11/11 Preview – Morning Skate Notes + Ottawa alignment, Kings focus and fourth-line / Lemieux

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (7-5-1) @ Ottawa Senators (3-8-1)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Thursday, November 11 @ 4:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Canadian Tire Centre – Kanata, ONT
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: After yesterday’s off day, the LA Kings are back in action tonight as their Canadian road trip continues with a matchup against the Ottawa Senators.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The last time these two teams played was the final game of the 2019-20 regular season, before the season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, the Kings were riding a six-game winning streak, as they are tonight. The two teams split 3-2 wins that season, with defenseman Matt Roy collecting an assist in both games. In his NHL career, forward Phillip Danault has more assists (14) and points (18) against Ottawa than any other opponent.

KINGS VITALS: Coming off of the back-to-back against Toronto and Montreal, the Kings will play game three of four on their current road trip this evening in Ottawa.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick was off first this morning for the Kings and is tonight’s expected starter in net. All-time against the Senators, Quick is 5-5-0 with a .901 save percentage and a 2.63 goals against average. Looking strictly at the 2021-22 season, the 35-year-old has won each of his last three starts entering this evening. He has allowed three or fewer goals in all seven of his starts so far this season, including two or fewer in four of his last five.

Riding a six-game winning streak, we’re not expecting any personnel changes tonight, with this morning’s rushes showing a similar look to what the Kings have utilized over their last few games. During that run, the Kings haven’t moved around a ton of personnel, though line changes made midway through the win over New Jersey have stuck here in Canada.

In Montreal, Todd McLellan adjusted his defensive pairings slightly during the game, moving Alex Edler with Matt Roy, and Kale Clague with Olli Maatta. Those pairings continued this morning during the team’s skate.

Here’s how the Kings lined up during today’s rushes –

Kempe – Kopitar – Brown
Iafallo – Danault – Athanasiou
Grundstrom – Kupari – Moore
Lemieux – Lizotte – Kaliyev

Edler – Roy
Bjornfot – Anderson
Maatta – Clague

Quick
Petersen

SENATORS VITALS: The obvious storyline right now surrounding Ottawa is the team’s presence in the NHL’s COVID Protocol, with eight players currently sidelined. Naturally, that limits the lineup options for the Senators, though most of the team’s key players are available and will be supplemented by individuals recalled from their AHL affiliate in Belleville.

Filip Gustavsson is tonight’s starting goaltender for the Ottawa Senators, as reported this morning by TSN 1200. With just 14 games played in his NHL career, which began last season, Gustavsson has never before faced the Kings. This season, he is 2-2-1 with a .911 save percentage and a 3.20 goals against average from five appearances. Anton Forsberg will serve as the backup goaltender this evening.

Per Sportnet’s Kyle Bukauskas, here is Ottawa’s projected lineup for this evening –

The following players, as of this writing, are currently in COVID protocol for the Senators: Connor Brown, Josh Brown, Alex Formenton, Dylan Gambrell, Nick Holden, Viktor Mete, Matt Murray and Austin Watson.

Approaching Ottawa
There are two ways you can approach the situation that Ottawa is undergoing and I thought that Todd McLellan and Mikey Anderson each answered it perfectly for what their respective jobs are for the LA Kings.

McLellan’s job is to prepare his team for the game ahead, and make sure that they are ready to face the team opposing them. As McLellan pointed out, the majority of Ottawa’s top-scoring forwards are projected to play, including seven of their top eight in terms of points. The absence of some depth players could result in more ice time for Ottawa’s big guns and also provides opportunities for hungry players who now have a chance to play tonight.

McLellan – There’s a chance that we’ll talk about that, but in my mind, I look at their lineup and their top three lines are going to play anyhow, and all that does is give more ice time to Tkachuk, Norris and those types of players. They’ll be ready, they played extremely hard in Boston, they were competitive, and I look at the San Jose situation. Often, those players that are coming up, they’re hungry, this is their one chance and often they give you everything they have. For us to use the fact that they’re short-staffed as putting us up would be a grave mistake.

From Anderson’s perspective as a player, his job is to focus on his game, and the team’s game and less-so the game of his opponent. Anderson was sympathetic to the situation that several Senators are in and wished them well from a health perspective. Classy as always. He also noted that when the teams play tonight, there are two points on the line, and it’s up to he and his teammates to play their game and do the right things to pick up the two points, regardless of external circumstances.

Anderson – That’s the way it is, that’s the world we’re still in right now, COVID is still in place. Obviously, you see all the guys that they have go into protocol and you hope all the guys are somewhat healthy and not getting hit too bad, but at the same time, we’re still going out there and there’s two points on the line. We’re staying focused on what we’re going to do, we can’t control what’s happening over there. Keep the tunnel vision and worry about what we’re trying to accomplish tonight.

Fourth Line Fire
Heading into the season, Todd McLellan said that he wanted to see his fourth line do a better job of not handing back momentum to the other team.

McLellan felt that too often last season the fourth line, in whatever capacity it was constructed, was not doing that. Over the team’s current run of wins, with Brendan Lemieux back in the lineup alongside the hard-working Blake Lizotte and at this moment Arthur Kaliyev, that has changed. Not only is the group not giving anything back, but they’re creating momentum of their own with the occasional goal, hard work and a knack for drawing penalties.

“Absolutely, they’re further ahead right now, those three, momentum is handed off to the next line a lot of times,” McLellan said. “Lizzo is drawing penalties, he may be leading the league when it comes to that because of his tenacity. [Lemieux] adds some physicality and a hunt mentality and Arthur can shoot it. They’ve been responsible defensively as well, so we’re getting real good mileage out of that group.”

Lemieux has yet to be on the ice for a goal against this season and the Kings have controlled nearly 58 percent of shot attempts during his shifts. Over his last three games, Lemieux is at +6 in that department, including his goal in Montreal.

The Colorado native has been a solid acquisition on the left side of that line. He started the season in the opening-night lineup but entered COVID Protocol soon thereafter, limiting his games early on. Since he re-joined the lineup on October 30, Lemieux has been a welcomed addition for the Kings, and in McLellan’s eyes, he’s continued to do the same things he did last year, but in better circumstances.

“Fresh start, the ability to come in at the beginning of a season and establish himself early,” McLellan said of Lemieux. “I think he was the player last year that he is this year, yet circumstances have [benefitted] him.

When he was acquired by the Kings last season, Lemieux was not 100 percent healthy by his own admission. He highlighted a surgery he had in the offseason as something that helped get him back to that place, and it’s been all systems go here this season.

Early returns have been really good, as he’s assimilated his way into an important role in the team’s fourth unit.

“It was a challenge,” Lemieux said of joining the Kings during extraordinary circumstances last year. “I wasn’t fully healthy and I didn’t feel like myself and I took care of that with a surgery in the offseason. I feel a lot better now, I’ve been able to feel a lot more like myself, back to where I was when I was feeling good when I was playing in New York. I’m happy with where my game’s at personally and I’m happy with where our team game is at. We’re making the right strides. It’s a different team, a different group, a different energy and there’s some swagger for our team.”

The Kings will hope to see that swagger continue, from both the fourth line and all lines for that matter, tonight in Ottawa. Puck drop is set for 4 PM Pacific, Insiders!

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