WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Monday, April 5 @ 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 are back in action this evening following yesterday’s off day, as they host the Arizona Coyotes to begin a two-game set at STAPLES Center.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Defenseman Drew Doughty (1-3-4) and forward Anze Kopitar (0-4-4) lead the Kings so far this season with four points apiece from three games played against Arizona. Forward Gabriel Vilardi has three points (2-1-3), and collected the game-winning goal in both wins over the Coyotes this season, one in regulation, and one in the shootout. On the Arizona front, forward Phil Kessel has led the way, with three points (2-1-3), while defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has three assists from the three head-to-head matchups.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings returned to the ice this morning at Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo.
Here’s how the team lined up –
Gray: Athanasiou, Brown, Carter, Iafallo, Kopitar, Lemieux, Moore, Vilardi
White: Anderson-Dolan, Frk, Grundstrom, Kempe, Lizotte, Rymsha, Wagner
Black: Anderson, Clague, Doughty, Durzi, MacDermid, Strand, Walker
Goaltenders: Grosenick, Petersen, Quick
Nothing here to suggest any changes to the lines, minus potentially in goal. As you’ll see from McLellan below, he’s looking for more consistency in his forward lines, which means we could see the same alignment as Saturday.
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Moore – Vilardi – Carter
Athanasiou – JAD – Kempe
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Wagner
Anderson – Doughty
MacDermid – Walker
Clague – Strand
Petersen / Quick
As always though, we wait for the song.
In terms of the players with questionable statuses at this point –
Defenseman Matt Roy remains away from the team on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol List, while defenseman Tobias Bjornfot, deemed “day-to-day” also did not skate this morning. Forward Brendan Lemieux cleared protocol and was on the ice, while defenseman Olli Maatta skated as well, in a non-contact jersey. Additionally, forward Martin Frk skated in full with the team, as he has done since Thursday, as he continues to work his way back from a groin injury that was reaggravated nearly two months prior.
In terms of additional roster moves, defenseman Sean Durzi and goaltender Troy Grosenick were both reassigned from the AHL to the taxi squad, and both players were on the ice this morning. Durzi and Grosenick featured for the Ontario Reign yesterday afternoon, in a 6-4 defeat against San Diego. Forwards Lias Andersson, Matt Luff and Akil Thomas, who also played yesterday after being assigned earlier in the day, were not on the ice with the Kings.
In terms of tonight’s goaltender, the rotation points back to Cal Petersen, though there are no guarantees. Petersen has faced Arizona just once in his career, in Glendale earlier this season, as he made 22 saves on 24 shots in a 4-2 victory in the desert. If Jonathan Quick goes, it would be his 45th career start versus Arizona, which would tie his personal high against any opponent. Quick is 20-20-4 lifetime, with a .905 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average.
COYOTES VITALS: Considering the back-to-back for Arizona, the team is not expected to hold a morning skate today. The Coyotes skated to a 3-2 overtime victory yesterday evening at Honda Center, with defenseman Jacob Chychrun scoring his first career NHL hat trick, including the game winner in the extra session.
Here’s how the Coyotes lined up yesterday –
Fischer – Larsson – Kessel
Keller – Dvorak – Pederson
Crouse – Brassard – Hayden
Bunting – Schmaltz – Garland
OEL – Lyubushkin
Chychrun – Goligoski
Oesterle – Gross
Per Craig Morgan of AZ Coyotes Insider, expect Adin Hill to get the start again tonight for the Coyotes. Hill has won five of his last six games played, including a 34-save shutout over San Jose on 3/27. On the season, Hill is 6-4-1, with a .909 save percentage and a 2.73 goals against average.
A Rare Opportunity
The complexity of the 2020-21 season has created a different type of schedule, with most games broken down into two-game sets, as opposed to one-offs.
What this has mostly eliminated is the disadvantage of playing a back-to-back against a team that did not play the day before. Typically, you’d see teams play several games each season in this scenario, mostly on the road, when you play in two cities in sometimes less than 24 hours, creating an advantage, at least on paper, for the home team.
That has not been the case for much of this season. The Kings have been in that situation just once to date, in late-March, when they hosted Vegas and then traveled immediately after the game to San Jose to play the next night. Even on that occasion though, it was an afternoon game at home, followed by a night game the following day, creating some additional rest.
Arizona will face that scenario for the first time this season tonight, having played yesterday evening in Anaheim, and playing longer than the scheduled 60 at that. Anaheim to Los Angeles is among the easiest travel in the league, so there’s that in their favor, but the Kings were off yesterday at home. McLellan discussed the potential effects that can have, both for the Coyotes and the Kings.
“It can go two different ways – We’ve witnessed it when we’ve been the team coming off a back-to-back,” he said. “You’re on the road, you played the night before, yeah you expended some energy, but you also get a little rest in the hotel, where we took a day off. There’s always the concern of ‘can you find your legs quick enough after an off-day.’ We had a morning skate, which should help, but the investment that we make early in the game, hopefully it pays off later on, late in the third period, halfway through the third, you’re hoping that you have better legs and a little more energy than the opposition does. Doesn’t always work out that way. I think, a lot of times, back-to-backs are overrated, it’s often when you get a number of games in a row and your team is tired, 4-in-6, 5-in-8, and that’s happening to everybody right now. There’s no one single team that is getting punished for that, it exists everywhere.”
From the point of view of the players, there isn’t a ton that changes. They’ve been on the ice in similar situations, and know that sometimes a back-to-back can have an adverse effect, especially early on in games. Sometimes, the team on the second half will come out harder and with a lot of jump, having played the night before.
Defenseman Mikey Anderson said the team is mindful of that, and he emphasized the importance of a good start, which will hopefully pay dividends later on in the game.
“I think it’s trying to get out on top of them right away,” he said. “We’ve got to have a good start, be ready to go, because of the fact that they played yesterday and we didn’t, but then throughout the game it’s sticking to the little things, making them work for their chances. If we’re going to give anything up, it’s not for free. Every team’s good, every team knows how to play back-to-back games, so it’s going to be a good challenge and we need to be ready to start right from the first puck drop.”
Regardless of the circumstances, Arizona is a challenging opponent. Winners of 5 of their last 6, and surging into the fourth and final playoff position in the West Division, the Kings will need a solid effort tonight, back-to-back or not.
I think there are two schools of thought when trying to find the right combinations at forward, and both have pros and cons.
The first one is the obvious one – If you’re not scoring, try something new. Makes sense sure, but McLellan discussed the other side of that earlier today, and perhaps it’s the side I’ve underestimated, and that’s building some consistency.
Is it fair to say it’s not working after 1, 2, 3 games? Or does it take more time than that to get things going? As McLellan said today, specifically when asked about the Moore – Vilardi – Carter line, he’s still in search of that consistency, and is hopeful that giving the lines some time together might help with that.
“We’re just trying to find a little consistency with our lines, and getting them to gel…the consistency of units in the second half wasn’t anywhere near the first half. That’s due to a number of reasons, performance both offensively and defensively, injury, COVID, you name it, it came into play for different reasons. We’d like to get consistent, we’d like to find a group that works.”
When talking about the “second half”, McLellan was referring to the latter 18 games of the first 36 the Kings have played so far this season.
Finding that consistency has been a theme. Switching grouping and lines up has been one approach, but perhaps not giving lines enough time together is a culprit as well. With that in mind, it would appear that we’ll see a similar set of forward lines tonight.
“Sometimes it works well offensively, but defensively lines are getting eaten alive,” McLellan said. “Just trying to balance it out, it’s such a fine line right now, winning and losing, that we need that balance, and we need four lines. We can’t play a three-line game with the amount of games that we have.”
I asked defenseman Mikey Anderson what he and his fellow defensemen can do to help the team generate more offense at 5-on-5. Hear from Anderson below on that, as well as what’s gone well recently on the Kings’ penalty kill and his evolving relationship with his defensive partner, Drew Doughty.