1/11 Preview – Full-Team Skate + Penalty-Kill Predictability, Third Pairing Stability, Byfield Metrics

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (24-14-6) vs. San Jose Sharks (13-21-8)
WHEN: Wednesday, January 11 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: TNT – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings hit the ice tonight for another divisional showdown, with the San Jose Sharks in town for the final time this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan leads the Kings this season against San Jose, with three points (2-1-3) from the two prior head-to-head matchups. Forward Phillip Danault also has two goals this season versus the Sharks, while defensemen Drew Doughty and Sean Durzi lead the way with two assists apiece.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings chose not to practice yesterday and as has been their routine on days after not skating, they gathered for a full-team skate this morning in El Segundo.

Goaltender Pheonix Copley was off first this morning, making him tonight’s projected starter against the Sharks. Copley has faced the Sharks just once in his NHL career – the 3-2 victory here in Los Angeles back in December – as he made 23 saves on 25 shots to earn the win.

For reference, here’s how the Kings aligned last time out –

Should the Kings opt to make any lineup changes this evening, forward Carl Grundstrom and defenseman Jordan Spence were the extras against the Oilers on Monday. Grundstrom has, in the past, performed well in games coming off a scratch, while Spence has been good in limited action this season. Two suitable options should a change be either necessitated or decided.

SHARKS VITALS: The Sharks have a quick, two-game trip here this week and enter tonight’s game off of a 4-2 victory in Arizona yesterday evening.

Considering goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen started yesterday against the Coyotes, consider James Reimer tonight’s projected starter in net tonight versus the Kings. Reimer started both prior head-to-head matchups this season and brings with him an overall career line of 5-4-2, with a .936 save percentage and a 2.16 goals-against average against Los Angeles.

The Sharks are not expected to hold a morning skate today, considering the back-to-back. Here’s how San Jose lined up yesterday evening –

Former Kings prospect Mikey Eyssimont made his San Jose debut yesterday evening, after he was claimed off of waivers from Winnipeg. Dating back seven seasons, no player in the NHL has more goals against the Kings than San Jose’s Timo Meier (13), with 10 of those goals coming over the last three seasons.

Notes –
The Predictable Penalty Kill
Predictable is a word we’ve heard a lot over these last few games, coinciding with three perfect penalty killing efforts over the last four games, including a 6-for-6 night against Edmonton on Monday.

Predictable is usually a word we associate negatively when it comes to hockey. If you’re predictable to your opposition, you’re easier to stop and easier to shut down. It makes sense. The Kings are using the word differently, however. With regards specifically to the PK, they are becoming more predictable to each other and within the system.

“I think a big part of it is we’ve been a lot more predictable,” defenseman Mikey Anderson explained this morning. “We know what’s going to happen, we know when we’re going to pressure, if one guy goes, we all have to go and support it. It’s reading plays and knowing what they’re going to do, it’s trying to pressure when you’re able, bearing down on clears, but I think the big thing is we have a better idea of what we want to do as a whole and guys can go off each other a little easier.”

So – what exactly does being predictable mean?

As it pertains to the Kings, as Anderson went into some detail on above, it comes down to each player knowing what the other three guys on the ice are going to do on the penalty kill at any given time. Anticipation is key and the Kings have anticipated better. So is positioning. Overall, it’s led to a more successful penalty-killing unit as of late when it comes to the overall figure, with the unit improving steadily as a whole over the last few weeks.

“For our group, it means having an idea of what might happen, based on our positioning and what we’re trying to do,” Todd McLellan explained this morning. “Being down a man, against some of these power plays which are very good, if you can kind of anticipate where the puck may be going, I think you have a better chance at your own execution. I believe we’re getting better in that area, the guys are accepting some responsibility for that. It’s a work in progress, though.”

Speaking with forward Rasmus Kupari, who is an emerging penalty killer on the forward end, he believes the Kings are doing more and improving with regards to predictability. The defensemen and forwards are trusting each other to to their respective jobs and it’s leading to an overall, cohesive unit.

“It’s just doing what we have to do, everyone knows their role,” he added. “The defensemen do their jobs and they trust the forwards to do their job and the opposite, we trust them to do their jobs. I think we trust our system, how we kill penalties and it’s been more effective these last couple of games.”

Third Pair
I think it’s fair to say that the Kings have found a steady, consistent flow to their defensive pairings right now that has really helped all players involved. That includes the rarely-discussed third pairing of Alex Edler and Sean Walker, who have quietly strung together a nice stretch of games, with six goals for compared to just three against over that stretch.

It’s the latter side of that statistic that the pairing is really focused on, specifically when it comes to limiting the higher-quality chances that lead to goals against. Over their last ten games, the duo has allowed just 1.9 high-danger chances per game, compared to 2.9 in the 17 games together before that. Naturally, they haven’t played together every night this season, but that reduction is a testament to the improvements they’ve made here over the last stretch of games.

“Solid minutes, few chances against and a simple game,” Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan said, when asked what a successful night looks like for that pair. “Walks is using his legs and he’s making good reads, Eddy is using his size and defending well. It’s just a very calm game between the two of them.”

A lot of those things describe Edler to a T – Calm, Simple, Limit Chances Against.

That’s what his game is predicated on and why he’s still effective in his role. They’re starting to describe Walker now too, however. It was, by his own admission, a slower start to the season than perhaps he would have liked, coming off of his major knee injury in October of 2021. Considering the magnitude of his injury, he’s deserved his time to settle in and his game as of late has been quite impressive. We’re seeing Walker at the offensive end more and more, including a huge goal in Colorado and a terrific play in Vegas, leading to teammate Viktor Arvidsson’s third-period goal.

Walker’s game has meshed with Edler’s extremely well and they’ve been exactly what the Kings have wanted them to be.

“I think the main thing is that we want to be out there and be trusted, not get scored on,” Walker said. “I think a really successful night would be anything that we can contribute offensively as well, but at the end of the day, we want to be a pair that can go out and not give up any high-danger scoring chances and just be a trusted pairing.”

With three set pairs as of late, here’s to hoping the consistency continues for the pairing and for the Kings.

Lastly, Insiders, a quick hitter on and with Quinton Byfield.

He’s been skating with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe on the team’s top forward line since he was moved there back on December 29 in Colorado. Over those five games, only Kevin Fiala is getting more high-danger chances per/60 than Byfield, a sign of strong underlying chance creation. His on-ice numbers, which account for the chances his linemates get too, place him third-best on the Kings in that span. Despite just one assist in that span, underlying numbers are quite good.

“The chances have been there and him being involved in the chances has been there, so that’s a good sign,” McLellan said. “The finish and the polish hasn’t yet, but we’re not going to panic and jump all over the place. We’ll see where it goes.”

I had a couple of minutes to chat with Byfield this morning on his chances as of late and if that’s potentially a sign of things to come for goals, plus his added emphasis as of late on puck hunting and the differences between center and wing. Audio embedded below.

Kings and Sharks, tonight at 7 PM. Expect drama with tonight’s game being on TNT. See you there!

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