We’re back, Insiders!
The Kings skated again today in advance of tomorrow’s Freeway Faceoff at STAPLES Center.
The biggest news over the last two days, in terms of on-ice alignment, has been the placement of Drew Doughty within the teams’ lineup. Throughout his re-integration into the group, Doughty has paired with the team’s projected healthy scratch on defense on a de-facto “fourth pair”. No longer. Doughty has skated alongside Mikey Anderson over the last two days, re-taking his usual spot on the team’s top defensive pairing.
The other pairings saw the duo of Alex Edler and Matt Roy continue to play together, with the youthful pairing of Tobias Bjornfot and Sean Durzi behind them. Kale Clague and Olli Maatta were also paired together, which would give the Kings eight healthy defensemen if Doughty is able to return tomorrow. As of this writing, Doughty is still on injured reserve, and will likely remain so until at least tomorrow.
Doughty’s progress over the last few days has been upwardly trending, and his overall recovery time from injury, compared to the original timetable that was established, has been pretty remarkable. It also shouldn’t be that surprising, that a notoriously durable, elite athlete had this type of recovery.
The play of the other defensemen, in the absence of Doughty, was also admirable. The group stuck to its strengths, with the bulk of that being defensive responsibility, though Durzi and Clague contributed in power-play settings when in the lineup respectively. That’s led to versatility and options for Todd McLellan and his staff when constructing the rest of the pairings. One such pairing has been Alex Edler next to Matt Roy, who have formed an impressive, shutdown option for the Kings as of late.
“We had to move players around, and on different nights, for different reasons, whether they were playing well, or poorly, or different types of opponents,” McLellan said. “I think that Matt Roy and Alex Edler really stepped their games up. They were the veterans that were in the lineup for the most part and they calmed things down when they needed to be calmed down. There was a lot of talk about what the kids did together, but I don’t think that Alex and Matt get enough credit for how they’ve kept the glue together, either as a pair of separated.”
Keeping the Edler – Roy pairing together is likely a decision based on consistency and analytics. The two blueliners have controlled nearly 60 percent of shot attempts, and more than 60 percent of scoring chances and high-danger chances, when on the ice together. Doughty’s absence, while obviously a negative for the collective good of the Kings, gave the team the chance to see how that pairing functioned together, and results were promising.
Seeing that pairing, and the entire unit as a whole, maintain their levels when Doughty returns will be a key for success when the time comes.
“When Drew does get back into the lineup, collectively we can’t take a big sigh of relief, we’ve got to play well for him so that he can get his game going again,” McLellan added. “That’s what we’ll be looking for.”
Here’s how the team lined up this morning –
Kempe – Kopitar – Brown
Iafallo – Danault – Arvidsson
Moore – Andersson – Kupari
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Edler – Roy
Bjornfot – Durzi
Maatta – Clague
Quick / Petersen
As noted here yesterday, the situation regarding Brendan Lemieux’s status for tomorrow’s game against Anaheim is still pending the outcome of his hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. The Kings currently have 13 forwards on their active roster, including Lemieux, and could potentially recall a player from Ontario in the event of a suspension, though that’s a bit premature at this time. If Lemieux is cleared and able to play tomorrow, I’d expect him to feature in his usual position alongside Lizotte and Kaliyev.
Iafallo on Lemieux
We heard from goaltender Jonathan Quick and Head Coach Todd McLellan yesterday regarding Brendan Lemieux, as he approaches a hearing with the league. Quick didn’t mince his words when speaking on Lemieux, calling him a “valuable player” and stating his support for his teammate. Their full remarks are available HERE.
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McLellan was sure to note that the only opinions he’s taking under consideration are from those within the Kings locker room. Being one of those opinions, we heard from forward Alex Iafallo today, who was complimentary of Lemieux as a teammate.
“He’s a good teammate, he’s talkative, very talkative and he’s hard to play against,” Iafallo said. “That’s why we respect him, he’s good in the room and it’s tough when it happens with that whole situation. He brings a toughness to our team and he’s a great team guy.”
Lemieux has a willingness to stand up for a teammate in just about every situation. However harmless it may have seemed, the situation on Saturday stemmed from a cross check to Lemieux’s linemate Blake Lizotte, with Lemieux stepping in to protect Lizotte.
That quality wasn’t lost on Iafallo or Quick, and likely several others on the Kings.
“For sure, he’s always there to stand up for guys, he’ll tell you that, and his actions on the ice, he’s going to stand up for guys, that’s the teammate that he is,” Iafallo added. “Hopefully everything works out in that situation, but he’s a great teammate who’s always going to stand up for guys on his team.”
The Fast & The Furious
The message from the LA Kings was clear. Be fast.
That was the theme of today’s practice and that’s the theme for the Kings heading into tomorrow.
“We wanted to be fast, that was the message to the players,” McLellan said. “Legs, minds, hands, shots, passing, execution. I thought, for the most part, we accomplished it. We worked on a few other parts of our game, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to play tomorrow.”
If being fast was the message then the message was certainly received.
Listening to Alex Iafallo today, he had similar things to say regarding today’s skate. Understanding the way the Kings want to play tomorrow against Anaheim, playing fast was the focus. That focus started with today’s practice with the hope that it will extend into tomorrow’s game, in all three zones.
“We wanted to come into practice playing fast, getting ready for tomorrow,” Iafallo said. “We have to be ready from the drop of the puck against these guys, so we had a good, fast practice today and we’ll keep moving fast in each zone tomorrow.”
On the topic of fast, that was the word that Iafallo used to describe Quinton Byfield, who has now skated with the full group in a non-contact jersey over the last two days.
While Byfield’s return to the Kings still feels a bit down the road, seeing him skating with the larger group, as opposed to either on his own or with a smaller group of rehabbing players is a good step forward. Similar to the sentiment when Doughty practiced for the first time, Iafallo noted that Byfield’s return has spirits up for the Kings.
“It’s good, he’s very fast and I’m sure he’s itching to get back,” Iafallo added. “Spirits are up, I’m sure he’s pretty excited so we’re excited as well. He’s seeing everything and taking it all in, he’s getting faster and making a lot of smart plays and he’s very offensive. He’s going to be really good for us.”
We’ll hope to have the official IN/OUT tomorrow morning for Drew Doughty and Brendan Lemieux. The Kings host the Ducks tomorrow evening at STAPLES Center, in the first divisional game since Opening Night against Vegas, which is pretty wild if you think about it. 19 straight games outside of the Pacific, without a real run on divisional games until March and April.
More to follow in the AM!