3/12 Preview – Andersson In, Athanasiou to IR + Lias’ Path Back, Playing Kings Hockey, “Graduation”

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (32-19-8) @ San Jose Sharks (25-25-7)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Saturday, March 12 @ 6:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: SAP Center – San Jose, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings and Sharks complete the home-and-home set this evening, with a Saturday night showdown in San Jose.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: San Jose improved to 2-0-0 this season against the Kings, with a 4-3 overtime victory on Thursday in Los Angeles. Forward Trevor Moore leads the Kings in the season series with three points (1-2-3) from two games played, while Phillip Danault has a goal and an assist. Today’s meeting is one of three between the teams in an eight-day span, concluding the season series versus the Sharks.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held an optional team skate today in San Jose, though only defensemen Olli Maatta and Matt Roy were not on the ice among the skaters.

Goaltender Cal Petersen also did not skate this morning, making him tonight’s expected starter for the Kings. Petersen has yet to face the Sharks this season and brings with him a 1-3-1 record, a .907 save percentage and a 2.99 goals-against average in his career versus San Jose. Overall, Petersen has won five of his last six starts, and eight of his last ten.

The Kings will be forced, once again, into a roster move this evening related to an injury. Forward Andreas Athanasiou was placed on injured reserve today, retroactive to March 10, which creates an opening at the forward position. The expectation is that Arthur Kaliyev will fill his spot with Phillip Danault and Trevor Moore, while Lias Andersson is in line for his return to the lineup, as he skated yesterday with Blake Lizotte and Jaret Anderson-Dolan.

Regarding Athanasiou, the expectation is that he will be out for an “extended period”, per Todd McLellan. During the end of Thursday’s game, the forward “pulled up”, resulting in another trip to injured reserve. Athanasiou is the fourth Kings player to hit IR over the last six days.

On the back end, the Kings will likely continue with the youthful group that skated on Thursday, as Jordan Spence made his NHL debut and Jacob Moverare played in just his fourth career NHL game.

While today was an optional morning skate for the Kings, here is how the team aligned yesterday during practice –

Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Kaliyev
Grundstrom – Byfield – Brown
Andersson – Lizotte – Anderson-Dolan

Maatta – Roy
Bjornfot – Durzi
Moverare – Spence

Petersen
Quick

On the lines above, Drew Doughty practiced yesterday in El Segundo, in a limited capacity, but did not skate with the team this morning. Rasmus Kupari and Christian Wolanin both skated this morning in San Jose, and are projected, at this time, as tonight’s scratches.

SHARKS VITALS: The Sharks, like the Kings, haven’t played since the two teams met on Thursday in Los Angeles, with the win in Southern California snapping a three-game losing streak.

Per San Jose Head Coach Bob Boughner during yesterday’s media availability, goaltender Adin Hill is an option to return to the net this evening against the Kings, as he works his way back from injury. Today, the team assigned Alex Stalock to the AHL, signaling Hill’s return. Should Hill get the nod, he’s 3-2-1 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average. If the Sharks opt to go back with Zach Sawchenko, his 33-save victory on Thursday was his first career appearance against the Kings.

The Sharks appear set to use the same lineup as Thursday evening, with Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group reporting a similar alignment during yesterday’s practice. For reference, here’s San Jose’s lines from Thursday at Crypto.com Arena –

Notes –

Hips Don’t Lias
There was a time during the preseason, when the identity of the LA Kings was still being formed, that one player stood out as demonstrating on the ice what the team was trying to do on the forecheck this season.

That player was Lias Andersson.

During the preseason, skating on what was then the team’s third line with Gabriel Vilardi and Vladimir Tkachev, Andersson was a menace on the forecheck. He played with energy, he played with tenacity, he hunted pucks with aggression. In short, he modeled what the Kings talked about wanting to do this season. As a group, we’ve seen that identity shaped more and more as the games have passed, though it has some mostly without Andersson, who has missed all but 13 games with an injury.

“That’s part of my game, that’s a part that I really like,” Andersson said this morning. “Get pucks back, be in the offensive zone and work for my teammates. I felt like I did a really good job in the preseason, I was playing really good, so I’ll try to get back to that and just be sharp.”

Now, Andersson said he feels as good as he has this season, and he’s ready to return at the NHL level.

His time on a conditioning loan with the Ontario Reign couldn’t have gone much better from a production standpoint. Andersson scored six goals from four games played, including a couple for the highlight reel, and is now back with the Kings for good, assuming he remains healthy. With three regulars at the forward position out of the lineup, the timing couldn’t be much beter for both Andersson and the Kings, as he returns to action this evening.

“I’m just trying to play my game, this is probably the best I’ve felt all year, since training camp,” Andersson said. “My body feels fresh, my mind is fresh and hopefully I can go out there, play my game and bring some energy. We’ve got some really big games coming up, so everyone needs to play good, and so do I.”

Speaking with the Swede this morning, this was the first extended injury of his professional career. He shared with us that he’s never gone through a bout like this with an injury before, where it’s been the same injury reoccurring that’s kept him out, and that he learned and realized how important the rehabilitation process is. A learning moment for a player who’s never been in that situation before.

“It’s been tough, I’ve never been injured before in my career, so it’s definitely something new to me,” he said this morning. “It’s been very challenging at times, especially coming back a few times with the same injury. It’s been challenging and I feel like I’ve learned something from it. I’m just trying to work hard every day and hopefully stay healthy.”

Staying healthy, while playing at his best level, is an effective combination to an extended run of games here, with the Kings battling so many injuries. Here’s to hoping that starts off with a good one tonight in San Jose.

Kings Returning To Kings Style
It’s no secret, from talking with players and coaches, that the Kings didn’t play the way they wanted to against San Jose on Thursday. Even though they built a two-goal lead and even though they collected a point in overtime, it just wasn’t quite the brand of LA Kings hockey we’ve seen this team deliver this season.

The onus heading into today is to change that, with the Kings knowing the areas in which they want to improve.

“Our overall game wasn’t real good the other night, in all facets,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “It was faceoffs, coverages, our forecheck was average at best, I thought, obviously special teams has been an ongoing conversation throughout the year. What we normally do well, we were a little bit off in certain areas and we’ve got to get back to that and make sure our foundation and our bread and butter is as good as it can be, and work on the other stuff after. The overall game has to be better.”

Not included in that answer, but something McLellan and the team were displeased with was the number of penalties taken and the areas on the ice that the penalties were taken. Six penalties in total, with McLellan indicating after the game that four were taken in the offensive zone.

Not only did the penalties burn the Kings with two goals conceded, but it also disrupts the flow of the team and of the game. When the team was rolling away from home, McLellan frequently preached the ability to get everyone involved in the game, and make everyone important in the game, as a key factor for the success. With 12 minutes of PK time, it’s difficult to do that.

“Our rhythm the other night, with six penalty kills, was just disastrous,” he added. “When you have the individuals out of the lineup that we have right now, and all four of our lines are shuffled, you like to get everybody up and running consistently, and that didn’t happen either.”

Back on track, the message for tonight in San Jose.

McLellan on “Graduation”
Lastly, Todd McLellan talked about the process of “graduation” as he put it, when asked about the transition for players like Lias Andersson or Jaret Anderson-Dolan in coming up to the NHL, where they play in the bottom six, versus the AHL, where they play top-six minutes with power-play time. His answer was in-depth, meriting using the quote in full. –

“They shouldn’t be playing a different role in the American League, they should be penalty killing and they should b edoing the things that they need to do to be successful here as well. The icing on the cake for them is that they get to play on the power play at the American League level, but that’s called graduation. That happens in San Jose, that happens in Anaheim, that happens in LA, and it starts at the draft. Everybody gets drafted as the top scorer in the league, the most valuable player, but they don’t come in and begin as the number-one center, it just doesn’t happen. Some individuals are close to that, Connor [McDavid], Auston Matthews, maybe Jack Eichel in his year, but most of them have to work their way up, so there has to be some other skillset that they bring to get into the lineup. JAD, Lias, the others you talked about, they do have that and that’s one of their strengths. They can check, they can play well. This team we’re playing today, with Bonino’s line, they all entered the league as very good offensive players and they’re all still in the league because they play good roles. There’s a lesson in that for everybody in the game.”

Kings and Sharks, tonight at 6:30 PM in the final game between the teams at SAP Center this season.

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