WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Thursday, January 28 @ 5:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center – Minneapolis, Minnesota
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings conclude a four-game road trip tonight against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Kings are 2-1-0 on the trip thus far, bolstered by a 2-1 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday evening.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: With Tuesday’s win over the Wild, the Kings evened up the season series at four points apiece, while moving their record to 1-0-2 versus Minnesota. With an assist on Tuesday, Jeff Carter assumed sole possession of the season-series lead between these two teams with five points (1-4-5) from three games played. For Minnesota, Jordan Greenway now has three assists from three games played, extended with a helper on Tuesday, while forward Joel Eriksson Ek now has goals in consecutive games, with the Wild’s lone tally in defeat.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings were back on the ice for morning skate today in Minnesota, following a practice day yesterday that did not give us much clarity on today’s lineup. Today’s skate was optional for the group, so we will get a better sense of the lines as we move closer to tonight’s game. Per Todd McLellan’s morning availability, he’s not anticipating any moves from what we saw on Tuesday.
Here is how the team lined up in Game 1 in Minnesota, minus a change in net –
Kempe – Kopitar – Iafallo
Athanasiou – Lizotte – Carter
Andersson – Vilardi – Brown
Grundstrom – Amadio – Moore
Anderson – Doughty
Clague – Roy
MacDermid – Walker
Per this morning’s skate, expect to see Jonathan Quick in goal tonight against the Wild. Quick is 0-0-2 this season against Minnesota, after starting both games in the season-opening series. Quick made a season-high 40 saves on January 18, his highest total since October 30, 2019 (44 vs. VAN).
Quick’s performance as of late, including a stout effort in St. Louis last time out, has caught the praise of many, including his captain.
“I’m seeing the same old Jonny,” Anze Kopitar said of Quick. “I do think maybe this extended period of time gave him time to get those little, teeny-tiny injuries out of the way, and really get prepared for the season. He’s looked great so far, so we really hope he can keep playing like that for us. There’s really nothing new, we’ve been used to that for a while.”
Quick believes that he and the Kings have had a much stronger start to the season this year, and sees the goal right now as just continuing to get better, both individually and as a group.
He feels that, due to the bulk of the group now entering their second season together under Todd McLellan’s systems, the team has been able to get off to a better start to the season overall.
“I just think that, having the majority of this group together last year and building relationships on the ice, off the ice, it’s a little more cohesive,” Quick said. “Having Todd for the year, knowing what he expects of us, system play, things like that, it’s just a little smoother, despite the ten-month layoff where we missed time, and the short training camp. It was just a little smoother going into the season.”
WILD VITALS: Goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen, who played on Tuesday against the Kings, is expected to get the start again tonight for the Wild. Andrew Hammond is expected to serve as the backup tonight, while it was reported that Cam Talbot could return to the team as soon as this weekend, but not tonight against Los Angeles. In his first career start against the Kings, Kahkonen allowed just two goals on 21 shots faced, but was outdueled by Cal Petersen, who was named as the game’s first start with 32 saves in the opposite net.
Per The Athletic’s Michael Russo, the Wild are looking at some new line combinations tonight, amongst the forwards. Here’s how the team is projected to look –
Parise – Bjugstad – Fiala
Johansson – Eriksson Ek – Kaprizov
Greenway – Sturm – Foligno
Rask – Bonino – Hartman
Defensive pairings, and goaltenders, are expected to remain the same as Tuesday’s game –
Suter – Spurgeon
Brodin – Dumba
Soucy – Cole
Perhaps the most interesting note of these lines is separating the trio of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno, which was one of the top defensive units in the NHL through the opening slate of games this season. Through Minnesota’s first seven games, that trio has not allowed a single goal in 5-on-5 play, and combined for another goal, Minnesota’s only tally, on Tuesday.
In terms of tonight’s head-to-head matchup, playing against the Kings has not necessarily been an easy task for opposing teams so far this season. Minnesota captain Jared Spurgeon talked about how the Kings do a good job of clogging up the neutral zone defensively, forcing teams to dump the puck in, as opposed to being able to carry it in with possession and speed.
“We try to change each time we play a team, we can make adjustments throughout the game,” Spurgeon said. “At the start, you have to see what the other team’s doing and go from there. We had a game plan and, I think by the end, it’s not always the prettiest with the way you have to come through the neutral zone against them. There’s a lot of chipped pucks, a lot of dumped pucks, but that’s what you have to do. You can’t be turning pucks over or else they’re coming back at you.”
Team 2, Game 2
A stat that was thrown out on today’s pre-game media availability, per Steven “Hoover” Dorfman of Fox Sports West – In the West Division, teams that won the first game of a two-game set so far this season are 3-8-1 in the second game.
This is especially interesting for the Kings. They’ve been responsible for one of those three wins, Game 2 against Minnesota at STAPLES Center, but also they’re responsible for two of the eight, with wins over Colorado and St. Louis after falling on night one.
It’s early in the season, and a 12-game sample size is exactly that, but it is interesting to think about. From the team’s perspective, Todd McLellan feels that the Kings are still approaching each game as its own, separate entity and that at this stage of the season and they won’t read too much into that trend.
“I don’t, I think you start all over again,” McLellan said. “Obviously. no one wants to go on an extended losing streak, so maybe the team that lost the first game, their intensity is a little bit higher than maybe what it was in game one. I think it’s still a little bit too early to read into any of those trends, personally. We’ll see what happens here tonight, we’ll worry about our own world and we won’t look at stats, over-evaluate anything. Let’s get ourselves in order, and see if we can play a better game than we did in game one when we were successful.”
The Kings will have their own opportunity to be the team of record in that scenario for the first time tonight, after Tuesday’s win over Minnesota, their first “game one” victory of the season to date.
Forward Alex Iafallo made one of two key blocks for the Kings in Tuesday’s victory.
Inside the final minute of play, Iafallo was trusted to be on the ice in a key situation, with the Kings leading by a goal, and made a huge block off a shot from the right point, which preceded another big block from defenseman Mikey Anderson.
In those late-game situations, Iafallo said today that his goal as a winger is to funnel the attackers to the outside and protect the middle of the ice from both passes and skaters.
“6-on-5, you’re trying to not let the puck get to the middle,” Iafallo said. “Mainly, we’re just trying to stay really tight within the zone and make sure that they can’t get any passes through the middle, or skate through the middle. As a winger, I’m just trying to block shots if they get it to the point or any one-timers that might get through us. Pretty much just blocking shots, and chipping the puck out at the end of the game there.”
After the game, Cal Petersen commended both Iafallo and Anderson for sacrificing their bodies in that situation.
Petersen noted that any time you have those 6-on-5 situations, and the puck doesn’t go in, you can usually attribute some of that success to a block by one of the defending players. He went on to add that when you have players selling out to make those blocks, it usually means you have the right players on the ice in that scenario, including Iafallo.
“Any big win, where there’s a scramble at the end of a team pulls the goalie, I think you can always come back to big blocks as the reason that the puck never gets to me,” Petersen said, after Tuesday’s win. “Honestly, the further away it is from me the better, so any time guys are sacrificing their bodies, you know you have the right guys on the ice, guys that want to win at all costs. Those were huge blocks, and we’ll take them and that’s the reason that we win hockey games at the end.”
Game thread is next from Minnesota!