1/14 Preview – Quick In Net + A “trusting” Anderson-Dolan, Byfield’s Battles, Devil of an Opponent

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (25-14-6) vs. New Jersey Devils (27-12-3)
WHEN: Saturday, January 14 @ 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 are back at it following a couple of days off from games, as they host the New Jersey Devils this evening.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Alex Iafallo led the way for the Kings last season with a goal in both games against New Jersey, a pair of 3-2 victories. Forward Adrian Kempe has four goals from his last six games played versus the Devils. 11 of the last 13 games between the two teams have combined for six or fewer goals.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held a full-team practice yesterday, which led into an optional morning skate for the group today at Toyota Sports Performance Center.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick did not skate this morning, with Head Coach Todd McLellan confirming that he will make his first start since January 1 this evening. Quick’s all-time regular season splits against New Jersey include a record of 5-5-2, with a .912 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average.

Listed below is a potential lineup, based off of this morning’s skate and yesterday’s practice –

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Iafallo – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Lizotte – Vilardi
Lemieux – Kupari – Anderson-Dolan

Anderson – Doughty
Durzi – Roy
Edler – Walker


Based on this morning’s skate, the Kings do not appear likely to make a roster move off of the group that played against San Jose on Wednesday evening. Should they opt for any changes to the lineup, forward Carl Grundstrom is the team’s lone extra skater at the moment, after Jordan Spence was assigned to AHL-Ontario to skate with the team yesterday in San Diego.

DEVILS VITALS: New Jersey won 6-2 last night in Anaheim, as they kicked off a stretch of four straight games on the West Coast.

Goaltender Vitek Vanacek made the start yesterday in Anaheim, as the Devils defeated the Ducks, which leans towards goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood getting the start tonight. All-time against the Kings, Blackwood has a 1-0-2 record, with a .952 save percentage and a 1.65 goals-against average.

For reference, here’s how the Devils lined up yesterday evening in Orange County –

Should New Jersey opt for any lineup changes, defenseman Kevin Bahl, as well as forwards Alexander Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund are also available. Devils forward Jesper Bratt has four goals and six points from six career games versus the Kings. Forward Jack Hughes became the fifth player in New Jersey history to record multiple 50+ point seasons at 21-year-old or younger.

Notes –
The Trusting, Notorious, JAD
During the game against San Jose, when the Kings were forced into a lineup change due to Viktor Arvidsson’s illness, forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan was selected to move up in the lineup with Alex Iafallo and Phillip Danault.

When asked after the game, Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan used the word “trusting” as the reasoning for choosing Anderson-Dolan for the bump-up, as opposed to another player. It’s a simple word in the English language, but what does it mean as applied to a hockey player?

“Just reliable, can be relied on in different situations and I’ve been trying to add different layers,” Anderson-Dolan said this morning. “Whether it’s up, if someone’s hurt up in the lineup or down on the fourth line, wherever it is, just play the game that has raised those comments.”

Trusting was the blanket term, but McLellan expanded that Anderson-Dolan seems to be embracing playing in checking situations, such as being put on the ice late in games up a goal.

At his current level of play, Anderson-Dolan fits that bill. He’s frequently been seen on the ice with those one-goal leads in the final minutes of the third period and he had a huge shot block with less than a minute to play against San Jose on Wednesday. Speaking with him this morning, he’s embracing that role whenever he gets the opportunity.

“When you’re out there at the end, usually it’s a one or two-goal game, and you’re relied on to make plays that are going to win hockey games,” he said. “Whether that’s blocking shots or just gaining lines and clearing the zone, that’s something I’ve been working on and I still some room to improve there as well.”

What it’s done for the Kings is created internal competition within the group. Should players like Anderson-Dolan and Rasmus Kupari continue to impress and thrive within their roles, it creates a conversation when currently injured players return. That’s a good thing for an organization that hasn’t had that in recent memory.

“There’s competition and I think when that begins to happen, the organization becomes healthy,” McLellan said. “It Kup and JAD continue to play the way they are, they’re going to push, I don’t know who out, but it’ll be somebody on any given night. It doesn’t mean it has to be permanent, but it could happen.”

Byfield’s Battles
“I like get on the forecheck and just try and get those guys the puck. Just working as hard as I can, getting back and just stripping pucks, making those plays defensively as well, so we can get back on offense. I’m kind of trying to be a workhorse on this line and just get those guys the puck.”

A noticeable element of Quinton Byfield’s game as of late has been his play in puck battles, in just about all areas of the ice. From his quote above, it’s clear he’s focused on similar things and some of that has come from playing on the wing, which Byfield has called different, focusing more on stops and starts and getting speed from the walls, as opposed to building it up through the middle.

Byfield has been the retrivals guy on his line over his time spent with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe here over the last handful of games. It’s been his first opportunity to skate in the top six at the NHL level and he’s done his best to make the most of it. He’s indicated that he doesn’t particularly care which position he plays to get that role and the clearest path to top six minutes comes on the wing. There are differences in the positions, but relying more on quick stops and starts on outside has led to some of his success winning those board battles.

The 20-year-old forward was finally rewarded last time out with a goal and an assist versus the Sharks and his linemates are getting more dangerous looks with Byfield on their line. That is seen most notably in the jump from 11.8 to 13.9 high-danger chances per/60 for Kopitar/Kempe with Byfield versus without. The sample size is much smaller, but the conversion of those chances into goals is also much higher.

In just over 69 (nice) minutes of ice time, the line has four goals for compared to three against, while they sit at nearly 55 percent of expected goals. Puck possession metrics sit over 50 percent as well, standing out specifically in terms of high-danger chances, which are just shy of 60 percent. High-danger chances are up drastically at one and end just as importantly, down drastically at the other.

Kings General Manager Rob Blake said last week that Byfield will get an extended look in this spot, with Trevor Moore and Arthur Kaliyev currently unavailable. Should the line as a whole continue this level of effectiveness with him there, that look could get even longer.

A Devil Of An Opponent
By just about any metric, the New Jersey Devils are a damn good team.

They rank inside the NHL’s Top-3 in both perentage of expected goals and percentage of actual goals for, sitting above 57 percent in both statistics. Looking strictly at expected goals for, no team has a higher per/60 rate than New Jersey. The Devils lead the league in percentage of high-danger chances controlled, sitting in the top three in both scoring chances and shot attempts as well. It’s actually difficult to find 5-on-5 statistics where the Devils are not a top-five team, it’s really only on special teams where you drift out of the league’s elite. Make no mistake, this is a difficult test for the Kings.

Does Todd McLellan share these statistics with the group?

“We’ll give them information, but I think sometimes it can be too much, it can be overwhelming, but we do some things well too, so we’ve got to make sure that they know that and they have to be prepared,” McLellan said this morning. “They play a game that’s effective and if you’re not ready for it, it can bite you and even if you are ready for it, it can still bite you, because they’re that good. As far as sharing numbers, you can overcook it. We’ll pick something, one or two areas of the game that we think we really have to focus on, and we’ll share that with them.”

The Kings have yet to face this New Jersey team at full strength either.

Jack Hughes missed one of the two games last season, while defensemen Dougie Hamilton, who leads the team in points by a defenseman, missed both games, as did forward Miles Wood. Looking at their leading trio of Hughes, Bratt and forward Nico Hischier, all of whom are right around or over a point-per-game this season, there’s perhaps a bit of a look the Kings haven’t seen as much as some of the other stars who have come to Los Angeles as of late.

Does that make it more difficult to prepare for or defend? Perhaps it does, but as McLellan indicated, it’s about more than just three players. It has to be, really, to rank as highly as the Devils do in several categories.

“The youth in the league – and I guess depends how you define the youth – does play with a lot of courage and they attempt things that maybe some others don’t and perhaps Jersey has an element of that,” McLellan added. “We will have to be aware of certain things. Their star power is strong, but their team is really strong and their role players play really, really well. So, in my mind, it’s all about the Devils, not just Hughes and a few others.”

One of the league’s best over 40+ games against one of the NHL’s best over the last month. Great matchup here tonight in Los Angeles as the Kings and Devils square off!

Rules for Blog Commenting

  • No profanity, slurs or other offensive language. Replacing letters with symbols does not turn expletives into non-expletives.
  • Personal attacks against other blog commenters, and/or blatant attempts to antagonize other comments, are not tolerated. Respectful disagreement is encouraged. Posts that continually express the same singular opinion will be deleted.
  • Comments that incite political, religious or similar debates will be deleted.
  • Please do not discuss, or post links to websites that illegally stream NHL games.
  • Posting under multiple user names is not allowed. Do not type in all caps. All violations are subject to comment deletion and/or banning of commenters, per the discretion of the blog administrator.

Please flag any comments that violate the site rules for moderation. For immediate problems regarding problematic posts, please email zdooley@lakings.com.