Back to practice, Insiders.
The Kings lined up this morning with some shades of the third period last night, though I didn’t get a look at how the fourth line shook out, with an extra forward.
The big news of the day was that forward Alex Iafallo will be available for the team on their upcoming trip to the East Coast. Today, Iafallo took line rushes on a very interesting line with Gabe Vilardi and Adrian Kempe. Vilardi appeared to be in the middle, but Adrian Kempe was also working on faceoffs after practice. We’ll slot Vilardi there for now, but Todd McLellan also alluded to the possibility of Kempe through the middle as well on the upcoming trip.
There’s also Arthur Kaliyev up on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Kevin Fiala, which will be covered in a feature story tomorrow here on LAKI. Forward Aidan Dudas, who was recalled yesterday and took warmups against Carolina, was re-assigned to Ontario and should feature for the Reign later today against Bakersfield.
Here’s today’s alignment, for reference –
Fiala – Kopitar – Kaliyev
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Vilardi – Kempe
Anderson-Dolan – Lizotte – Grundstrom – Fagemo
Anderson – Doughty
Durzi – Roy
Edler – Walker
Bjornfot – Clarke
Iafallo is a bit of an agent of consistency, which is a welcomed piece on a team on a team in search of more of that. Having him back, which appears to potentially be as soon as Ottawa on Tuesday, is welcomed as he seems to positively impact most lines he’s a part of.
“[Iafallo’s] a player we’ve missed, we miss him in a lot of different situations, with and without the puck,” McLellan said earlier in the week. “He’s a trusting player, an identity player who plays towards the identity most nights.”
McLellan was also asked about forward Brendan Lemieux, who has begun skating on his own but has yet to rejoin the full group. Lemieux is a unique option in that he brings elements to the game that few others do on the Kings roster. Lemieux has physicality, aggression and a pesky style that gets under the skin of the opposition. McLellan admitted that the Kings are missing some of that right now, with the role Lemieux fills, but believes the physicality is something the Kings can share as a group throughout the lineup. The policing element, if you will, is not currently present, but McLellan doesn’t want to see someone trying to fill that role when they’re not suited for it.
“Play in your own skin, you have to know who you are,” he said. “If you’re trying to be somebody that you’re not, it’s not a real good situation. You know who you are and you know what you can do, so do it.”
Regarding the defensemen, McLellan believes that if Tuesday in Ottawa was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he and his staff would have a good idea of the six players they’d utilize on the backend. With more than 50 games remaining, however, keeping everyone alive, and as useful and available options, is also important. That’s the balance right now.
“I think if we were lucky enough to be in the playoffs starting tomorrow, we would have a good idea of the six that we would want to start and we would run them right into the ground, for lack of a better term, with a seventh and an eighth ready to go,” McLellan detailed. “We have a pretty good idea of that, but we’re only 27 games in and we’re to keep everybody on board, because as we saw last year, you never know when you’ll need them.”
There’s also veteran Alex Edler, who we’ll cover below, and rookie Brandt Clarke, who we should have a firmer decision on later in the week.
Last night was a difficult decision for the Kings, with the decision not to use Edler against Carolina.
The move was a healthy scratch, but not necessarily a healthy scratch based on performance. At the beginning of the season, there was a conversation between Edler and the organization regarding potentially taking a night off here and there, in particular on back-to-backs. Last night was not a back-to-back situation, but the Kings schedule has been compact to date and sees seven games in 12 nights on the horizon, in seven different cities.
“We talked a little bit about it at the beginning of the season, maybe some back-to-backs like that but you never know,” Edler said today. “You want to play every game, all defensemen want to play every game. I got to rest and hopefully I’ll be back in soon.”
He’s a player the Kings have leaned on to partner with a wide variety of younger, right-shot defensemen this season. He’s spent time with Brandt Clarke, Sean Durzi and Sean Walker, with the first two in their first and second NHL seasons respectively. His importance on the ice is still there for the Kings in a variety of different roles.
Edler is competitive and wants to play every game. It’s natural. He’s also a veteran who understands the situation, even despite his desire to play.
“You always want to play every game, you want to be out there, you don’t want to be scratched, but I’m old enough to understand the thoughts behind things too,” he said. “I’m always ready to play.”
Todd McLellan called it a difficult conversation to make that move, especially when it comes to one of the classiest individuals he’s coached. Edler displays and exemplifies professionalism as well as anyone, which doesn’t make a decision like that any easier.
“Those are really hard conversations for a coach, or a group of coaches, to have with a player because of his character,” McLellan said. “He wants to be in the lineup, he’s such a respectful player and human being and it stings to take him out, but we also had a plan at the beginning of the year to give him the odd rest. We’re going t0 play seven games in 12 nights, six of them on the road coming up. That’s a lot of hockey for anybody, especially for Alex Edler, but his professionalism is through the roof.”
It’s no surprise that guys like Clarke has highlighted Edler’s impact on their games early in their careers. Younger Swedish players like Tobias Bjornfot and Jacob Moverare have done the same. He’s an important figure in the room, and as classy as they come. No better display of that than how he handled last night’s decision.
Lastly, Insiders, a look at McLellan’s take on the organization’s goaltending situation.
The status is clear. Jonathan Quick is the starter at the NHL level. He’s started each of the team’s last five games and will be in that number-one role at least for the immediate future. He’s currently backed up by Pheonix Copley, who as long as he’s here is trusted and is likely to feature into games as the Kings see fit. No hesitation from the organization on utilizing him.
“He’s part of our team,” Todd McLellan said. “We’ve got a really good goaltender in Jonathan Quick, who’s played over 700 games, so somebody to play minutes, good minutes, strong minutes, confident minutes is strong for us. That’s what we think of him, that’s how we’ll use him.”
Copley featured in a couple of preseason games, with Todd McLellan noting he played “very well” after he came in for Cal Petersen early in the exhibition season in Vegas, following a lower-body injury to Petersen. Copley allowed no goals on 23 shots faced in relief in that game.
Beyond those two, Petersen made his first start of the AHL season in Ontario on Friday and was selected as the game’s first star in an encouraging performance. More on Petersen’s AHL debut HERE and HERE, from Jared Shafran and John Hoven respectively, who watched the game first hand. Behind Petersen is Matt Villalta, who is off to a very strong start to his AHL season with a 4-2-1 record, a .927 save percentage and a 2.19 goals-against average.
McLellan gives the 10,000-foot overview below –
Todd McLellan on the Kings goaltending situation
Our goaltending situation is going to be fine. We have three or four really good goaltenders in our organization, starting with Jonathan. [Pheonix] Copley, we believe is a tremendously talented goaltender. We went out and we needed to fill that hole in the summer. Obviously Cal is finding his game down there, first start [on Friday] if I’m correct, so he’s got to feel good and confident there. Matty Villalta, he’s had a good season too. Goaltenders can’t just be evaluated on numbers and I think sometimes that happens. hey have to be evaluated on how they get to the number, how the team allows the number, I’m thinking of goals-against average and save percentage, those types of things. [Yesterday], I didn’t think Jonathan Quick had a bad night at all, yet his numbers won’t show up as outstanding tomorrow, but I don’t think you can pin a single goal on him. That’s how it works in the goaltending position.
Lots more to come here as we hit the road. Features on Arthur Kaliyev and Samuel Fagemo are in the works, as well as a look at the suddenly on-fire LA Kings power play unit(s). Thanks for following along, busy two weeks ahead of us against the Eastern Conference.
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