Back at it, Insiders!
The LA Kings reconvened here in El Segundo this morning for a practice day, in advance of tomorrow’s national showdown against the Dallas Stars. Tomorrow’s game is a return to ESPN, meaning we’ll see a national crew for the first time since the win over Edmonton back in early-November.
No apparent changes today for the Kings, as they lined up in a similar fashion to what we saw against the Flyers on Saturday. Alignment listed below, with a rotation of four players on the fourth line.
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Iafallo – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Lizotte – Vilardi
Lemieux – Kupari – Grundstrom – Anderson-Dolan
Anderson – Doughty
Durzi – Roy
Edler – Walker
Copley / Quick
Today’s skate allowed McLellan and the coaching staff to “turn it up” a bit during practice. The Kings played an afternoon game on Saturday and yesterday was a full off day. That schedule allowed for plenty of recovery time coming in, meaning today was a higher-intensity practice. Without a ton of that coming up amidst a compact and busy January, today was a good day for the Kings.
“We took practice up today because we could,” McLellan said. “We had the luxury of being in our own bed on back to back days, having a complete day off yesterday, the energy level, guys should feel better. Sometimes you need to clean everything out, so we took it up today. I thought practice was good, it was active, there were questions. We tried to work on some things that we feel we’re not only going to need tomorrow, but over the next segment, because practice time will be precious again from now until our big break. Overall was a good day. Let’s see if it can translate into a good effort.”
Fiala Through Forty One
Tomorrow’s tilt with Dallas marks the official halfway point of the 2022-23 season for the Kings, with their 41st game of the season. That means it’s also the official halfway point for the team’s big offseason addition in Kevin Fiala.
Fiala has been, large in part, what the Kings believed they were getting when they traded a first-round draft pick and a touted defensive prospect over the summer. With 37 points from 40 games, Fiala leads the team in assists and points this season, a 76-point pace over the course of 82 games. Compared to last season in Minnesota, Fiala’s assists are up, while his goals are down and his point total falls slightly short of his 2021-22 mark. Still, projected totals of 55 assists and 76 points would be the most in a season by a Kings player since Anze Kopitar’s Hart Trophy nominated 2017-18 campaign and I think it is fair to say that he’s been at least a part of the team’s overall increase in goals scored and power-play percentage.
In that regard, Fiala has been as advertised.
I think Kev has been a great addition to our team,” McLellan said this morning. “His creativity, his playmaking, his shot are all something that we needed and I think he brings that to the game every night. When he’s on the ice, there’s a big threat, so I think he’s been a great addition. I think he fits our group well and I think that his teammates like having him around.”
If there’s an area that McLellan is hopeful to see improved come the second half of the season, it’s with regards to utilizing Fiala in all situatons, at both ends of the ice. In a one-goal game either way, the Kings want to be able to use him and their other, gifted offensive players confidently to help either chase down a deficit or preserve a lead. As we get into the trenches, those games will be more and more prevalent, in the second half of the season and hopefully into the postseason.
“Where do we go in the second half? Well, if we’re lucky enough to play deep into the season and beyond, there’s going to be a lot of one-goal games. In those situations, I think that we have to be able to put him out on both sides of those one-goal games.”
It’s something McLellan and Fiala have spoken about in the first half of the season and something that will come, as player and team continue to mold together. Fiala has fit in well with the group, as McLellan noted and as he continues to impose his game on the ice, he’ll continue to thrive offensively. The Kings have to adapt for Fiala, considering his high-level gifts, and he’ll have to continue to adapt to the Kings. All parties are confident in that continuing to happen.
“Bringing him in gives us something that we haven’t had in a long time, so we’ve got to meet in the middle.”
More to come tomorrow regarding Fiala and his current linemates, Blake Lizotte and Gabe Vilardi, including Fiala’s take through four periods with those two individuals.
A stat that was shared here on LAKI last week, and has since made its way around a bit, was with regards to Viktor Arvidsson’s impressive level of primary assists relative to the best playmakers around the NHL. When stacked up against just about everyone, Arvidsson compared favorably.
Among NHL regulars this season, Arvidsson trails only Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov in terms of primary assists per/60 this season.
1. Leon Draisaitl (EDM) – 2.25
2. Nikita Kucherov (TB) – 1.96
3. Viktor Arvidsson (LA) – 1.81
4. Connor McDavid (EDM) – 1.74
5. Nathan MacKinnon (COL) – 1.71
*metrics provided via Natural Stat Trick
Arvidsson came to the Kings touted largely as a goalscorer. Though I can’t sit here and say I watched every game the man played in a Predators jersey, Arvidsson had 15 more goals than assists during his time with the Nashville organization. With the Kings, the sample size is smaller, but he’s had 19 more assists than goals from just over 100 games played.
If you asked Arvidsson specifically, as he was today, he would say that his game hasn’t necessarily changed, but rather perhaps the circustances around him have.
It’s not as if he’s set out to be a playmaker or a passer, but in Nashville, his most common linemates took on more of that role. Here with the Kings, his regular centerman, Phillip Danault, has a knack for playing around the crease and doing most of his offensive damage from that region. That’s freed up the thoughtful Arvidsson in different areas, as he details below.
“I like when my line scores and I just try to make the best play available,” Arvidsson said this morning. “I scored a lot of goals in Nashville, I played with different players, I played with Johansen and Forsberg and they wanted the puck a lot and I took on maybe a different role, was around the net a lot. Now, I have Phil on my line and he likes to be there, be around the net, so I try to hit the other spaces. It’s just a game of reading.”
Hearing Arvidsson’s high-level IQ of understanding in both situations is perhaps the most encouraging part of it all.
Whether he’s changed anything or not, whether he’s approached it a certain way or not, the production has certainly been there. The Kings would have been happy with Arvidsson’s production from the Predators, and they’re certainly happy with his production here in LA. While he seemed to acknowledge awareness of the stats, he’s not out there looking for it and he’s just doing his best to make the right plays at the right times.
“I’m just trying to set my linemates up and it’s worked, and they’ll set me up too, it’s giving and taking I guess,” he added. “We’re creating offense, that’s the main part, and we’re still being responsible and playing a good game.”
From the bench, McLellan likened Arvidsson to a chess player on the ice. That jives with his self evaluation, too.
Arvidsson isn’t committed to a label as a player, he’s committed to helping his team score and produce offense as bet as he can. Whether that be via a pass or a shot, he’ll continue to think the game through, communicate and make the best read from there .
“This guy is a pretty astute player, not just skills, but he’s always thinking,” McLellan said. “If there was a chess player on our team, I would pick him to be one of them. He would study the moves and see what’s available, talk things through with his teammates, I think he’s really good at that. Sometimes playmakers are that, they set things up.”
Lastly, Insiders, the latest on those who are currently out of the lineup.
Consider forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Trevor Moore “day-to-day” at this time. Moore remains on the active roster, while Kaliyev is on injured reserve, though he can be activated at any point. The next true update probably comes when we see one of them on the ice, which will not be tomorrow for either player – McLellan ruled both players out against the Stars. Both players are working out off the ice at this point and McLellan said that “we’ll see” with regards to their availability on Thursday against Boston.
A true day-to-day status for both.
Game Preview to follow tomorrow, Insiders, as the Kings begin a difficult stretch against difficult opposition. That begins with the Central Division leading Dallas Stars. A few notes I find interesting to come in tomorrow’s preview, stay tuned!