The road trip comes to a close today in Buffalo – Get the coffee mugs ready for a little Saturday-morning matinee hockey (10:00 a.m. PT / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / LA Kings Audio Network). The Kings skated yesterday in Buffalo and will not skate this morning, prior to today’s early puck drop.
KINGS VITALS: With no skate today, we won’t know for sure until a bit later who is in net today for the Kings, but my money, based on the rotation on this trip, would be on Jonathan Quick returning between the pipes in Western New York. In his NHL career, Quick has faced the Sabres just 11 times, tied for the fourth fewest against any NHL opposition, but the 33-year-old netminder has posted close to his best numbers against any team versus Buffalo. Lifetime, Quick is 7-2-0 with a 1.65 goals against average and a .931 save percentage against the Sabres, marking his second lowest goals against average and his second highest save percentage against any NHL opponent.
In terms of tonight’s lineup, the guess would be on the forward lines remaining the same. The Top 3 lines were unchanged in yesterday’s practice, while the fourth line was a four-man unit with Matt Luff working alongside Tyler Toffoli, Michael Amadio and Nikolai Prokhorkin. We certainly could see Luff, who scored in Buffalo last season, rotated in, but we won’t find that out until we get closer to game time.
On the backend, we play the waiting game on the NHL debut for Kale Clague. Clague appeared to frequently work with Sean Walker during rushes yesterday, but there didn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to the pairings, in that the seven defensemen all seemed to rotate in and out with each other. Todd McLellan did not confirm or deny yesterday that Clague could debut today against Buffalo, but it would be conceivable to see him in the lineup. Todd McLellan spoke yesterday about the familiarity a player like Clague should have with terms, language being used because of the similarities to the systems that are being run in Ontario, designed to help ease the transition when the time comes.
“If things are going the way they’re supposed to go, the American League affiliate is doing a lot of the things that we want to do, so the words, the hockey language we’re using, some of the structure that we use should all be common to him,” McLellan said. “It just happens on a bigger stage, with more experienced players, it’s often faster but more organized. Sometimes that works out better for some players. Him being around the team, and hearing the language, isn’t anything he hasn’t heard already but just being around the group I’m sure helps.”
SABRES VITALS: The 17-dollar question for Buffalo this afternoon revolves around the health of their best player, Jack Eichel, who missed the Sabres’ last game with an upper-body-injury. Per Joe Yerdon of The Athletic, Eichel is “feeling better” but remains day-to-day heading into today’s game, which he enters with points in his last 17 games played, even if the NHL won’t recognize his scoring streak as continuing due to the injury. Eichel did practice yesterday, as did forward Evan Rodrigues, who is also day-to-day (lower-body). Forward Johan Larsson will miss out on today’s game with a lower-body injury. Forward Curtis Lazar was recalled from Rochester yesterday and centered the fourth line for the Sabres at yesterday’s practice. See below for how Buffalo lined up at their skate yesterday.
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) December 20, 2019
Goaltender Carter Hutton took the brunt of a 6-1 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, as he made 23 saves on 29 shots. The expectation is that Linus Ullmark gets the nod…..but again, no morning skate today. UIlmark has the better numbers of the two Buffalo netminders this season, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.90 goals against average.
“I don’t think the game in Philadelphia is any indication of how [the Sabres] have been playing, so you’ve almost got to throw that one out and dig a little further back. The Toronto games were good games for both teams, they were competitive nights, but they are a solid team. Obviously their captain’s driving their team and playing like an MVP, so he has a big part in the direction of the game and how it’s going to unfold, so we’re aware of that. They’re a pretty solid hockey club.”
Kale Of Duty
Could today be the day for Kale Clague?
Clague was recalled from the AHL’s Ontario Reign earlier this week, but has been a healthy scratch in each of his first two games as a member of the Kings. The offensive-dynamic Clague was Ontario’s top defenseman as of late and was riding a four-game point streak at the time of his callup. Clague departed the AHL ranked tied for second in goals amongst defensemen, and led all Ontario defensemen in goals (6), assists (9) and points (15) this season, with his point total ranking second on the Reign amongst all skaters.
Clague spoke with the media for the first time as an NHL defenseman yesterday, with the possibility of his NHL debut coming this afternoon in Buffalo.
Kale Clague on how he’s felt since being called up earlier this week
I think it’s been pretty good, I think everyone’s done a pretty good job of making me feel welcome and comfortable. Obviuosly guys like Royzie, Walks and Amadio, those kind of guys I played with last year, so it’s easy to come here and be able to hang with those guys, guys I already know, it makes me feel a lot more comfortable, for sure.
On the differences through practices so far from the AHL to the NHL
I think the pace, and everyone’s a little bigger, a little stronger, a little bit more skill. I mean, I feel like I fit in, I feel like I belong out there and whenever my chances comes to play, I’m really excited.
On the comfort level having played with three of the Kings defensemen last season with Ontario
Yeah, I mean playing with guys like Royzie and Walks, they’ve had good success up here, I look at that as a positive. I feel like I’m ready to contribute up here and I’m excited for when the time comes.
On what he’s been asked to work on in order to become an every-day NHL player
It’s the defensive side of my game, for sure. I think the offensive side, my skating, my puck moving, I think that’s always come pretty natural, but the defending especially with bigger guys…growing up, I felt like I was an early bloomer, so when I was younger, I was the bigger guy and I never really had to worry about the defensive side as much. Now, obviously guys are bigger and stronger than I am, so it’s a little different. It’s taken me last year and parts of this year and I’m still learning. Ending plays and using my stick and my feet to end plays and stop progression has been huge for me.
On if there was anyone, growing up, that he aspired to play like style-wise
I mean, growing up Drew was always a high-end name, so he was always super fun to watch. I watched guys like Letang, those kind of guys. Guys that are maybe six-feet, just under six feet [tall], that skate well and have good offensive instincts, I like to watch how they defend.
On how he’s handling the nerves as he approaches his first game
I mean, I’m a little nervous, not going to lie, but I think it’s like any game. You get a couple shifts, touch the puck a little bit and they kind of just go away. [Reporter: Does it make it a little easier, having practiced for a few days first before potentially getting into a game?] Yeah, I think if I would have been thrown into it in Boston, I think I would’ve been really nervous. It’s easier to loosen up around everyone, being here for a couple days and getting the feel for it.