WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Friday, February 26 @ 5:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center – St. Paul, MN
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Fox Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings have reached the final destination of their season-long, six-game road trip in Minnesota. The Kings and Wild will faceoff twice in 48 hours, beginning this evening at Xcel Energy Center.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Kings forward Jeff Carter has led all scorers with six points (1-5-6) from the first five head-to-head matchups this season against the Wild. Forward Anze Kopitar has five assists across those games, while forward Dustin Brown has three goals. More on Brown’s recent goal-scoring prowess here. In total, 18 different Los Angeles players have collected at least one point against Minnesota so far this season. On the Wild front, Kirill Kaprizov (2-2-4) and Jordan Greenway (0-4-4) have led the way with four points apiece, while forward Joel Eriksson Ek has three goals from five games played.
KINGS VITALS: After a team travel day yesterday, on which the Kings did not skate, the team returned to the ice for a full morning skate today in Minnesota. The entire team was on the ice this morning, including defenseman Mikey Anderson, who missed Wednesday’s win in St. Louis with a lower-body injury. Anderson was deemed day-to-day on Wednesday, and you can consider him a game-time decision for tonight’s game in his home state of Minnesota.
“The decision that we, and the training staff, have to make is if he goes in, can he finish the night,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “We’re talking about playing six periods in a 24-hour timeframe, at the backend of an 11-day road trip. You need fresh bodies, and they need to be fresh physically and mentally. I think the mental part he’ll have, but if he goes in and can’t finish, because he takes a big hit, and he’s out three minutes into the game, that not only hurts us for today, but it also affects us tomorrow.”
Lineup projections with this team seem to get harder and harder – The Kings have won six straight games, with six different lineups. For reference, here’s how the Kings lined up last time out –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Kempe – Vilardi – Carter
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Moore
Athanasiou – Amadio – Wagner
Maatta – Doughty
Bjornfot – Roy
MacDermid – Walker
Quick / Petersen
On the current seven-game point streak, Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick have combined to stop 202 of the 212 shots thrown their way, allowing just ten goals in the process. That save percentage amounts to .953, meaning that the coaching staff has a difficult decision to make each night, because he’s sitting an incredibly hot goalie no matter how you slice it.
McLellan talked this morning about how it’s never easy to tell one of the two that they aren’t playing, whether they’re hot, cold or somewhere in the middle. Right now, both goaltenders are hot and that means a goalie who is playing well is on the bench regardless of which way you shake it.
“They’re both playing well, we know that they’re both important,” McLellan said. “As much as I think some of our media wanted to stir some stuff early with the goalies, we understood that they were both going to be important, they’re both capable of playing and they’re both going to play a lot. When you explain it to them that way, they understand it a lot more clearly than maybe the outside world would like it to be. There’s a lesson for all of us there, clarify what you need to clarify within our walls and don’t worry what’s happening outside these walls.”
Considering the back-to-back, we will likely see both goaltenders once over the next two days.
If Jonathan Quick goes tonight, he is coming off a 28-save shutout of the Wild last time out against Minnesota, the second win on the current Los Angeles streak. Over his last three starts, Quick has made 81 saves on 83 shots faced, with three victories and two shutouts. Throughout his NHL career, Quick is 15-9-7 against Minnesota, with a .900 save percentage and a 2.65 goal against average.
If it is in fact Cal Petersen, he takes the net for his second start of the season against the Wild. Petersen’s first outing was a dazzling, 32-save effort here at Xcel Energy Center, in a 2-1 Kings victory. Lifetime against Minnesota, Petersen is 2-0-0 with a .934 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average. Following his win in St. Louis, Petersen bolstered his save percentage on the season to .931, which is the sixth-best in the NHL.
WILD VITALS: After the Wild were shutout at STAPLES Center on February 16, with a depleted lineup, they have rattled off four straight victories, including three in a row with at least five goals scored. Minnesota has been led by the line of Kirill Kaprizov – Victor Rask – Mats Zuccarello, who have combined to amass 19 points over the last three games since they’ve been placed together.
Since the Wild returned to action earlier this month in Los Angeles, following two weeks off with the team having multiple players in the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol, goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen has started all five games, with a 4-1-0 record, but we could expect to see goaltender Cam Talbot this evening for the Wild.
Talbot is 2-0-0 against the Kings so far this season, as he won both games in the season-opening series back in mid-January. Talbot, who holds a 3-2-0 record this season, has not played since February 2 in Colorado. In his NHL career, Alabama-Huntsville’s most famous alum is 9-9-0 against the Kings, with a .910 save percentage and a 2.81 goals against average.
Per Sarah McLellan of the Star Tribune, the Wild are not expected to make any lineup changes, minus Talbot returning between the pipes. Here’s how Minnesota lined up last time out against Colorado.
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Kevin Fiala
Kirill Kaprizov – Victor Rask – Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise – Ryan Hartman – Marcus Foligno
Nico Sturm – Nick Bonino – Nick Bjugstad
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Carson Soucy – Ian Cole
Something’s Got To Give
Tonight’s game is a battle between the first and third longest active winning streaks in the NHL.
The Kings have won six-straight games, the longest current streak across the league, tied for the longest streak in the NHL this season with Tampa Bay, who won six straight from 1/30 – 2/9. With a win tonight, the Kings could post a seven-game winning streak in consecutive seasons for the third time in franchise history, joining 1990-91 – 1991-92 & 2013-14 – 2015-16.
Minnesota, on the other hand, trails only Los Angeles and Edmonton (five games) with a four-game run of their own. The Wild have scored 20 goals in their four-straight wins, including six goals apiece in each of their last two games played. The last Minnesota four-game winning streak was a part of five consecutive wins from 11/26 – 12/5 during last season.
Just one of the two streaks can continue tonight.
Bjorn To Run
Defenseman Tobias Bjornfot has continued to earn his spot on the Kings blueline.
Bjornfot entered in Game 1 of the team’s current winning streak, on a night when Matt Roy and Sean Walker were both still out of the lineup due to injury. Both players have returned, others are healthy and available to play, but to date, Bjornfot has retained his place amongst the six blueliners in the lineup every night.
To his credit, Bjornfot said this morning that he hasn’t let that really affect his game or his mindset. He’s put his entire emphasis on playing his own game, not letting decisions of others, or outside ramifications, affect his day-to-day preparation.
His head coach has seen a much more confident player in his second NHL go-around, and that has led to improved performance.
“I think he’s come a significant distance,” McLellan said of Bjornfot. “Is he a better skater, passer, shooter, I think all of those things improve with age and time, but [he has] a much better understanding of what it’s like to play in North America full-time. He’s been able to take his learning experience from last year, grow on it, and now come back and give us some real good nights.”
Sometimes, you need to stop and reflect on the fact that he’s still a 19-year-old who still has single-digit NHL games played in his young career. Bjornfot has skated alongside Roy ever since he returned to the lineup, on a pairing with two steady and consistent players.
Roy has had several partners in his time with the Kings but has certainly enjoyed his time playing with Bjornfot.
“Toby is great,” Roy said. “He’s pretty reliable and I think I know where he is on the ice a lot, so it makes making plays a lot easier. He’s stepped in nicely, and it’s been fun to play with him.”
The Upplands Vasby, Sweden native has taken to playing with Roy as well in his time so far, a five-game sample size now. He has felt that both he and Roy are easy to play with, which makes it work well when they play together.
“I think Royzie, he’s steady, he’s easy to play with,” Bjornfot said. “I think I’m easy to play with too, so we’ve come along together pretty well from the start.”
The Ever-Consistent Alex Iafallo
Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown have garnered most of the accolades amongst Kings forwards, and rightfully so, as both players have had tremendous seasons to date. However, you can’t discuss that line without also mentioning the solid season that its third member, forward Alex Iafallo, is having as well.
#19 in black and white is as consistent as they come. Iafallo collected what turned out to be an assist on Wednesday in St. Louis, changed from a goal after the game, and has eight points (3-5-8) over his last seven games played. Iafallo ranks third on the Kings with 13 points (5-8-13) on the season, behind just Kopitar and Brown amongst forwards, and provides a good compliment to those players on the team’s top line.
Few players on the roster bring the night-in, night-out game that Iafallo does. He isn’t the flashiest player in the NHL, but he brings a good combination of skill and work ethic that have proven to be a good fit with the Kopitar – Brown duo.
From a possession standpoint, no player has been on the ice for a higher percentage of shot attempts for than Iafallo, with the Kings controlling just shy of 54% while he’s on the ice. Outside of Matt Luff, who has played in just five games, Iafallo also holds the team’s highest CF% relative to his teammates, a good sign that when he is on the ice, the puck has been the offensive end.
Hear from Iafallo below.
Game Thread is up next from Minnesota!