indicate a special teams rut; their power play is 0-for-10 and their traditionally strong penalty kill is 7-for-12 over that span. But this is still a game in which both teams are familiar with getting the other teams’ best, records and statistics be damned. “We enjoy going down there,” Drew Doughty said. “A lot of our fans are able to make the trek down there easily, and when we score goals, it’s not silence in the building. You’ll hear a lot of cheers, and even when I have the puck, the whole ‘Drew’ chat really pumps me up when I’m down there. We love going in there and hopefully winning the game and hopefully disappointing the Anaheim fans, but it’s always a tough match-up and a close game. It’s always fun going down there.”
Los Angeles is 4-4-2 in their last 10 road games in the series, eight of which have been decided by one goal.
— Speaking of “Anaheim” and “road games,” there’s been an ongoing colloquialism around the team that for as many times as the Kings and Ducks have played at The Pond, there have been an equal amount of logistics-related ways to travel there and ensure the players’ minds and bodies are prepared as best they can for an emotional divisional rivalry game.
This has become more consistent of late. Now, the team will almost always hold a morning skate at TSPC before busing to an Anaheim-area hotel where day rooms welcome the players for a pre-game nap. But that hasn’t always been the case; there have been the odd morning skates at Honda Center, as well as the trips south in the 2014 playoffs when they stayed overnight and treated the travel towards their Southland neighbors as if it was that for any other Western Conference opponent. They traveled the day before, stayed at the hotel, took buses from the hotel to the rink in the morning, back to the hotel after the skate, and then back to the rink for the actual game. Darryl Sutter still managed to opine on John Gibson, so nobody appeared too hurried.
“I was just saying this morning, the last time I rode a bus to a road game the day-of, I think I was in Houston going to San Antonio,” Todd McLellan said. “That’s a long time ago, so it’s a different experience, but I was at home last night with my wife and the boys and thinking I could be in a hotel sitting there, so it’s rewarding that way. I know we’ll be home early enough to be in our beds and get some good rest. I know that the fans travel up and down the freeway – ours to Anaheim and theirs to LA, which makes it a special night for both sides – so there are a lot of real positives about it.”
For those who wonder about the team’s scheduling and travel logistics, it’s an interesting discussion. Coaches often set their schedule in the summer with heavy input from a figure who coordinates travel within the organization, and that’s no different in El Segundo. Sometimes a leadership contingent will also weigh in, as took place under previous Kings coaches. It was worthwhile to check to see if there were any changes to the way the team travels south on game days when “leaving at 3 pm and sitting in traffic for two hours” is not the way to best maximize the players’ skill sets.
“The schedule when it comes out, we’ll sit down, take a look at it and then begin month-by-month figuring out where we want to go, what day we want to travel on, and then we sit down with (Senior Director, Team Operations and Hockey Communications) Rob Koch and he begins to sort things out for itineraries,” McLellan said. “What was interesting about the Anaheim scenario is I just assumed that we were going the day before, and that’s just how it was. I didn’t even think about not flying, really, but this is a unique situation not unlike what other teams out east have. Rarely or never do you get that opportunity do you get to experience maybe what a New York, New Jersey, even a Philly team does out east, and this is one of those unique days.”
— And, speaking of former coaches, this will be the first regular season match-up in which the Kings face Darryl Sutter, who led them to ::checks media guide:: two Stanley Cups.
Sutter isn’t Anaheim’s coach, nor an assistant. The Advisor to the Head Coach doesn’t go on the bench or speak with the media after games, but it’s plausible to think he’d have a trove of useful observations and nuggets about his former players (in addition to other opponents and arenas, and travel experience afforded from his decades of coaching).
Eakins said Sutter has been able to convey what he learned in different situations over the years. Eakins didn’t want to be specific but came up with a small but important instance in which Sutter’s knowledge had helped.
“We start doing our travel plan and we have the luxury of having a coach that’s been in the same division, just up the road, with the exact same travel and it’s, ‘Hey, Darryl, what did you guys do here? What did you guys do on this one?’ ” Eakins said. “Just starting with that, but I’m sure you can imagine all the experiences he’s had as a coach, handling players, systems stuff. It’s certainly great to have another voice in the room.”
Doughty has spoken several times about his esteem for Sutter, which was high “even though sometimes we’d butt heads,” he shared in training camp.
“As much as at the end things kind of went south – we were getting into arguments and stuff like that – I loved Darryl from the bottom of my heart. He’s a great coach, a great person, a great family, and he cared about his players and their families.”
The Kings aren’t playing Darryl Sutter, nor will Doughty be thinking about Sutter when he digs in for a boards battle with Ryan Getzlaf amidst a rivalry that has the propensity to become physical and nasty. But is it strange that he was game-planning for his former players while the Kings went through their own pre-game preparation?
“I mean, kind of, because he would know the ins and outs about my game. I’m sure he’s going to tell them to play me hard and not let me control the game,” Doughty said. “Yeah, Darryl’s going to know what my weakness is. I don’t even know if I know exactly what it is sometimes, so he knows me better than I know myself. He’s going to know what to tell them to do, but at the same time, I’m very thankful for what Darryl did for us. He was a great coach and a great motivator, and he’ll be telling that team who to key in, and I’m sure we all know who the keys will be.”
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— Todd McLellan, on how Anaheim has evolved in their first 27 games under Dallas Eakins:
They’re a lot like our team where they’ve had a new coach, and Dallas is a very good coach. They’ve been able to adapt and comprehend some new systems, and they’re putting into play more and more now. Both teams’ special teams are a work in progress. A lot of similarities. I can’t speak for their team now, but as our team, just as we get one thing, we’ve got to go back and polish something else up, and it’s going to be that way for a little while. There’s a group of teams in the league right now that are in that situation. But that’s OK. They know where they are and they know what they’re working with.
McLellan, on what he’ll be looking for from the defensive pairs tonight:
Well, we want some balance. We want all six to be able to play. We just came off a really busy week and we’re beginning another one, so the ability for all six to carry big minutes and to play against top players in any situation is important. It will be in flux. There will be some movement, some rotation. Lefties and righties playing opposite sides at times. Just good, solid puck-moving games and defend when you have to. We’re really not making a big deal of it. We haven’t even gone in there and talked to the players about it. We just put their numbers up and let’s play and see what we get.
— That’s it for now, Insiders. More to come tomorrow from Doughty, whose contributions allowed the London Jr. Knights to travel to Southern California and participate in an LA Junior Kings tournament over the weekend. As for the particulars, Tim Kepler, who fairly regularly performed both American and Canadian anthems at Staples Center this decade – often while wearing a nice vest – is Anaheim’s new anthemist this season. (Dawn Wright stepped down due to family reasons over the off-season.) Tonight’s officials are referees TJ Luxmore and Marc Joannette and linesmen David Brisebois and Brandon Gawryletz. More to come from Orange County, Insiders. Let’s talk soon.