1/27 Preview – Optional Skate in FLA + Puck Management, Byfield’s Evolving Physicality, Fagemo Audio

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (27-17-6) @ Florida Panthers (23-21-6)
WHEN: Friday, January 27 @ 4:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: FLA Live Arena – Sunrise, FLA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings begin the second half of their six-game roadtrip this evening in Florida, with their final game of the season against the Panthers.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forwards Viktor Arvidsson (1-1-2) and Anze Kopitar (0-2-2) led the Kings last time out with multi-point games in the 5-4 victory over the Panthers when the teams met back in November. 12 Kings in total had a point in that victory. The Kings carry a four-game winning streak against the Panthers into tonight’s action, though three of those wins came at home.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings took the ice for an optional morning skate today in Sunrise, following an elongated, full-team practice yesterday afternoon.

First off this morning among the goaltenders was Pheonix Copley, which points to him as the starter this evening against the Panthers, his fifth consecutive nod between the pipes. Copley brings with him a record of 0-1-1 all-time versus Florida, with a .904 save percentage and a 2.98 goals-against average.

An optional skate today gives us no rushes, but assuming no changes, here’s how the Kings lined up last time out –

The Kings are currently carrying two extra skaters on this trip, with several lineup regulars currently out of action. With morning skate indicating the possibility of the same group, that would point to defenseman Tobias Bjornfot and forward Brendan Lemieux as those out of action, as they were against the Flyers on Tuesday. Bjornfot utilized his legs well in his most recent game, against Chicago, so we’ll see if either player gets the nod tonight.

PANTHERS VITALS: Florida enters tonight’s game with points in six of their last seven games (4-1-2), playing better hockey thus far in the new year.

No Florida starting goaltender had been announced as of this writing. The Panthers had three goaltenders on the ice during yesterday’s practice. Veteran Sergei Bobrovsky is currently coming off an injury, while Spencer Knight was a late scratch last time out, forcing the Panthers to turn back to Alex Lyon, who has started three straight in the absense of both. Should Florida continue with Lyon, it would be his first career start versus the Kings.

Per Florida play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein, here’s how the Panthers lined up last time out, though forwards Sam Bennett and Eric Staal are both expected to be available tonight –

Florida scored 337 non-shootout goals last season, the most by any team in a single season since Pittsburgh in 1995-96. The Panthers currently rank sixth in the NHL in goals scored this season. The Panthers have a .767 winning percentage at home over the last three seasons, the best mark in the NHL. Forward Carter Verhaeghe scored twice when these teams met in Los Angeles earlier this season.

Notes –
Managing The Puck
“We approach the game trying toimpose our game on the other team. We have a certain style that we think we have to play to win. That’s why the games happen – stylistically, teams are different, they play situations a little bit different but most often the the execution and the drive from the winning team is higher than the opposing team.”

That was Todd McLellan this morning when asked about a stylistic approach to tonight’s game against a Florida team that can come at you fast and often. McLellan emphasized the focus on breaking out cleanly after yesterday’s practice and that’s not surprising against an opponent that can impact mistakes at both ends of the ice. They forecheck well and they create outnumbered situations off the rush by activating their defensemen. The skating ability of their defensive group limits how often it bites them the other way.

It’s something that he is aware of and he’s emphasizing puck management that much more here tonight.

“Puck management is an important part of any game, but with this group, they’re dynamic up front and they get a big push from their back end,” McLellan added. “They can score from back there but their legs are really good back there, they get up the ice quickly, they join the rush and then they’re able to get back. I think that’s what makes them effective, both entry wise and on the forecheck.”

The players are aware of it too, though as always, while it’s about knowing the areas of emphasis when it comes to the opponent, it’s more important to understand how that applies to your own game first and foremost.

Manage the puck effectively and cleanly and try to play Kings hockey is the focal point.

Adrian Kempe – When we have the puck in our own zone, we have to be able to breakout and not turn pucks over, but also when they have it, we have to be on the right side and minimize the rush game as much as we can, that’s what we know that they want.

Blake Lizotte – They’re a quick transition team, the like to turn pucks over and make you pay on the other end. For us, it will be important to gain lines and be strong with the puck. As coach would say, be good game managers tonight.

Two teams, with two different styles of play, looking to impose their game on their opponent. As McLellan said, that’s why you play the games!

Byfield’s Bashing
Quinton Byfield put it simply when asked recently. He’s ramping up the physicality in his game.

“I’ve been playing hard and trying to get a little bit more physical. I think that’s been in my game lately.”

His linemates are noticing it too.

Anze Kopitar complimented Byfield’s blend of size and speed on the ice, playing with him as a linemate for the first time here over the last month or so. Byfield has continued to grow and develop and with that has come both an added emphasis, and an added output, on physicality.

“He brings a lot of size and his puck protection is exceptional, so it makes it easy when you get into the offensive zone,” the captain said. “When he’s on the puck, it’s hard to get it off him, so it’s a matter of getting open and trying to make plays off of that.”

McLellan has talked at length about players needing to add or build different elements to their game moving from either juniors or the AHL to the NHL. Byfield is certainly one of those players and it’s a different game, especially for someone who was physically dominant at the OHL level.

Byfield has an enviable combination of size and skill and could simply dominate players at that level in 1-on-1 situations or in puck battles. In the NHL, the opposition is bigger, faster and stronger and that makes it more challenging. Over this last month, with a move to the wing and more icetime playing for the first time in the Top 6, Byfield is showing that growth in front of our eyes. His head coach is also taking notice.

“If you could crawl inside his body as he was playing throughout juniors, he’s a very big man that had, and still has, an incredible skill set, he probably wasn’t necessarily required to apply the physicality,” McLellan said. “There was 1-on-1 physicality and grabbing loose pucks, but now you have to expand your game a little bit, no matter how good you are, and Q is figuring that out. He loosens up some pucks for those other two, Juice does that as well, and Kopi has speed on both sides right now, which certainly helps you.”

The whole package was on display on Kopitar’s second goal against the Flyers on Tuesday.

The strength to shrug off initial contact. The puck protection Kopitar talked about to shield his man away and create space. The skill to see and hit Kempe coming into the corner with speed to keep the play moving along positively. All in a tight space without a ton of time. An excellent and developing part of Byfield’s game that we’ll all be keen to see continue.

Sammy’s Scoring
Lastly, Insiders, a quick chat with forward Samuel Fagemo, who is one of several players who could be counted upon for offensive production with many individuals missing from the lineup.

While in the AHL, Fagemo scored just over 0.4 goals-per-game, which averages out just over 27 goals over the course of an AHL season and would be nearly a 33-goal pace if brought out over the course of an 82-game NHL season. Naturally, Fagemo has a bit of a different role here with the Kings, skating on the team’s fourth line as opposed to the top six, but he’s still expected to produce when given the opportunity. He got his one opportunity against Philadelphia, a good look in the slot off a pass from Blake Lizotte, and he made no mistake in burying it. As he expects to.

Spoke with Fagemo this morning on using his shot, an opportunity with guys out of the lineup and his thoughts on playing on his current line. Embedded below!

Kings and Panthers, tonight at 4 PM Pacific, 7 PM here on the East Coast. Three more before the break, Insiders, and they’re about as tricky as they come. All starts tonight!

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