The LA Kings returned to the ice this morning at Toyota Sports Performance Center, with a lighter group on hand for today’s skate.
Joining the team was goaltender Cal Petersen, in his second skate back with the Kings, as well as center Phillip Danault, who took his first practice back. Petersen was officially activated from COVID Protocol yesterday, while Danault remains in from a roster standpoint, but his time has elapsed, meaning he is eligible to resume skating.
Departing was the quartet of Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Martin Frk, Jacob Moverare and Garret Sparks. All four players were assigned to the AHL’s Ontario Reign, who are scheduled to return to game action this evening in Bakersfield. The Reign haven’t played a game since December 18 but are slated to get back at it tonight with these four as options this evening.
With all of those transactions, here’s how the Kings aligned today –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Turcotte – Danault – Arvidsson
Grundstrom – Kupari – Andersson
Lemieux – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Wolanin – Roy
Bjornfot – Durzi
Quick / Petersen
Todd McLellan confirmed today that Quick will be back between the pipes on Thursday against Vancouver, while Petersen will be the backup. A good sign for Quick, who gets another go behind what should be a re-focused team, and for Petersen, who gets another couple of skates in to get himself back into the flow.
Regarding Danault, as McLellan noted, he will be more of a game-time decision, so we’ll kick the can on down the road to tomorrow’s morning skate for that information.
As it pertains to the overall outlook of players coming back, each individual is different. Not just their timelines, but how they reacted, how long it might take them to get back and the role that they play. More on the league’s modified protocols can be found here.
McLellan referenced Drew Doughty’s return, one which saw him out of the lineup for 14 days between the combination of protocol and cancellations, as an example. It might not just be plug and play here with working guys back into action.
“I think each of the situations are a little bit different,” McLellan said today. “Whether they had symptoms or not, positional, how they feel as an individual. Would we like them all back right now? Yes, but we saw with Drew how hard it is to get your game back. In his case, he had a really tough night last night and he’d be the first to tell you that, he hadn’t played for two weeks and he’s only played seven or eight of our last 25 games. He didn’t need the extended break and it showed. Every individual is going to be different.”
The status of Quinton Byfield will be the most pressing piece of information, considering his now potentially expedited timeline. Byfield is eligible to either join the NHL roster, as he was scheduled to do before he entered protocol, or to return to the AHL, where he played four games earlier this month, assuming he checks all of the boxes. How that impacts tomorrow’s lineup, with several decisions and potential roster moves to be made between now and then, remains to be seen.
Back On Track
Today represented an opportunity for the Kings to get back to being the kind of team they believe they are.
Last night, odd-man rushes, lapses in defensive-zone coverage and untimely turnovers were the story of a game that heavily favored a readier Vegas squad. The Kings began to re-establish their brand of hockey as the game went on, but it was too little too late, with the score already four goals against the good by that point.
Todd McLellan felt that the group did provide a punch back yesterday, and began to play the right way as the game went on. Speaking with defenseman Sean Durzi today, he felt that it really took until today’s practice to find that identity again. McLellan said after yesterday’s game that he believes the coaching staff now has the attention of the class, so to speak, and today’s practice and comments reinforced that notion.
“I think just our identity, we got away from it last night,” Durzi said. “We know who we are as a hockey team, I think a big part of that was realizing that we have an identity and we have to stick to it, no matter the circumstances, no matter if we had nine days off, we’ve got to be able to play our game no matter what. Believe in it, trust in it, trust in each other and stick to our game.”
The Kings certainly did not lack energy last night, as they have in other contests which have ended in lopsided outcomes. Take the loss against Toronto earlier this season – Toronto was the faster skating team from start to finish, with the Kings not really finding their legs in that contest.
Last night, the team skated relatively well, with and without the puck, but there were perhaps elements of working harder and not smarter. McLellan frequently used the word “engaged” and believes that it applies to both mental and physical engagement, even if in some ways from a physical standpoint, the energy aspect was present. Durzi was inclined to agree.
“It’s mental – It’s us sticking to our identity, the legs were there, we had two good practice days ahead of the game, which was nicer than our schedule showed at the beginning. It just didn’t happen for us.”
Today’s practice was aimed towards getting the Kings back on track when it comes to the identity of the team. Drills were run to focus on battles along the boards, coverage in the defensive zone and the penalty kill, which ceded two goals last night.
McLellan said that most of today’s learning came in the locker room, through video study and review, as opposed to on the ice. We aren’t privy to that portion of practice, but it’s clear that certain areas have been identified, and hopefully will look different when the Kings get back in game action tomorrow.
“Today was not a difficult day for us, the players had a pretty good idea of what was coming,” McLellan said. “They were receptive to it. The bulk of our practice was done in the locker room, learning through video, and then the rest of it was followed up on the ice. For me, it finally feels like we’re back to where we need to be. Like I said last night, I didn’t feel that the first two days of practice, it does feel like that now.”
More from our conversation today with Sean Durzi, as he was asked what he’s learned about playing in the NHL, from Game 1 through now Game 13.
“I think, for myself, it’s finding a good balance between risk and reward, being responsible in my own end and bringing what I can do offensively when I get the chance,” he noted. “As things progress in my own end, it’s a different speed, guys are better at protecting pucks, so it’s using my size, my stick, my ability to move to defend. I think with experience, you learn different things, you learn what you can get away with and what you have to do to defend at my size and how physical I have to be.”
Durzi has progressed from a dominant player in the OHL to someone who learned the ropes of professional hockey at the AHL level and is now finding some success here with the Kings. It wasn’t a direct path either. Year 1 in the AHL had its share of growing pains, though Durzi steadily progressed into year two, really finding his stride towards the end of last season.
Now, he’s learning to balance both sides of the NHL game, both offensive and defensive. The offensively gifted passer is producing with points – though he’s played in just 13 games, he ranks tied for fourth in the league in assists amongst first-year blueliners, trailing only Moritz Seider, Jamie Drysdale and Alexandre Carrier, who have spent the entire season at this level.
His assist last night was a prime example, as Durzi hit Alex Iafallo with a crisp, tape-to-tape pass in open space, leading to Iafallo’s tenth goal of the season. Explaining that play, Durzi talked about seeing Iafallo taking that space before he even got to the puck, so he knew exactly where to send it once he did. Durzi has the ability to make passes others might not even see to attempt, and last night’s play was a good example of that.
At the other end of the rink, he’s transformed his style of defending to try and match up with NHL competition, which means evolving his approach from juniors to now.
“It’s completely different, at every single level, especially now, if you give a guy even a little time and space he’s going to make a great play,” Durzi said. “Especially the top two lines on any given team, they’re really skilled, smart players, they’re the best in the world, so it’s a different kind of defending for sure. Communication is the biggest thing that I’ve realized, talking makes it a ton easier. When guys are talking, doing their job, trusting each other, it just helps a ton in the d-zone.”
Happy Trails, 2022 World Juniors
As announced today, the IIHF has cancelled the remainder of the 2022 World Junior Championships, that were in progress in Edmonton and Red Deer Alberta.
Official Announcement: The 2022 #WorldJuniors have been cancelled due to Covid-19.
Full statement at https://t.co/TNNT2FHecn pic.twitter.com/xnPs9nDWli
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 29, 2021
The Kings had six participating prospects, with the group faring quite well during the early stages of the tournament. Samuel Helenius was tied for second in the tournament with three goals from two games, while Martin Chromiak was tied for sixth with two goals. Helge Grans was leading all participating defensemen with three assists, while Kirill Kirsanov, Brock Faber and Kasper Simontaival each had impressive early showings.
A particularly tough decision impacting Chromiak, Simontaival and Faber, with this being their last year of eligibility. The IIHF chose to go their own route with regards to protocols and procedures, which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the event, one that it feels like should have been avoided. A disappointing outcome for sure, and something that impacts our ability to see several prospects both for the Kings and in upcoming drafts, perform against their peers.
The Ontario Reign return to game action tonight at 7 PM, followed by Kings – Canucks tomorrow at 7:30 PM.
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