1/15 Preview – First game vs. SEA, Petersen off first, See-attle, Forcing Turnovers, Fine Tuning

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (19-13-5) @ Seattle Kraken (10-22-4)
WHEN: Saturday, January 15 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Climate Pledge Arena – Seattle, WA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings are back on the road this evening as they visit the Seattle Kraken for the first matchup in franchise history.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Naturally, with the first meeting in franchise history, there are no head-to-head statistics available between the Kings and Kraken. Kings defenseman Austin Strand, currently on the taxi squad, played 105 games with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds during his major-junior career.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings begin a short, two-game roadtrip this evening in Seattle.

Cal Petersen is tonight’s expected starter between the pipes, after he was the first goaltender off this morning at Climate Pledge Arena. The Waterloo, IA native is 7-5-1 this season, with a .904 save percentage and a 2.70 goals-against average. Petersen has won his last two starts, allowing just one combined goal in victories over Detroit and New York.

All 18 skaters that faced off against the Penguins on Thursday are here in Seattle, with Brendan Lemieux also making the trip. Lemieux missed the team’s most recent game with a “non-COVID illness” and with Todd McLellan ruling him as a possibility for tonight. During yesterday’s practice, Lemieux skated on the line extras, though his energetic presence in the lineup would be a welcomed return if he is able to go at full strength.

With this morning’s skate optional, we won’t know about Lemieux until closer to puck drop. For reference, here’s how the team lined up against the Penguins on Thursday.

KRAKEN VITALS: Seattle enters tonight’s action in a bit of a slump. The Kraken have lost their last eight games overall, and the last seven played here on home ice at Climate Pledge Arena.

Goaltender Chris Driedger was the first off this morning for Seattle, making him tonight’s projected starter. Driedger has faced the Kings just once in his NHL career, with Florida back in January 2020, making four saves on four shots before he exited the game with an injury. On the season, Driedger is 3-5-0 with a .896 save percentage and a 3.30 goals-against average.

Per Mike Benton of the Kraken Audio Network, here’s how tonight’s opponent lined up during their morning skate earlier today –

Usual top-six forward Jaden Schwartz is out for an extended period with a hand injury that required surgery, while forward Brandon Tanev is out for the season.

Notes –

Have we mentioned that tonight is the first time the Kings have played the Kraken? Oh. Okay.

Well, here’s one more reference to it, with the team visiting Climate Pledge Arena for the first time. While not a new venue, the arena underwent a massive renovation prior to the arrival of the Kraken this fall, giving the appearance in many ways of a new building. The arena seats just over 17,000, with one of those layouts that doesn’t leave a bad seat in the house.

“Our prep and the way we carry ourselves shouldn’t be any different, although I think everybody’s going to walk into the arena there and look around,” Todd McLellan said. “We discover different things, where’s our bench, what’s the locker room like, get a feel for what it’s about and obviously the fan base there is very strong, I’m sure it will be exciting to play there.”

Mikey Anderson said similar things earlier today, as he and the Kings took in the venue for the first time at morning skate.

The young defenseman had nothing but good things to say about his first glance, and is excited to play here tonight.

“This one is pretty sweet,” Anderson said. “Obviously no one has been here at all, when we came in there was a new intro video that was playing, so I know a lot of us walked out there and saw that. Building looks awesome, the setup we have in the weight room is sweet, so far it’s been a good experience.”

Waiting for the Kings is a team that has struggled, but not for lack of trying. Looking at their most recent trip, McLellan felt that Seattle played an improved brand of hockey – and certainly played hard – in narrow defeats against St. Louis and Colorado. Any kind of underestimation against a team that plays hard would be a grave mistake, especially on the road and coming off of one of this season’s best performances.

“[Seattle] has played very hard, they just played really well on their road trip,” McLellan added. “All of those things will come into play with us, but we’re going to approach it as we have with any game we’ve played.”

Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
There is not, in my mind, an effective statistic to measure turnovers forced. Per the NHL, the LA Kings rank dead last in “takeaways” this season, though the problem with that stat is that it’s subjective. It’s up to a judgement call that varies from building to building, making it an unreliable measure.

Per NHL.com, the Florida Panthers have 847 combined takeaways and giveaways, leading the league in both categories. The Kings have just 412, which is less than half. A disparity to say the least.

The Kings were credited with five takeaways on Thursday night. Five. I think it’s fair to say that number in particular is not representative of how the Kings have been playing, which starts with their ability to force takeaways all over the ice.

“I remember being in junior and telling the kids that the puck doesn’t care who gets there first, it doesn’t have a mind or a brain,” Todd McLellan said. “I haven’t really used that with our guys, but our players are willing to go and retrieve pucks, it’s done by committee. After that you have to hold onto it, you can’t just give it back.”

Speaking with defenseman Mikey Anderson today, who scored the game-winning goal in that Pittsburgh game, he feels that mentality starts with the forwards. As players like Blake Lizotte, Trevor Moore and Adrian Kempe start to use their skillsets to play that brand of hockey, others can and will follow.

With those guys leading the way, it’s a mentality that’s taken over the team on their recent run of victories.

“We have guys that I think can drive it, definitely,” Anderson said. “If you look at Lizzo and that line, they do a really good job of keeping plays alive. Moorsey and Juice have great legs, especially being able to come back to the neutral zone and strip pucks. I think you get a couple guys to start it and then everybody really jumps on board and follows along, but I think our forward group has led that charge and they do a good job of keeping plays alive.”

As the team has started to form an identity, it’s been things like forcing turnovers and being hard on pucks that have made the Kings a difficult team to play against. A key to success tonight against the Kraken.

Cleaning Up
Lastly, hear from Todd McLellan on continuing to clean up, fine-tune and add to the way the Kings are playing, which right now is quite well.

McLellan talked about how players are typically more receptive to seeing and talking about mistakes when things are going well. In situations like this, it gives the coaching staff a group of individuals who are receptive to the feedback, and the players the chance to add new elements to their game, like work on more specified areas such as faceoff plays.

“Believe it or not, they’re more receptive to the wrong when it’s going right. In the back of their minds, they know they made good decisions and good plays, but what can we fix really quick, we’ve been able to find little things and we’ve also been able to add some things to our game. You can do that when things are going well. When it’s not going well, it’s broken, you’re under the hood trying to fix it. When things are going well, you’re just fine-tuning your car and making it run even better. They’re more receptive to seeing themselves make a mistake because they know they’ve done it well four or five other times and within that mistake, maybe there’s a teaching moment for everybody.”

Kings and Kraken, set to go for the first time this evening. Puck drops at 7 PM!

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