WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Wednesday, February 24 @ 6:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Enterprise Center – St. Louis, MO
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: NBC Sports – AUDIO – iHeart Radio (Call-In 877-KINGS20) – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings and St. Louis Blues are back in action for tonight’s rematch, following a 3-0 Kings victory on Monday. The Kings are currently 3-0-0 on their season-long, six-game road trip, which continues later this week in Minnesota.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings got two goals from Dustin Brown on Monday, who leads all scorers in the season series with three goals from three games played. Brown now has 20 goals from 55 career games played against the Blues, the second-best rate of his NHL career versus one opponent. Anze Kopitar leads all skaters with four points (1-3-4) from three games played head-to-head, while forward Gabriel Vilardi has two goals from the three games. For St. Louis, after being shutout on Monday, they are still led by Brayden Schenn (2-1-3) David Perron (1-2-3) and Ryan O’Reilly with three points apiece.
KINGS VITALS: This morning’s skate in St. Louis had full participation, with the same configuration as yesterday’s short practice.
As mentioned, the Kings have used five unique lineups on their five-game winning streak so far, but could we see the same group in action tonight, with all players on the trip now healthy and available for selection? Here’s how the Kings lined up last time out, for reference –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Kempe – Vilardi – Carter
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Moore
Athanasiou – Amadio – Wagner
Anderson – Doughty
Bjornfot – Roy
Maatta – Walker
Quick / Petersen
McLellan indicated that the bottom six group of forwards will not change for tonight, meaning that we likely shouldn’t plan for any alterations amongst the 18 skaters from what we saw on Monday.
Entering tonight on a five-game winning streak, with points in six straight, we’ve seen both goaltenders perform well in their last three outings. Quick is 3-0-0 with a pair of shutouts, including on Monday over the Blues, while Petersen is 2-0-1. Last time Quick posted a shutout, he got the call again the next game out and responded with another victory, however reports have it that we might expect to see Cal Petersen this evening against the Blues.
Petersen is 1-1-0 against St. Louis in his NHL career to date, with a .948 save percentage and a 1.52 goals against average. Petersen took the loss here in Missouri earlier this season, as he made 26 saves in the 4-2 defeat back on January 23.
Looking at the Kings as a whole, the goaltending aspect is similar to what we saw at the end of last season, when the Kings concluded the truncated season with seven consecutive victories. Petersen and Quick combined to post a .948 save percentage in their final five appearances each last season, and have collected a combined .949 save percentage over the last six games here in 2021.
BLUES VITALS: Unlike the Kings, the Blues are not expected to make a change in net, and Jordan Binnington looks slated to make his fourth consecutive start, his sixth from the team’s last seven games. Binnington has been one of the NHL’s most active goaltenders, with his 15 games played ranking just one shy of the league lead. In his NHL career, Binnington is 3-2-0 against the Kings, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average.
The Blues will see at least one lineup change for sure, as Carl Gunnarsson was ruled out for the season yesterday, following a right-knee injury suffered on Monday evening. Per the St. Louis team website, Gunnarsson is currently “undergoing further orthopedic evaluation and imaging to determine the full extent of the injury.”
Finnish defenseman Niko Mikkola is expected to check into the lineup for Gunnarsson, which shuffles the pairings around a bit. The Blues also appear to have reshaped their Top 6, with Sammy Blais skating alongside Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron this morning.
Here’s how the Blues lined up, per Lou Korac of NHL.com –
Blais – O’Reilly – Perron
Hoffman – Schenn – Kyrou
Sanford – Sundqvist – Poganski
Clifford – de la Rose – MacEachern
Krug – Faulk
Dunn – Bortuzzo
Mikkola – Scandella
Different Ingredients, Same Results
Mentioned above is how there have been similarities in the strong goaltending that the Kings have received, and how it’s been remarkably similar to how the Quick/Petersen tandem played at the end of last season.
But what about the team as a whole, are those similarities present with the skaters as well?
When asked, McLellan said that certain things have remained the same, yes, but as a whole, there are so many different variables that also make the situations different.
“Some different personnel, different types of opponents, different conference, different time of year, yet it feels the same,” McLellan said yesterday. “I think the guys are confident, they believe in playing a certain way to win, we’ve played pretty patiently, we’re getting good goaltending. So, there are similarities, yet it’s such a different year or season that it’s hard to put it all together.”
Anze Kopitar spoke with media as well this morning and put more of the focus on how while the results have been the same, the situations, and surrounding circumstances, are completely different.
Perhaps the similarities in general are something that I’ve put more of an emphasis on than has actually been there. The quality goaltending is the same and the results are the same, but for what has been the same, more has been different. This isn’t the 2019-20 LA Kings, and these aren’t March 2020 circumstances. As Kopitar explains, it’s been different in a good way.
“We’re a pretty confident bunch right now,” he said. “A confident team plays a little bit looser, meaning not uptight and being afraid of making plays, but well within the system. We’re feeling good right now. Yes, there are some similarities, but at the same time it’s quite a bit different, because now we’re in the thick of things, whereas last year we were written off. Now, we’re fighting for a playoff spot, so it’s nice to see that we’ve grown and shown character, even in some losses. We’re building and I think we’re on the right path.”
Regardless of how it’s shaken out, the Kings are looking to make five straight wins six tonight in St. Louis.
Kopitar did an extended morning skate media availability today, as he discussed the production of linemate Dustin Brown, the team’s current run of form, the new normal of playing teams in consecutive games and the current expectations of the group.
If he’s said it once, he’s said it 1,000 times – Matt Roy is as steady as they come on the blueline.
Roy has brought a level of consistency to his game on a night in, night out basis that you rarely see from players in just their second full NHL season. Roy’s return to the lineup brought back a guy who mostly brings the same game on every night, and McLellan called him a “factor” in his first game back in the lineup back against Minnesota earlier this month.
It’s not always easy to see the value that Roy provides, because he’s not the flashiest player in the league, but that’s the beauty of his game. You typically get the same output from the Michigan native each time out, and that’s something he’s tried to work into his mental approach to the game, which has translated onto the ice.
“I think it’s something that, growing up, I struggled with a bit,” Roy said. “Every season, I tried to go in with that mentality of wanting to be consistent and right now, I’ve found a routine that I’ve liked and I try to stick to it. I think that’s helped a lot.”
When asked about Roy, McLellan called him a bit of a difficult read at times, because of that steadiness and consistency he brings.
He said that while Roy does get into the highs and lows a bit, you don’t usually see it in his demeanor or his play, and that’s a good quality to have.
“Mentally, Matt Roy is an easy or a tough read because it never changes for him,” McLellan said. “He’s Steady Eddie, I think I’ve used that term a million times. His demeanor doesn’t change a lot, he does get excited when things go well, he gets a little pissed off when they don’t, but he’s got a very steady approach from practices to games to preparation. I think we would be concerned if we saw him out of character, but most of the time we see him in character, so good for him.
Roy continues to provide quality depth behind Drew Doughty on the right side of the Kings blueline. With he and Sean Walker now back healthy and in the lineup, one of the strengths of this Kings team is back at full go.
Game Thread is coming up next in St. Louis!