The Kings were back on the ice for Day 2 of 2 this week, their final team practice before facing off against Arizona tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s game against the Coyotes is a rare one-off game this season, with the two teams playing a game that was rescheduled from later in the season, as a part of leaguewide schedule-related COVID-19 protocols around the NHL.
With the team coming off of an extended road trip, and a heavy congestion of games to come, this could be one of the only times for a young team to really hit the ice for some meaningful practice time in the next few weeks.
“Practice time is precious right now,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “When we got back from Minnesota, we certainly needed a rest. Somebody mentioned that we just played 12 of our past 16 games on the road. It didn’t feel like it, but that’s what we did.”
After an off-day on Sunday, much needed as McLellan mentioned, the team skated each of the last two days at Toyota Sports Performance Center. McLellan mentioned the team’s breakouts as an area of emphasis, and forward Austin Wagner noted the forecheck as another from yesterday. The Kings’ bench boss added that there were many areas, which got some attention, with as many of them touched upon as possible in the time the team has this week.
“These past few days, we tried to get a lot of pace back into our practice,” McLellan said. “We worked a lot on coming out of our zone a lot cleaner than we have been, obviously special teams always gets some attention, some of the offensive concepts. We basically tried to tap a little bit of all areas in a short period of time.”
For a team that is both young and learning, but also in the hunt, there’s a balance to be struck between the need for rest, to keep the engines charged, as McLellan likes to say, but also a need to be on the ice for practices, teaching, learning and improving. With 13 games in 20 days, beginning tomorrow, that balance will certainly be put to the test.
Here’s how the Kings lined up this morning –
Here's how the @LAKings are lined up today –
Gray: Athanasiou, Brown, Carter, Iafallo, Kopitar, Vilardi
White: Amadio, Grundstrom, Kempe, Lizotte, Luff, Moore, Wagner
Defense: Anderson, Bjornfot, Doughty, Maatta, MacDermid, Roy, Walker
Goaltenders: Quick, Petersen, Villalta
— Zach Dooley (@DooleyLAK) March 2, 2021
The Kings announced a series of roster moves today as well, which sends some serious reinforcements to Ontario. Goaltender Troy Grosenick, defenseman Austin Strand and forwards Lias Andersson, Boko Imama and Rasmus Kupari were all assigned to the Reign roster, in advance of their practice today, and tomorrow’s game against San Diego. Announced later in the day was that defenseman Sean Durzi and forward Akil Thomas have been assigned to the taxi squad, from the Reign.
All five players heading to the AHL were on the Kings most recent road trip, and all five players are now in need of some game action. Andersson hasn’t played since February 16, at home against Minnesota, while Strand has been out since February 20 in Arizona.
Assigning these five to Ontario will likely give them all some much needed game action with the Reign, and the Kings can reassess things after both teams play tomorrow. The Kings are home, or in Anaheim, through March 11, while the Reign are in-state until March 15. With the two teams in the same building, making these types of roster moves is not only easy, but also useful for development.
Internal Competition is Good Competition
Another theme that McLellan touched on today is the thought of internal competition.
The Kings have reached a place where, especially in the bottom six, they have more players vying for positions than they do roster spots on a given night. Matt Luff has served as a healthy scratch over the past five games, while Lias Andersson, along with others discussed earlier, was assigned to Ontario this morning, to get him some game action.
It’s never an ideal situation to have a player not in the lineup for an extended run of games, but at the same time, that typically only happens when the team is both healthy and playing well. That has been the case for the Kings recently.
McLellan said today that he feels usually, it’s not he and the coaching staff finding ways to get guys into the lineup, or take them out, but rather the players dicating that themselves. There are notable outliers – Luff’s current situation being one of them – where his play did not dictate him losing his spot but rather the play of others has kept him out. McLellan dove into that a bit earlier today.
“10 or 15 percent of the time are we finding way to get guys in, and take them out,” he said. “The other 85 percent, they decide. They play the game, they give us the evidence and then we watch it and make decisions going forward. Matt Luff is a prime example, he came out by no fault of his own, he hasn’t been able to get back in, in [five] games, because the group as a whole has played fairly well. That could change at any moment, maybe somebody gives up their position, they get a little sloppy a few games in a row. All of a sudden, Luffer is back in and it’s his turn to take advantage of it.”
For the Kings, much, if not all of that internal competition has come within the bottom six. For the most part, barring a couple of line adjustments here and there, the Top 6 has consisted of the same 6, 7, 8 players this season, and those individuals have established themselves as Top 6 and special teams players on this team.
McLellan elaborated that in the case of the top teams around the league, that internal competition exists not only for lineup spots, but for spots within the lineup as well. Players are pushing each other more for Top 6 minutes, power-play minutes, etc. That’s something he hopes to achieve as the team continues to grow.
“That internal competition is what every team looks for,” McLellan said. “Sometimes, the Stanley Cup teams, they have it even in the top 6, they have it on the power play, where it’s not just automatic that certain guys are jumping over the boards at certain times, there’s a competitiveness for ice time. We’re working towards that, we think we have it at the bottom and working our way up as the years go on here.”
It’s A Me, Amadio
I noticed it on Saturday during the game, that forward Michael Amadio was noticeably effective. Today, both McLellan and Amadio seemed to notice the same thing.
Amadio, one of just two forwards, along with Adrian Kempe, who was had positive Corsi on both nights, hasn’t quite locked down a permanent spot in the lineup so far this season, and has drawn the ire of Kings fans from time to time as well. Amadio said that, in his mind though, Saturday was his best game of the season.
“I thought that the second game [in Minnesota] was probably my best game all year,” Amadio said. “I’m just trying to build on that moving forward.”
When he’s been played in roles that set him up for success, he’s been effective. Other times, in roles that haven’t necessarily suited him and his game, he’s struggled. McLellan acknowledged as much today.
“We did like what we saw, particularly in the second game, at that point we made some line changes,” McLellan said. “Amads is the kind of player who needs to be used with the right wingers, and sometimes he’s a victim of our decisions, the choices that we make. I think when he was reunited with Kempe and Grundstrom, there was a little bit more playmaking ability there and it came out in him.”
Amadio also factors into the healthy competition that McLellan discussed earlier. As a player who has not established himself into a Top 6 role, but has found himself in the lineup on most nights, he brings a unique skillset, as a playmaking center in the bottom six. As McLellan mentioned, he thrives when placed with players such as Kempe, who offers more of an offensive outlook. How he remains in the lineup moving forward, will come down to how he takes those opportunities and produced with them.
“At this point in his career, he’s got to find a way now to take his opportunities and produce with them,” McLellan said. “Every now and then, he’s got to get on the scoresheet, with his mindset and his skill, and try to alleviate some of the scoring pressure from others on the team. He does, or he did, get some power-play time as well. We’re counting on him, and I know he’s betting on himself, so that’s a good thing, and let’s see where it goes.”
Bonus Video – Mikey Anderson
Hear from defenseman Mikey Anderson from after today’s practice. The young blueliner discusses his elevated role in the lineup, what Drew Doughty brings to a young group of defensemen, on and off the ice, and more.