— INSIDERS. A fine Wednesday to you. The LA Kings face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Staples Center (7:00 p.m. / NBCSN / NBC Sports App / LA Kings Audio Network / AM 1150) in the first sporting event since the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others on Sunday.
— It was an optional skate, but we can make out the template of a lineup. First off, I’m not expecting Drew Doughty to play. To recap: he hasn’t taken the ice since leaving practice a few minutes early on Sunday with an undisclosed injury. After he didn’t skate Monday, Todd McLellan deemed him “very questionable” for the Tampa Bay game without a skate on Tuesday.
If he doesn’t play, it’s the first regular season game he’ll miss since April 14, 2014, the last of four games he’d sat out in the aftermath of a shoulder injury sustained when he made an awkward hit on San Jose’s Tyler Kennedy in Game #78 of the season. (Spoiler: It got dicey, but the Kings emerged O.K. from the injury scare that spring.) He’s played in a franchise-record 460 straight games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NHL and part of a stretch in which he’s played 659 out of a possible 660 regular season games.
Should he miss Wednesday’s game, the team’s consecutive games played leader would be Alex Iafallo with 132, followed by Anze Kopitar with 125. Kopitar held the franchise’s previous consecutive games streak, appearing in 330 straight games between March 21, 2007 and March 26, 2011.
Derek Forbort, Matt Luff and Jack Campbell remained on the ice for extra work after the skate and aren’t expected to play tonight. Todd McLellan has shared how the timing of the bye week and All-Star break didn’t work in Forbort’s favor as he worked hard to get back into playing shape and systems-oriented detail after missing training camp and the first 43 games of the season. Joakim Ryan (IR/knee) is expected to be activated and should draw back into the lineup for the first time since December 27, while Blake Lizotte (groin), who hasn’t played since the 2-1 loss to Dallas three weeks ago, will re-enter as well.
Ryan traveled on the previous road trip and was “really close” to a full recovery but didn’t get into a game. Todd McLellan indicated two games into the five-game trip that his absence was essentially a coach’s decision at that point, saying “I’m sure we could put him in” if the situation and need called for it. Ryan obviously felt the challenge of sitting out a road trip and then a bye week but also understood a wider margin for recovery provided by the extra time off.
“A little blessing in disguise I didn’t play the last road trip,” he said. “It gives my knee more time to fully heal up, but we’ve had three good days of practice that I think helped whip all of us and I felt pretty good. I practiced yesterday and feel good today, so I’m just going to go out there and give it my all tonight and see how it goes.”
He’s liked the pace and intensity since the team reconvened on Sunday.
“It’s been really good,” Ryan said. “Those first two days were kind of like a mini-training camp – just the intensity and length of the practices. We were going pretty hard – a lot of skating and stuff – so it definitely helped get our wind back and our conditioning. It was tough at the time, but I think it’s really good for us.”
Jonathan Quick, 6-4-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and a shutout in 13 career games against the Lightning, is expected to start in goal.
— With that covered, I’m projecting these lines and pairs tonight:
The forwards should be accurate, but I’m not certain at all on the defense, which rotated personnel more frequently.
— Via TBLightning.com, the Bolts are expected to align with forward groups of Stamkos-Point-Kucherov, Palat-Cirelli-Johnson, Killorn-Paquette-Maroon and Verhaeghe-Stephens-Gourde. Defensive pairings were Hedman-Rutta, McDonagh-Cernak and Sergachev-Shattenkirk. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 4-2-0 in seven career games against Los Angeles with a 2.79 GAA and a .919 Sv%, is listed as the projected starter. Tampa returned to action with a 3-2 overtime loss at Dallas on Monday and will continue its four-game road segment with a Friday-Saturday back-to-back at Anaheim and San Jose.
— It was shared when Lizotte was activated earlier this week that the Kings have been a puck-retrieving, forechecking, offensive zone-inclined line when he’s been flanked by Adrian Kempe and Austin Wagner. They haven’t accounted for a surplus of offense, but their underlying numbers are all outstanding and provide a hint towards some unearthed production. From last Thursday:
Back to Lizotte, whose line was clicking at the time of his injury. Not necessarily Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer-clicking, but clicking about as well as a 2019-20 LA Kings line could click. Which meant that they were dominant in their direction of play and scoring chances, but not at all actual goal scoring. Via Money Puck, they rank third in the league with a 64.4 xGF% and third in xGA/60 out of any forward line with a minimum of 100 minutes together. In line with the team’s fourth-ranked raw 53.6% CF% and 31st-ranked 6.2% 5×5 Sh%, they’ve only combined for nine 5×5 goals and the Kings haven’t outscored their opponents with any of the three on the ice at five-on-five play. This translates to: Lizotte and Co. are emblematic of a Kings corps that is playing structurally sound, attacking hockey but are yet to be consistently rewarded. In case you hadn’t noticed!
Austin Wagner described the nuances of their purpose and what has led to the offensive zone time (which has come with slightly advantageous but largely honest zone starts).
Austin Wagner, on attacking nuances when skating with Blake Lizotte and Adrian Kempe:
I think when you look at our line we have a lot of speed and tenacity between us three. Kemps and Lizzo are very, very skilled players and that helps with our line getting offense. We have our individual jobs on each line and we each know what we’re going to do, so for me, it’s forechecking, getting in on the puck first, and then being able to make the plays, obviously. That’s always there. The offense is clicking when we’re there. Zone time is a big thing for us. When we get on the forecheck and teams turn it over we’ve got to hang onto the puck for a couple minutes and try to make some plays and create some offense off of it. That’s what we were doing, so it’s just sticking with that. We haven’t been together in a little while here. … We’ll get back at it tonight. We’ve had a couple good days of practice together, and we’re feeling good.
Wagner, on watching video of what his line does or doesn’t do well:
We watch our individual video after each game. Obviously, each of us is watching their own shifts, but we’re together most of the time, so it’s like watching the line play and figuring out what we can do better and what we can’t. We’re learning that talking’s the easiest way to sort out anything on the ice, so we’re getting better at that, and we’ve just got to keep getting better every game.
— A few additional notes, Insiders. This is going to be an emotional night at Staples Center. It probably won’t matter much when the puck drops, but for some of us who’ve been going to Staples since 1999 and The Forum well before that, it might take a minute or two to find our balance amidst the locus of love, emotion and tributes that have overtaken L.A. Live and will overflow into Staples Center tonight. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 6:30 p.m., at which point there will be a special pre-game recognition of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven others who died in Sunday’s crash. More to come from downtown.
The official puck drop will be at 7:20 p.m. Tonight’s officials are referees Trevor Hanson and Francis Charron. Let’s talk soon, Insiders.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 29, 2020