Practice 1/12 – Iafallo on return, goaltender rotation, Athanasiou not yet cleared, Carter speaks from LA

Following yesterday’s off day, the Kings returned to the ice this morning in El Segundo, as they continued preparation for tomorrow’s homestand finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Everyone is accounted for that is expected to be accounted for. The group of 18 skaters that dressed on Monday against New York was in-tact, with Andreas Athansaiou continuing to skate in a full-contact jersey, while Jacob Moverare was once again on hand as the seventh defenseman. The Kings still have two players – Carl Grundstrom and Christian Wolanin – in COVID Protocol, while forward Samuel Fagemo was assigned back to AHL-Ontario as he skated with the Reign today.

Here’s how the group lined up during today’s practice –

Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Turcotte – Kupari – Brown
Lemieux – Lizotte – Kaliyev

Anderson – Doughty
Maatta – Roy
Bjornfot – Durzi

Quick / Petersen

Andreas Athanasiou again skated, but Todd McLellan shared that he is not yet cleared to play, which is an obviously necessary step to his return to the lineup. That did not come today, so naturally, he remains a question mark for tomorrow’s game.

The Kings have had three, consistent forward lines over their last stretch of games, listed as the first, second and fourth lines shown above. The third line has been the one consistently impacted by injuries, COVID Protocol and other elements. In terms of personnel, rarely are two consecutive games the same.

Since Blake Lizotte returned to the lineup in mid-December, the Kings have used six different line combinations on that third unit from nine games played, with no one combination playing more than two straight games together and seven different players factoring in. That line had one of its stronger games, puck-possession wise, on Monday and some added consistency moving forward wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Ia-fallo You Back To The Top Line
Forward Alex Iafallo returned to action on Monday against New York, skating alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe on a first line that has been introduced over the last couple of weeks. The emergence of Trevor Moore on the second unit has provided Iafallo the opportunity to once again skate alongside Kopitar, a combination that we’ve seen over the majority of his first four seasons in the NHL.

Iafallo played 19:42 against the Rangers, just shy of a minute more than his season average, showing that McLellan had no hesitation playing him at his usual rate, if not more. Speaking with Iafallo today, he felt largely like himself during his first game back.

“Felt good, first period I was a little off just trying to get back into it but after a couple of shifts, you feel better,” Iafallo said today. “Playing with Kopi and Juice, I’m familiar with them, so that was good. Obviously, you take a break from the games, but you can prepare mentally while you’re off and go from there. That’s how I came at it.”

While Iafallo noted he had some mild symptoms at the start, but nothing really out of the ordinary in the grind of a season, he said nothing major as it relates to his positive test. Todd McLellan shared with us today that Iafallo was one of those players in the “if I didn’t test positive, I would have never known I had it” boat. That, along with new protocols limiting Iafallo’s stay to five days, as opposed to ten, gave the coaching staff little hesitation with playing him at his usual workload.

Skating with familiar linemates also played a major role in not needing an easing-in process, with Iafallo very familiar with both Kopitar and Kempe.

Throughout this season, Iafallo has also played extensively with Phillip Danault, with his experience skating with Kopitar dating back to 2017. Both different players, but he doesn’t feel the need to later anything in his game or his approach with a change in centerman.

“I don’t really change my game, you just get a feel for where [Kopitar and Danault] are going to be, support-wise,” Iafallo said. “On the breakout, sometimes Kopi will be flying through the middle, he’ll be talking, where Phil might be lower. That’s just kind of the feel of play, so we’re just reading off of each other.”

An important piece to have back in the fold for the Kings, entering a busy stretch of games upcoming.

Goaltending Rotation
As we progress through the season, we’ve seen the ups and downs at the goaltending position. Thankfully, from a Kings perspective, we’ve yet to encounter a stretch thus far where both goaltenders have been down together. We’ve seen one each way, and right now, we’ve got both goaltenders hot at the same time, and that’s a good sign for LA.

“Cal is hot now, he is, he’s played six really good periods after a long break, but we haven’t forgot about number 32 being pretty darn hot too and that’s a luxury,” McLellan said today. “Think of the disaster we’d have if we were talking about both of them being cold. We want to keep them both alive, both sharp, both healthy and the amount of games we’re going to play is going to allow us to do that.”

McLellan expanded that we likely won’t see either Quick or Petersen on a run of something like ten consecutive starts, at least not if everything is going according to plan. As long as both goaltenders are playing well, both will see time in the net, as the Kings have done for much of the season.

Petersen’s play, and return to that level, was documented yesterday, but it’s easy to forget that Quick has been solid over his last stretch of games. Naturally, games against Carolina and Vegas were struggles from a team-wide perspective, but even including those games, Quick 6-4-1 with a .916 save percentage over his last 11 played, including the skewed numbers against CAR/VGK. That’s pretty darn good.

As the Kings continue into the second half of the season, the schedule tightens up, reinforcing the need to have two goaltenders going well. Beginning tomorrow against Pittsburgh, the Kings begin a stretch of 11 games in 21 days, held in nine different cities. With that hectic run leading into the currently still scheduled Olympic break, the Kings will need both netminders at their best.

“We’re going to go into, beginning tomorrow, basically playing every second night for sure and some nights back-to-back,” McLellan said. “The rotation is going to be fairly even, if [both goaltenders] keep it up. Then, we’re going to get into a break and we’ll do it all over again. The normal part of was what we just went through, play a few, have two days off, every so often get a three-day break. Because of the Olympic break, that was scheduled in, it jams everything else up at the backend, not just for us but for everybody. They’re both going to have to play.”

Both players will be important, and we’ll see how that rotation begins tomorrow against the Penguins.

Coach Carter
Lastly, hear from two-time Stanley Cup champions and longtime Kings forward Jeff Carter, as he addressed the media earlier today at Arena in Los Angeles.

Traded to the Penguins last season, tomorrow’s game will mark Carter’s return to Southern California, playing as an opponent for the first-time since he was a Columbus Blue Jacket in January 2012. Carter spoke today on his memories from his time with the Kings organization, his friendships that still exist with Kings players, his thoughts on playing tomorrow night as a visitor and his reflections back on the trade to Pittsburgh.

The Kings are scheduled to hold a morning skate tomorrow at 10:30 AM from Toyota Sports Performance Center, before the homestand finale at 7:30 PM.

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