Welcome back to the road, Insiders! The Kings are in San Jose to kick off their post-holiday slate with the first half of a back-to-back, beginning tonight against the Sharks (7:00 p.m. PT / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / LA Kings Audio Network).
KINGS VITALS: Soups On, Soups Off First. Expect Jack Campbell to get the nod between the pipes tonight for the Kings, after he was the first goaltender off this morning at SAP Center. The 27-year-old netminder has faced the Sharks just once in his NHL career and was hardly the problem in a 3-1 defeat, as he made 26 saves on 28 shots faced, with the opposition also tallying an empty-netter.
“We sit with Billy Ranford and we look at the goaltender situation, Soupy will play tonight and there’s a real good chance Quickie will go tomorrow, splitting it,” Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan said this morning in San Jose. “It gives Jonathan a little more time to get the body going again and warm up. I don’t think there’s any such thing as load management in hockey, but there’s common sense. We chose to go with Soupy tonight and we’ll see what we do tomorrow.”
In terms of who will skate in front of Campbell, the Kings shuffled their lines a bit with forward Dustin Brown not making the trip (illness) and forward Trevor Lewis also not on this trip, after he suffered an upper-body injury six days ago in Buffalo – McLellan noted that there is a “potential” that Lewis could play on New Year’s Eve against Philadelphia at home and the Kings placed Lewis on IR today, retroactive to 12/21. Brown had been fighting an illness at the end of the recent East Coast swing, which caused him to miss a practice in Columbus, and McLellan said that he didn’t get any better over the Christmas holiday and that “a little more rest for him is needed”
Expect forward Martin Frk – more on him to come below – to get the nod in the lineup in place of Brown. Here’s how the Kings lined up this morning, with just one healthy extra, defenseman Kale Clague, on late for extra work.
Iafallo – Kopitar – Toffoli
Prokhorkin – Carter – Frk
Kempe – Lizotte – Wagner
Clifford – Amadio – Luff
Ryan – Doughty
Hutton – Roy
MacDermid – Walker – Clague (extra)
SHARKS VITALS: Expect Aaron Dell to oppose Campbell between the pipes tonight. Dell is slated to make his first career start against the Kings, with just one relief appearance to his name as he stopped all nine shots he faced in 23 minutes of action. Dell has his team’s only victory during the month of December, a 33-save effort in a 4-2 win over Vancouver on 12/14, and also has the team’s only non-regulation loss, as he made 27 saves on 29 shots on 12/5 vs. Carolina in a 3-2 OTL.
On the transaction front, a pair of defensemen, Radim Simek and Mario Ferraro, are expected to suit up for San Jose.
Here’s how the Sharks are expected to line up this evening –
There's a possibility that both Radim Simek and Mario Ferraro return to the blue line for the #SJSharks tonight.
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) December 27, 2019
Since a coaching change earlier this month, San Jose has gone just 1-4-0, though interim head coach Bob Boughner earned his team’s lone win of the month. Joining Boughner’s staff as Associate Coach is Roy Sommer, a veteran of 22 seasons behind the bench for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate. Sommer’s tenure in the AHL spanned four different AHL markets and the 62-year old bench boss was on a five-year playoff streak entering the 2019-20 campaign.
Sommer has ties with Todd McLellan, serving as the AHL Head Coach to McLellan’s role with the Sharks from 2008 – 2015. He also has ties to Kings defenseman Joakim Ryan, who played two seasons with San Jose’s AHL affiliate, the Barracuda, as well as Ontario Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers, with the pair teammates in their playing days and divisional opponents as coaches in the American Hockey League.
“It’s great for him, I’m really happy for him,” Ryan said. “I loved playing for Roy, he’s a great guy, really enjoyed my two years with the Barracuda. I’m happy for him, obviously he’s been in the AHL for a while, so I’m sure it’s very exciting for him to be back in the AHL.”
Sommer set the AHL’s all-time wins record in this very building in 2016, in a victory over the Ontario Reign, with his 637th career AHL win. As of his promotion to the Sharks earlier this month, Sommer had amassed 773 AHL victories, all of which had come as a member of the San Jose organization.
I think it’s great that Roy gets an opportunity to come back to the National League,” McLellan said. “He’s put his time in, obviously in the American League but certainly in the organization here and he’s had a big part in developing so many young players. When I was here, we got so many players handed off to us by Roy and they came up, they were ready to play – not just technically, but they grew up as young men into men and they we were ready to go. Him getting the opportunity, [Mike Ricci] and Nabby, it’s good to see all of those individuals on the bench.”
For Stothers, he has worked with Sommer from both sides of the line. The two men were teammates in the American Hockey League as players and opponents in the same league years later as coaches. When we spoke after the change was made, Stothers had nothing but excitement for Sommer’s opportunity with the Sharks.
“He’s put in the time and he’s a good guy,” Stothers said. “I played with Roy years ago, we won a Calder Cup together in Maine, and I’ve coached against Roy for a long time. We always talk before games, he certainly likes to talk about MacDermid. As soon as Dermy hits somebody, on either of the San Jose teams, he’s always texting me. I think it’s awesome for him and it’s a great situation, but it always comes at a cost, right? You feel for Pete De Boer and Steve Spott guys I coached against in juniors and I have a lot of respect for, Dave Barr. You don’t like to see people lose their jobs when you know how passionate they are about it and how good they are at it, it’s just the nature of our business I guess, but I guess that’s what creates opportunity. You know what, it’s perseverance for a guy like Roy, I think it was 22 years right?”
It’s a Frk’n Debut
As mentioned above, expect forward Martin Frk to make his season debut with the LA Kings. Frk is a veteran of 100 NHL games with Carolina and Detroit, and has spent the entire season to date terrorizing goaltenders across the American Hockey League. Frk has 14 goals this season with Ontario, tied for sixth in the AHL and leads the Reign with 23 points.
“[He’s a] shooter, there’s no doubt that he’s got one of the better shots that I’ve seen,” McLellan said of his newest forward. “Given the opportunity to get it off, he can unload and he can pick pretty small holes with it, he’s proven that at the American League level. Has it transferred consistently over to the NHL level, I think he’s still working on that. Talking to some of the people in Detroit when we were through there, they appreciated what he could do in that situation and hopefully he can get himself into that spot tonight.”
For his part, Frk is not trying to do anything different, but rather take things as they come in his first NHL game of the season. It’s not his first experience at this level, so the 26-year-old forward has a sense of what to expect in terms of the differences between the AHL and the NHL and he pointed to the higher level of smarts, strength and speed of play as what he will need to adjust to with NHL opposition.
“Guys are smarter, stronger, they know where they have to be all of the time, so that will be for sure,” Frk said. “It is a little bit of a step, but not that big of a step, I mean I’ve played a handful of games [in the NHL], so I kind of know what I can expect from it. It just starts by going step-by-step, don’t try to do too much and it will get a little bit easier, and then everything will come later, confidence and all that stuff. Hopefully it will go smooth and we can get two points here.”
While it’s not his NHL debut, it is his first regular-season game with the Kings organization at the NHL level. Frk was excited this morning about the prospect of making his debut with a new team, as he is expected to do tonight in San Jose.
“Yeah for sure, it’s always something when you play with new guys and it’s a new team for me, it’s great. There’s a lot of great players, when I was younger I watched them so it’s kind of cool I have the chance to play with another [NHL] team. Hopefully I will do good and we’ll go from there.”
With Ontario, the Czech Republic native was a staple on the first power-play unit. Many times, the Reign’s strategy on the man advantage was to set up Frk for a one-timer at the top of the left-hand circle, where he is especially potent.
Frk has produced to the tune of three power-play goals so far this season, tied for the team lead, with his six PP points also tied for a team high. In morning skate this morning, as Kings radio analyst Daryl Evans pointed out, Frk did see some time on one of the man-advantage units and Frk is ready to contribute in that role if given the opportunity.
“I didn’t know that until I got on the ice, it was kind of nice for sure,” Frk said of potentially being on the PP unit tonight. “I’ve got to go use my shot there, hopefully the guys can find me and I have to find the open ice. Hopefully we will do good there and get a couple of goals on the power play.”