2/5 Preview – Season debuts, new protocols and a spirited start + Anderson video

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (3-4-2) @ Vegas Golden Knights (5-1-1)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Friday, February 5 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas, Nevada
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: KCOP Channel 13 & Fox Sports GO – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings return to the road for their first trip of the season to Las Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. The Kings enter tonight’s game at 2-2-0 away from home this season, with tonight’s game their first in total against their rivals from Nevada.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings skated to a 3-1-0 record against the Golden Knights a season ago, despite finishing with 10 less wins, and 22 fewer points in the standings than Vegas. Overall, the Kings have won seven of the last ten games against the Golden Knights, including four of the six games played all-time between the teams at T-Mobile Arena. Forwards Adrian Kempe (2-3-5) and Alex Iafallo (1-4-5) led the Kings in head-to-head action last season, while forward Anze Kopitar (2-2-4) and defenseman Drew Doughty (1-3-4) each had four points from four games played. On the Vegas front, forward Max Pacioretty tied Kempe and Iafallo with five points of his own (2-3-5), while defenseman Shea Theodore tallied four points (1-3-4) from the blueline.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings hit the ice this morning at T-Mobile Arena for a morning skate in advance of tonight’s game. The Kings have used a few varieties of line combinations over the last three days, and we don’t have a clear indication of what tonight’s combinations will look like.

From today’s morning skate, however, we should have a projection of the group of 18 that could take the ice today. Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter did not skate this morning.

Forwards: Amadio, Anderson-Dolan, Brown, Carter, Frk, Grundstrom, Iafallo, Kempe, Kopitar, Moore, Vilardi, Wagner
Defensemen: Anderson, Clague, Doughty, Maatta, MacDermid, Strand
Goaltenders: Quick (off first), Petersen

*The Kings recalled defenseman Mark Alt and Austin Strand, as well as forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan, from the taxi squad. Forward Lias Andersson was assigned to the taxi squad. Read into that what you will!

Keep in mind that this is all fluid, and subject to change. What we do know, is we can expect to see Martin Frk enter the Kings lineup this evening in Vegas, and there seems to be a good chance that Jaret Anderson-Dolan makes his season debut as well. McLellan confirmed that Frk will play tonight, with the expectation that he skates alongside Adrian Kempe and Gabe Vilardi on a line that has played together in the past. He also alluded that there was a chance we see Anderson-Dolan in the fray as well.

“We’ve been practicing together for the last couple of days, trying to get the chemistry back,” Kempe said of the trio. “We were in camp together for a little bit, and it feels good to be back with them. Two good players, two very skilled players. I’m just going to try and do my job and hopefully we’ll have a good game.”

We could also see defenseman Austin Strand make his NHL debut tonight, as he was not out late with the group doing extra work at the end of morning skate. Usually a good sign a player might be in, but this is unconfirmed at this point. If he does play, however, it marks a terrific moment for Strand, who rose from an assignment to the ECHL, to a series of healthy scratches in the AHL, to an AHL contributor, to an NHL defenseman. If he checks in tonight, really, really good for him.

In net, goaltender Jonathan Quick was off first. All-time against the Golden Knights, Quick has a 4-3-1 record in regular-season play, including a 1-1 mark a season ago, with a .911 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against average.

Quick has lost just one of his five starts this season in regulation, and has, overall, been pretty solid between the pipes. He and Petersen have been a good tandem in the early season for the Kings, and McLellan reiterated this morning that he expects to see more of a split situation continue moving forward.

“Both of them are important, both are big pieces to our puzzle as we go forward,” McLellan said, of his netminders. “I think both have played some really good games, their play hasn’t dipped that much from night-to-night, so they deserve the opportunity. The number of games that we’re going to be playing over the next little bit, they’re both going to have to be active. I think we’re seeing that around the league for the most part.”

GOLDEN KNIGHTS VITALS: The Golden Knights have not played a game since January 26, when they lost in a shootout by a 5-4 margin against St. Louis. The Golden Knights returned to the ice for the first time this week on Wednesday, with the team also skating yesterday, in advance of tonight’s game. Vegas was scheduled for three additional games between the 26th and today but had all three contests rescheduled due to the COVID-19 Protocol. The hosts enter tonight’s game with just one player, Alex Pietrangelo, still remaining on the list and Head Coach Peter DeBoer returned for the team’s morning skate today.

Per David Schoen of Las Vegas RJ Sports, here is how the Golden Knights are expected to line up this evening.

Pacioretty – Stephenson – Stone
Marchessault – Karlsson – Smith
Tuch – Glass – Roy
Carrier – Nosek – Reaves

Martinez – Theodore
Hague – Whitecloud
Holden – Coghlan

Fleury
Lehner

In Vegas, the Kings are facing a team off of a break that you could consider to be either a positive or a negative, depending on your point of view. Is it a positive for the Golden Knights that they are as well-rested as they are, without having played in the last week? Or, is it predominantly negative that the team has been off the ice, and therefore might enter with rust or a lack of sharpness in their first game back?

Todd McLellan acknowledged both aspects but said that he’s not really in a position to know how the Golden Knights players will react to the situation they experienced.

“You know, I don’t know, I don’t know their team, how they’d react to the time off,” McLellan said. “That would be a really good question for them. I’m a lot more worried about the LA Kings, and what they can put forth tonight. When you look at our situation, we’ve only played one game in 4,5 nights and we were a little bit rusty when we weren’t fully engaged. How they react, I don’t know, they know their team a lot better than I do.”

Regardless of a layoff, we know that the Golden Knights are a dangerous opponent, with highly skilled offensive players, as well as a strong group of defensemen, with or without Pietrangelo. A tough test of the Kings.

Speaking Of COVID-19 Protocol……
The Golden Knights aren’t the only team in the division to have games canceled on account of COVID-19 Protocols right now.

The NHL announced on Wednesday that all Minnesota Wild team activities have been postponed until February 9 and the following day, the league announced that all Colorado Avalanche games have been postponed until February 11.

We’ve also recently seen spikes in adds to the list in New Jersey and Buffalo, which followed similar events in Dallas and Carolina earlier this season. As a result of the recent changes, the NHL announced several updated protocols yesterday, to help combat the spread of COVID-19 around the league.

Removal of Shielding Behind the Bench: Clubs/Arenas will remove the partitions of shielding that are behind the home and visiting team benches, to allow the air to flow more easily away from the team benches. No fans or team personnel will be permitted to sit in the sections directly behind the benches moving forward.

Limitation of Time at the Game Arena: Players and Coaching staff are being advised, whenever practicable, to arrive at the Game arena no more than 1 hour and 45 minutes before puck drop, except to receive necessary treatment or to engage in preparations in advance of the Game.

Physical Distancing in Team Spaces: Each Club shall take steps to utilize (or create where necessary) additional locker room space for the home and visiting teams, such that physical distancing of a least six (6) feet between players at each of their stalls is accomplished.

The League also announced it is considering adopting a requirement for Clubs/Arenas to deploy portable air cleaners with HEPA behind the Player bench areas, in order to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission.

“We’re given direction, we follow direction,” McLellan said today, when asked about the changes. “I’m not skilled or talented enough in any of the medical or safety positions in play, that’s what the experts do. It can be inconvenient at times for players, coaches, whoever it might be, but once we’re given direction, we follow it and we don’t use them as an excuse at all.”

Around the league, some players have expressed displeasure for Item #2 on that list. Typically, players arrive to the rink two and a half hours, sometimes more, before puck drop and limiting that time to an hour and 45 minutes is a change to routine. If we know anything about hockey players, it’s that they are creatures of habit.

Darren Dreger reported that the NHL and NHLPA are currently in talks to re-visit that protocol moving forward, but as of now, it remains in place.

Improving From Anaheim

The Kings know that they need to be better than they were last time out, Tuesday’s 3-1 loss against Anaheim.

“I think we’ve been practicing hard, trying to clear up some stuff in the d-zone,” Kempe said. “Playing faster and obviously we want to play with the puck as much as possible. The last couple of games, we’ve been kind of floating around, trying to see what they were going to do with the puck.”

Kempe noted that winning battles is a key focus for himself and the Kings as a group.

He didn’t feel that the Kings did enough of that against the Ducks, and has seen it as a huge focal point from the week that was. Kempe pointed to winning those individual battles, and the desire for a fast start, as areas of emphasis in Vegas tonight.

“We haven’t been engaging in battles down low, that’s something we want to be better at, and that comes with the start as well,” he said. “We’ve got to be hungry when we get out there, and we’ve got to win battles. We have to win more battles to win games, and that’s something we’ve been working on over the last couple of days for sure.”

McLellan said that he “absolutely” expects to see a more spirited performance from the Kings tonight in Vegas. He gave credit to the Ducks, for how they played on Tuesday, and talked about the strong opponent on the other side of the ice tonight, but he’s talked, several times, about focusing on what the Kings need to do, as opposed to their opponents, to win games.

“I expect a better effort from our group, certainly.”

Bonus Video – Mikey Anderson

Hear from the rookie defenseman on his game so far this season, the most challenging things for him to keep up with, getting back quickly on pucks, and his defensive partner, Drew Doughty.

Kings and Golden Knights, coming up at 7 PM!

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