2/9 Preview – No lineup changes, roster moves, Iafallo’s consistency, righting the ship

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (3-6-2) vs. San Jose Sharks (4-5-1)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Tuesday, February 9 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: STAPLES Center – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings return home after a couple of games in Vegas, for the first of three (scheduled) straight contests at STAPLES Center. The Kings will host San Jose tonight, for the first time this season, to begin a two-game set.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings went 1-1-1 against the Sharks a season ago, with two of the three games requiring overtime, including the lone meeting at STAPLES Center. Four of the last seven meetings in total have gone more than the scheduled 60 between the Kings and Sharks. A trio of Kings – Jeff Carter (1-2-3), Adrian Kempe (1-2-3) and Alex Iafallo (0-3-3) – each had three points from three games played last season against San Jose, with Iafallo totaling eight points (1-7-8) in his last seven games against the Sharks. For San Jose, defenseman Erik Karlsson led all skaters on either team in the head-to-head series a season ago with five points (2-3-5), while forward Patrick Marleau had four points (2-2-4) from three games played.

KINGS VITALS: Following an off-day yesterday, the Kings returned to the ice this morning for a full-group morning skate. The full group of healthy players took the ice today, with all skaters on the active roster accounted for, with the exception of forward Martin Frk, who has not skated with the group since he left Friday’s game in Vegas with a lower-body injury.

This morning’s skate did not appear to indicate any changes from how the team lined up on Sunday in Vegas.

Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Wagner – Amadio – Carter
Andersson – Vilardi – Kempe
Grundstrom – Anderson-Dolan – Moore
Luff

Anderson – Doughty
MacDermid – Clague
Maatta – Strand
Bjornfot – Alt

Petersen
Quick

In the first real shuffling of the rotation between the goaltenders, Cal Petersen was off first this morning for the Kings, and is in line for his second straight start. Petersen has never faced San Jose at the NHL level, but he set his AHL career-high with 52 saves against the Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda on February 10, 2019, and tied it against the same opponent less than a month later on March 1.

Petersen has adapted well to his first full season in the NHL. Despite a 1-4-0 record, the Waterloo, IA native has compiled a .925 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average so far this season. Per Natural StatTrick, Petersen has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders against high-danger chances, ranking inside the Top-3 amongst qualified goaltenders in both high-danger save percentage, and high danger goals saved above average.

Go See Cal, virtually, tonight on Fox Sports West.

SHARKS VITALS: The Sharks are coming off of a pair of overtime games against Anaheim, with each team winning once, and earning three points from the two-game set.

Martin Jones is expected to get the start tonight in goal, in his former home at STAPLES Center. If he goes tonight, Jones would be making his 21st appearances against the Kings, the most he’s played against any opponent in his NHL career to date. Jones is 13-4-3 against Los Angeles, with a 2.08 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, his fifth-highest against any one opponent.

“I think you have to look at the history, how Jonesy’s played in LA, usually he’s got a good record there,” Sharks Head Coach Bob Boughner said, regarding his starting goaltender decision. “Jonesy, I thought he was just okay during his start, but he really got us the extra point in the shootout with some huge saves.”

Here’s how the Sharks are expected to line up tonight at STAPLES Center, per the team’s Twitter account –

Kane – Couture – Lebanc
Donato – Hertl – Meier
Gregor – Marleau – Balcers
Nieto – Gambrell – Sorensen

Ferraro – Burns
Simek – Karlsson
Knyzhov – Vlasic

Jones
Dubnyk

Tonight’s game, as well as Thursday, presents a big opportunity for both teams with where they’re at in the standings. It’s the 11th…..11TH(!!) consecutive road game for the Sharks, who have yet to hold their home opener.

Boughner has been happy with his team’s game to date, especially considering the circumstances, but also believes his group has another level to reach.

“I think these two games coming up against LA are important,” he said yesterday. “If you told me after 12 games, we’d be .500 and have a chance to be a little more than that, after not playing for a while, I guess we’d have taken that, but it’s only as good as taking care of business at home. I think we’ve held our own [on the road], and there’s still a completely different level to our game.”

Making Moves

The Kings made several roster moves in advance of tonight’s game.

Forward Lias Andersson and defenseman Austin Strand were moved from the taxi squad to the active roster, while defenseman Tobias Bjornfot was recalled directly from the AHL’s Ontario Reign to the active roster.

Additionally, defensemen Mark Alt and Markus Phillips, along with forward Boko Imama, were reassigned from the Reign to the taxi squad.

Bjornfot, Alt and Imama all played last night for Ontario in a 6-2 defeat against Henderson, with Alt tallying the team’s first goal in his debut with Ontario.

Andersson and Strand were elevated to the active roster last game, before both played against Vegas on Sunday. Bjornfot was elevated as well, and took pre-game warmups, before he was assigned to Ontario to get a full game in with the Reign. He was on the ice this morning with the Kings, after skating in yesterday’s AHL game against Henderson.

While Bjornfot is not expected to play today, it is important for the 19-year-old blueliner to remain integrated into the Kings group. It is a focus for McLellan and the staff.

“It’s a little bit of the plan,” McLellan said, of recalling Bjornfot. “We’d like to get him practicing a little bit more with us and get him into a game quite soon. He hadn’t played a lot since the World Juniors, simply because he was a taxi squad guy with us, and a few exhibition games [with AHL-Ontario]. I think he can give us some minutes, as we go forward, we want to make sure that when Walker and Roy come back, we have the right six in the lineup on any given night.”

Alex Iafallo
Kings forward Alex Iafallo can fly under the radar at times.

Skating on the top line, as a fixture alongside Anze Kopitar, Iafallo provides a great compliment to the big, puck-controlling centerman, though in doing so, perhaps some of his own contributions can go unnoticed at times.

From a production standpoint, Iafallo’s points, on a per-game basis, have generally fallen in line with his rate from his breakout 2019-20 campaign (.55 points-per-game this season, compared to .61 last season). From his Head Coach’s perspective, Iafallo has been as consistent of a performer as the Kings have had this season.

“I think he is as steady a player as we have,” McLellan said of Iafallo. “He’s not flashy, he’s not going to be the first star of the week in the NHL, he’s probably not going to lead the league in scoring – we know all of those things – but I can tell you, when we go and watch the game, we look at details in his game, both offensively and defensively, there’s a lot of young players on our team right now who can learn a lot from him. When some of your top players are asking to play with a certain individual, I think that speaks volumes. He’s a trusting guy, he does have offense and his numbers are hopefully going to climb as the years go on. Right now, we’re getting a lot from him in so many different situations, all over the ice, all 200 feet.”

Hear from the fourth-year winger below, after he spoke ahead of today’s game against San Jose.

Righting The Ship
It’s been a challenging week for the Kings.

Beginning on Tuesday against Anaheim, with the team’s most lackluster performance of the season, into a trip to Vegas that included one game where the group was overmatched by the speed of their opponent, and a second where they played quite well, especially offensively, but couldn’t convert. It’s been a week.

When asked how he personally addresses an off day, after a pair of games, forward Gabe Vilardi said that it depends on his own play and the play of the team. He noted that he worked in video from the games in Vegas, but also tried to get away from the game a little bit too.

“I think it depends on how I’m playing, and how the team is doing,” Vilardi said. “Yesterday, I watched video of my shifts from the day before and it’s a little bit of both. “You watch video, but at the same time, you try to think about some other stuff that doesn’t involve hockey.”

Yesterday’s day off at home, heading into a full week and a half spent in Southern California, presented a chance for the Kings to reset a bit, but it’s a delicate balance between wanting that time off, to keep the players fresh, versus a desire to get back on the ice with some more practice time, that a young group of players can benefit from.

“We can use all the practice that we can get, with the youth that we have in the lineup right now, there’s a lot that we need to work on,” McLellan said. “We also have to talk, in the long run, about the engines, being able to recover, stay healthy and play a lot of games in a short period of time. Balance is important, but a tough question to answer because we would have preferred some practice time, but we also need to breathe a little bit.”

Tonight marks a good opportunity for the Kings to start fresh if you will. While Colorado, St. Louis and Vegas have staked a claim on the top three spots in the division, none of the remaining five teams have risen above the pack in the season’s opening month to take control of the fourth and final playoff berth.

That spells good news for the Kings. Despite their current four-game losing streak, the Kings have three straight games at home against teams from that group, and seven of their next nine in total.

Game Thread is next, before Kings & Sharks tonight at 7!

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