3/26 Preview – Bjornfot to play & Lineups + Defensive Alignment, Spence’s Game & Growth, Bounce Back

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (35-22-9) vs. Seattle Kraken (20-38-6)
WHEN: Saturday, March 26 @ 7:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings host the Seattle Kraken for the first time in franchise history, with the first of two meetings in three days between the teams in Los Angeles.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings took on the Kraken just once, a 3-1 victory in Seattle. Phillip Danault scored twice in that game, with Trevor Moore tallying two assists. Adrian Kempe also scored, while forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo and Anze Kopitar each collected an assist.

KINGS VITALS: Following what was mostly a full-team skate yesterday during practice for the Kings, today’s morning skate was optional, and very optional among the forwards.

Cal Petersen was not on the ice this morning, signaling his return to the net this evening against the Kraken, following two consecutive starts by Jonathan Quick. Petersen made 17 saves on 18 shots back in mid-January to earn the victory in his only appearance against Seattle.

The Kings have welcomed back defenseman Alex Edler and forward Viktor Arvidsson over the last couple of weeks, though Edler will not play tonight, with defenseman Tobias Bjornfot potentially joining that group this evening against Seattle.

Here’s how the Kings lined up yesterday, signaling tonight’s projection –

Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Vilardi – Byfield – Kupari
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Kaliyev

Maatta – Stecher
Bjornfot – Durzi
Moverare – Spence


After a maintenance day yesterday, forward Anze Kopitar returned to the group today during morning skate. As noted yesterday, it was a maintenance day, no worries there. Forward Brendan Lemieux, however, suffered a “setback” per Todd McLellan and will not be an option tonight against Seattle.

KRAKEN VITALS: Seattle has won its last two games – and three of its last four – entering tonight’s action. The Kraken made several moves at the deadline, acquiring numerous draft picks over the next few seasons in exchange for current NHL players, giving others a chance to play for long-term positions.

Goaltender Philipp Grubauer is tonight’s expected starter for the visitors. All-time versus the Kings, Grubauer is 7-2-0 with a .952 save percentage and a 1.24 goals-against average. Grubauer has yet to face the Kings as a member of the Kraken.

Per Scott Malone of Root Sports Northwest, here’s how the team lined up this morning in Los Angeles –

Forward Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Haydn Fleury are both day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Neither player is included in the lines embedded above.

Six Of One
Yesterday, we touched on how, without the trio of Anderson, Doughty and Roy, the Kings aren’t necessarily a group of three pairs labeled 1, 2 and 3, but rather a group with three pairs that can be used in different ways and at different levels, as depending on the game.

Certain games might dictate the increased use of certain players, while on certain nights, one player might be going and feeling it, while the other might not.

Today, we learned that defenseman Tobias Bjornfot will return to game action tonight, likely on a pairing with Sean Durzi. That leaves newcomer Troy Stecher to partner with veteran Olli Maatta, and the return of the youthful duo of Jacob Moverare and Jordan Spence.

“The thought process, first we believe Toby will be good to go and we’re going to use him,” Todd McLellan said. “We think he has real good legs and we need him in the lineup, he’s an important piece now and in the future. Then, we look at the rest of the players and create pairs that we think can match up in the game, make decisions that way.”

Not included in tonight’s projected six is veteran defenseman Alex Edler, but he’s not considered to be just a healthy scratch. Edler’s return felt sudden in some ways, and in some ways it was. He never got that extended run of team practices, because the team didn’t have many during the time he was trying to reintegrate himself into the lineup, following two broken bones in his leg.

That, McLellan said, is why he won’t play tonight. He was admirable in his time since getting back into the lineup, but he was never truly at 100 percent back. McLellan called today’s decision an opportunity to get more time during practice settings to work towards that, with the renewed health of Bjornfot and the comfort level of younger blueliners like Moverare and Spence a contributing facto.

“Alex is just getting more reps and treatment,” McLellan said. “We asked him to do something that is exceptionally difficult for any player, but for him in particular, to come back off a broken leg, basically without any practice time or any reps. Now, as we get healthy, we have the opportunity to get him feeling good and confident and up to speed.”

Good to see Bjornfot back in action, good to see the play of Spence meriting an extended look and good to see that the Kings finally have enough depth back to work Edler in at his own pace.

Swing For The Spences
If, even as recently as two weeks ago, you told Jordan Spence about his role today he would’ve laughed at you.

Playing more than 21 and a half minutes per night, including four games of 22 minutes or higher. Quarterbacking one of the team’s power-play units. Leading the team in minutes on select nights.

“I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said, candidly. “I think it’s good to see that I’m playing that many minutes and I just want to show the coaches and everyone that I can play those minutes, I can be reliable on the ice. Right now, it’s been going well, and I just want to keep that going well.”

Reliable he has been.

Spence has worked his way from a player who wasn’t even an every-night player at the AHL level back in October to a player who is now playing and thriving in the NHL. As players have come back into the lineup, slowly and steadily, for now he’s held his place on the right side. That’s certainly one in the pro column for a still just 21-year-old defenseman.

McLellan has seen growth in several areas when it comes to Spence. His comfort level against NHL players. His ability to contribute on the power play. His adjustment to the pace of the NHL game. His sense of belonging as an NHL player.

“He’s not near as wide-eyed,” McLellan said of Spence today, as compared to his NHL debut. “I’m not sure that he or us expected him to be a part of the NHL team this year and that’s not anything against Jordan, but he got his call and he’s made good on it. Every night he seems to improve in a certain area, I think he’s understanding the pace of play, he’s asked to run a power play at this level right off the bat. He’s getting information that’s different than in the American League, the pace around him, 5-on-5 and 5-on-4. He’s adapted quite well. I think the sense of belonging has gotten stronger for him every game he’s been with the team.”

Spence has indicated the comfort level increasing, admitting that playing for the most part at home has helped. He also credited assistant coach Trent Yawney, who is primarily responsible for working with the defensemen, for his communication skills and his influence. Several positives when it comes to the impressive rookie.

“I think it’s going pretty well so far,” Spence added. “The first game is a bit of an adjustment, it’s the first game, but there’s a lot of good players on the ice with the other teams so I just have to be aware on the ice and just go from there. Speed-wise, I know that I can play in this league and be a good player in the NHL. I just want to be a reliable guy and just be that guy.”

So far, so good in that department!

Bouncing Back
A stat we’ve thrown around here on LAKI several times this season was the team’s stretch of not losing back-to-back games, and a version of that number was asked about again this morning during our availability with Todd McLellan.

The Kings have responded well to losses all season, in terms of both not letting bad habits carry over and in believing in a better performance. That goes a long way.

“I just think the situation that we’re in and the leadership that we have and some of the past experiences either last year or earlier this year, putting a stop to the streaks,” McLellan said. “I think we had a three-game one and a two-game one, but the approach to the game…I guess when it all comes down to it, the belief system is stronger than in the past, so that helps.”

McLellan also spoke about using days in between games to help correct certain elements of the game, along with using both positive and negative reinforcement to bolster players individually. There’s now secret formula, but a combination of little things that have helped prevent defeats from spiralling.

Kings and Kraken, tonight from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. Puck drop is set for 7:30 PM!

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