Back to practice, Insiders!
The Kings hit the ice this afternoon at Gila River Arena in Arizona for a skate before tomorrow’s rematch against the Coyotes. With no morning skate scheduled for tomorrow, considering the earlier start time, this will be the last time the Kings take the ice in advance of Game 2 of 6 on the road trip.
Looking at today’s group, the Kings were one man short of full participation.
As Lisa Dillman of The Athletic first reported, Jaret Anderson-Dolan suffered an upper-body injury last night against the Coyotes. He returned to the game last night, was evaluated earlier today and did not practice with the team today. Per Todd McLellan this afternoon, Anderson-Dolan will not be available for the Kings tomorrow in Arizona, and we’ll get a sense of his availability on the rest of the road trip over the next couple of days.
All other Kings players who made the road trip were present today, including Andreas Athanasiou and Sean Walker, who continue to work their way back into the lineup. Blake Lizotte, who was activated from the non-roster list last night, and played against Arizona, was also a full participant. More on Lizotte coming below.
McLellan said yesterday that Walker will play at some point on this trip, though a specific target date was not given. Walker has worn a full cage since returning to practice, though he shed the non-contact jersey earlier this week. In terms of Athanasiou, he is considered to be “pretty darn close” to returning to the lineup, as McLellan confirmed this afternoon.
Here’s how the group lined up today –
Gray: Brown, Carter, Iafallo, Kempe, Kopitar, Vilardi
White: Amadio, Andersson, Athanasiou, Grundstrom, Imama, Lizotte, Luff, Moore, Rymsha, Wagner
Black: Anderson, Bjornfot, Doughty, Maatta, MacDermid, Roy, Strand, Walker
Grosenick, Petersen, Quick
Last night’s win welcomed back forward Blake Lizotte to the Kings lineup.
Lizotte had previously been out since January 28, after he was added to the COVID-19 Protocol list following the team’s trip to Minnesota.
Lizotte’s return to action came at a point in time when the rest of the NHL was just getting back to full steam ahead. When he exited the lineup, eight games into the season, players around the league were still finding their legs if you will, trying to get back to full steam where they were prior to the extended shutdown.
“A real awkward situation for him, coming off the COVID list and being out for so long,” McLellan said. “Right now, the league is past those opening 10 games, it’s moving fast now, there isn’t any more rust or eight months off talk anymore, it’s full speed. So, for him, Athanasiou, Roy, Walker, Frk, it’s tough to get up to speed.”
McLellan said that Lizotte’s quickness and tenacity allowed him hop right back into the play last night, complimenting his legs and hard work as well.
It wasn’t necessarily just the physical aspects of his absence, however, that was taxing and trying.
Being on the COVID-19 Protocol list presents different challenges than say a quad strain. It was a mental battle at first, working his way first back to be ready to return to the team, followed by the physical side of actually getting back into game shape. A two-part process.
“I think mentally, first and foremost, COVID is obviously pretty serious, it’s not to be messed around with, so it wasn’t hockey first, it was staying healthy for me,” Lizotte said in his first media availability since he was added to the list. “I was relatively healthy throughout the whole thing, which was a huge blessing. In terms of hockey, after I was cleared and ready to go, it was hard to get into that midseason shape, just thrown for a loop with two and a half weeks off. It’s not something you’re excited about, but it’s the challenge that every team is facing right now, it’s not just me…there’s no pity party, it’s just come back in and get going, and take every opportunity you get.”
Lizotte also noted that Saturday’s game being cancelled granted him some additional practice time, which helped with his insertion into yesterday’s lineup. Under normal circumstances, the team would have had a much more crowded game schedule, that would have given him less skates in a competitive practice setting. With the Minnesota game being postponted, it allowed him to get three straight practice days under his belt, which were helpful in his return.
“Obviously you have to see games cancelled because of COVID, but I kind of got a bit of a bounce there, with the Minnesota game,” Lizotte said this afternoon. “With a few extra days off from games for our team, it was a little bit extra time to get acclimated to the speed of play and jumping into the lineup.”
What Can Brown Do For You?
With his first-period goal yesterday, forward Dustin Brown became the second player in the West Division to score eight goals this season, tying him with Max Pacioretty for the division lead.
Brown’s goal last night was a perfect example of not only his noted abilities around the blue paint, but also the connection that he has on the ice with Anze Kopitar. The two have played together over the years, and have developed that unspoken relationship with each other on the ice. They know where the other is going to be at times, and Brown has learned tendencies in Kopitar’s game that allow him to be in the right place to receive passes, as was the case last night.
“Me and Kopi have that connection for whatever reason, we’ve played together since the get-go and we’ve kind of hit it off from Day 1,” Brown said. “I mean, Kopi scored two goals in his first game, and it’s one of those things where we’ve always kind of had that connection. That was a great pass by him last night, but what makes me and him work, is I know where to go. Some coaches have always wanted me to get closer to Kopi, but we both know that when he has full control, he wants me to find space for him, away from him.”
Brown also talks about playing winning hockey, working with Carl Grundstrom and having success in the latter stages of his NHL career. An engaging interview, as per usual, with the veteran forward.
Make It Reign
The Ontario Reign are approximately two hours from puck drop in game two against the Colorado Eagles, at Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo.
The Reign won their first game of the season on Wednesday evening, by a 2-1 margin over Colorado, with goals coming from Arthur Kaliyev and Blaine Byron. Rasmus Kupari collected a pair of assists in that game and now has seven points (1-6-7) from six games played so far this season, leading all Ontario players and tied for the AHL lead in scoring this season.
Ontario sits at 1-4-1 on the season, but the young group has shown some positive signs despite the defeats. The Reign have outshot their opponents in all six games played, and the team has played nothing but tight games since dropping their season-opening set in Henderson. Important to remain positive as a group consisting of several young players, in their first foray into professional hockey, settle in.
Tonight’s Reign game is a Facebook Live Freeview from the AHL. Visit facebook.com/TheAHL to watch tonight’s game free of charge!