4/3 Preview – Quick Likely & Lineup Thoughts + special teams trending, Clague

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (14-15-6) vs. San Jose Sharks (16-16-4)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Saturiday, April 3 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: STAPLES Center – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings and Sharks complete their back-to-back at STAPLES Center this evening, in a rematch of yesterday’s 3-0 San Jose victory.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Though the Kings are just 1-4-0 against San Jose this season, their goaltending has been above average, with Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick combining for a .917 save percentage to date. In terms of individual scoring, following yesterday’s shutout, defenseman Drew Doughty still leads all skaters with six assists from five games played. For the Sharks, forward Tomas Hertl leads all skaters with five points (4-1-5), following a goal and an assist in yesterday’s victory. On the blueline, defensemen Brent Burns and Nikolai Knyzhov have each tallied four assists from five games played.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings did not hold a morning skate today on the second half the back-to-back set.

Last night’s lineup included just one change off the start, with Kurtis MacDermid entering in place of the injured Tobias Bjornfot. Todd McLellan, however, made some in-game adjustments.

On the backend, defenseman Sean Walker played an enhanced role, as he bumped up in the lineup to take shifts with Drew Doughty and Matt Roy throughout the game. Walker played a season-high 22:37, second-most on the Kings last night behind only Doughty.

“Situationally, he had to take more on, because of where we are with our lineup, losing Toby the other day and Olli not being available, but he also played well,” McLellan said, after the game. “He looked very authoritative on the ice, he was skating, aggressive, kept plays alive, so he deserved the minutes he got.”

Up front, McLellan switched up his forward lines late in the second period, with wingers Adrian Kempe and Andreas Athanasiou moving up alongside Anze Kopitar, and Kopitar’s usual wingers, Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown, moving to a line with Jaret Anderson-Dolan. While the changes did not result in a goal, the Anderson-Dolan line seemed to have the most consistent offensive-zone time once assembled, while Athanasiou had the best chance of the third period.

In terms of tonight, with no morning skate, we won’t know what version of the Kings lines we will see in tonight’s game. Following last night’s game, McLellan was non-committal one way or the other.

“We’ll review the game, and we’ll look at our line combinations and see how everyone feels tomorrow. There’s always bumps and bruises, so I can’t commit to the lines.”

With the back-to-back set, goaltender Jonathan Quick is likely to get the start tonight at STAPLES Center, with Cal Petersen going last night. Quick has faced the Sharks just once so far this season, as he made 21 saves on 23 shots in a 2-1 defeat at SAP Center on March 22. In 39 career appearances against San Jose, Quick is 17-13-7, with a .908 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average.

SHARKS VITALS: Considering the back-to-back, p̶e̶r̶h̶a̶p̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶n̶e̶w̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶K̶i̶n̶g̶s̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶w̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶y̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶s̶e̶e̶ ̶g̶o̶a̶l̶t̶e̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶M̶a̶r̶t̶i̶n̶ ̶J̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶n̶e̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶n̶i̶g̶h̶t̶, IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!

Martin Jones will start anyways, as confirmed by San Jose Head Coach Bob Boughner,after the first publishing of this preview. Jones has played all five LA-SJ games to date, with a 4-1-0 record and a .929 save percentage, including his first shutout of the season. Yesterday’s win improved Jones to 17-5-3 versus the Kings all-time, including a .930 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against average.

Here’s how the Sharks lined up yesterday, with no changes expected for tonight –

Kane – Couture – Labanc
Balcers – Hertl – Meier
Donato – Gambrell – Leonard
Viel – Marleau – Sorensen

Ferraro – Burns
Knyzhov – Karlsson
Simek – Vlasic

Jones
Dubnyk

One Up, One Down
Trending has been the story of late for the LA Kings on special teams, though the two units have trended in opposite directions.

On the upswing is the Kings penalty kill, which has not conceded a goal in 10 of the last 11 games played. On the season, the Kings rank third in the NHL with an 86.1% clip while down a man, and dating back to March 6, the Kings have killed off 29 of the last 30 power plays against.

“I think our detail in our penalty kill has been really good,” forward Blake Lizotte said. “In terms of [special teams] it comes down to details, which side is better and more accurate on that night. As of late, I feel Coach Yawney has done a good job of communicating what we need to beat their power plays, and we’ve been able to go out and execute. It’s been good for us.”

On the other end of the spectrum, however, has been the power play, which has now gone scoreless in five consecutive games, with an 0-for-17 run over that span.

The man advantage was such a critical part of the Kings success in the early and middle parts of this season, and the unit going dry as of late has left the team short on goals in some of their recent defeats.

Playing against just the teams in your division, perhaps things have gone just a bit stale. McLellan elaborated on that theory a bit last night.

“When you play teams eight times in one season, in five months, you’re going to get a pretty good idea of what they’re doing,” McLellan said. We would have to execute, they would have to execute on the power play. It’s going to get tougher to score power-play goals down the stretch, simply because of that.”

Special-teams success, especially for a team that has struggled at times to find consistent scoring 5-on-5 will be key to getting things back on track. For the Kings, the hope will be to improve the fortunes of the power play, while keeping the penalty kill in a good place.

Get Out Of Kale Free
The Kings added defenseman Kale Clague to the taxi squad yesterday morning, and moved him to the active roster later in the day, with the young blueliner taking warmups last evening.

With Olli Maatta recently placed on injured reserve, and Tobias Bjornfot out of the lineup with an injury, the Kings had just six healthy defensemen, and typically like to have seven on the active roster, with the seventh usually taking pre-game warmups.

Enter Clague, who is a left-shot defenseman and has shown an ability to play both sides of the ice as needed throughout his career. Clague made the Kings out of training camp and skated in 11 games in the early part of the season, collecting three assists. Since, Clague has played in 18 AHL games with the Ontario Reign, with six points (1-5-6) and a -10 rating, while wearing an “A” as a part of the team’s leadership group in certain games.

Clague has had his ups and downs, but you do tend to see that with young defensemen. Ontario Head Coach John Wroblewski spoke of Clague’s game recently, after the Alberta native scored the game-winning goal in overtime on March 27.

“I don’t like to say that a corner has turned or anything like that, but I thought that was Clague’s most impactful game,” Wroblewski said. “I thought he was very quiet defensively, his turnover ratio was very low, he wasn’t around any weird items. There weren’t any, ‘how did that guy slip behind us tonight?’ moments. He was really sharp. And, offensively, he did a lot of good things.”

Clague seemed to have an opening into a more regular role with the Kings at the beginning of the season, but the emergence of Tobias Bjornfot as an NHL regular, as well as the continued development of Austin Strand, has gotten in the way Clague. With the two left-shot defensemen out of the lineup now, perhaps this can be his opportunity to earn more of a look with the big club.

We’ll find out closer to game time if Clague draws in tonight. Kings and Sharks, coming up later on tonight.

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