WHO: Los Angeles Kings (30-18-7) @ Anaheim Ducks (17-32-6)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Friday, February 17 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Honda Center – Anaheim, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: ESPN – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are back in action this evening, following three days in between games, as a back-to-back this weekend begins tonight in Anaheim.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Adrian Kempe led the way with two assists when the teams met back in December. Over the last three seasons, Kempe is tied for the league lead with 10 goals versus the Ducks and is tied for second with 17 points. Forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala and Alex Iafallo scored in the first game this season, as did defenseman Drew Doughty.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings held a full-team practice over the last two days and went with an optional morning skate today, at an earlier than usual time slot.
Goaltender Pheonix Copley did not take the ice this morning for the Kings, giving the expectation that he will make his third consecutive start coming out of the break. Copley made 24 saves on 25 shots back in December, in what was his first career start against Anaheim, a 4-1 victory at Crypto.com Arena.
*UPDATE – Gabe Vilardi will return to the lineup tonight, per Todd McLellan. He’ll enter back in on the fourth line, with Rasmus Kupari and Arthur Kaliyev.
The likey look of the lineup below –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Lizotte – Iafallo
Vilardi – Kupari – Kaliyev
Lemieux – Anderson-Dolan – Grundstrom (R)
Anderson – Doughty
Durzi – Roy
Edler – Walker
This morning’s skate saw forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Carl Grundstrom and Brendan Lemieux on late for extra work, along with defenseman Tobias Bjornfot. Those would project as tonight’s extras, with Vilardi in fact be ready to go, but we won’t know that for sure until later in the day.
DUCKS VITALS: Anaheim enters tonight’s action on a three-game losing skid, allowing a total of 20 goals over that span.
Per Lisa Dillman of the OC Register, goaltender John Gibson will get the nod between the pipes tonight on the Anaheim side. Gibson has posted a career record of 14-9-0, with a .919 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average.
For reference, here’s how the Ducks lined up last time out on Wednesday evening –
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) February 16, 2023
Forward Troy Terry remains out of action for Anaheim. Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler is tied for fourth in goals against the Kings since he entered the NHL in 2009. Forward Derek Grant has three assists from four games since the Ducks returned from the All-Star break. Forward Trevor Zegras has a point in 15 of his last 18 games played.
Always a bit of a different game day when you play the Ducks, but especially so when it’s a 6 PM game.
With the game being broadcast nationally on ESPN, the network chose to put puck drop at 6 PM, which is 60 – 90 minutes earlier than the Kings usually play. Anaheim is a day of game bus ride, with morning skate coming in El Segundo, which creates a different situation. The Kings held their skate today at 9 AM and it was sparsely attended, with only seven total skaters and one goaltender taking part. Those expected to play were on the ice for just 15-20 minutes or so.
It’s different for sure, when you factor in everything together, but Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan believes his team will be ready.
“We’ve played six o’clock games before, but what will be odd about this one is that it’s a road game that we don’t go to the night before,” he said. “Our bus ride to Anaheim is going to happen a little earlier in the morning and everything’s going to get backed up. I don’t think it should be a big issue, in fact I think it should help us getting back, we have back-to-back games and we should be in our beds probably before a 7:30 home start. That makes it a little more fathomable.”
The Kings departed for Orange County around 10:30 today to get them as close to routine from a timing standpoint as it would usually be.
Being that there are 27 games remaining on the schedule and a total of four points separate the top team in the Pacific Division from a team that’s currently in a wild card spot, there’s no added motivation needed for being ready to go tonight. Still, it’s Anaheim and it’s the middle of a playoff race.
The group feels ready to go.
Mikey Anderson – These games against them are always high-energy, usually the crowd is into it, which brings a different element to the game that’s fun to be a part of. Obviously we’re trying to bank as many points as we can get right now, it’s a big game regardless of who it’s against, but a little more incentive in the game having it be against those guys.
Sean Durzi – Rivalry game, playoff race, it all means the same right now. Every single game is going to be a big push to the end here, we know that, and we had this last season too. Rivalry, playoff push, it’s all the same thing, it’s game-by-game, shift-by-shift and we’ve got to be pushing and we’re going to continue to do that.
Adrian Kempe – They always do, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the playoffs or we’re in the playoffs, I feel like they’re always tight games and we’re starting to play well in those types of games, which is good for us. In any sport, a rivalry is a rivalry and they’re always going to be tight games, no matter where you are in the standings. It means a lot, fans get excited and I think we get excited for those kinds of games too.
The Kings have three power-play goals from two games played coming out of the All-Star break.
In the short term, the power play is converting.
The Kings also have 17 power-play goals over their last 17 games played.
Not too bad in the long term, either, as the team has risen into the NHL’s Top-5 on the season.
A big part of the team’s success this season has been the ability to get production from both power-play units. The Danault unit was the driving force earlier in the season and got on the board twice recently in the win over Buffalo. In between, however, it’s been the Kopitar unit carrying the load, with 12 goals over a 16-game span coming into that Buffalo matchup on Monday.
The Kings feel they are really starting to grasp the concepts and systems when it comes to the man advantage, resulting in the recent success.
“I think we’re all comfortable, it’s taken time, but I think we speak the same language with everybody,” Kings Assistant Coach Jim Hiller said yesterday. “Those guys, they talk to each other, they feel different things, so they kind of run it themselves at times, which is really where you want to get to. When I see them huddle on the ice before the powerplay, then I’m like ‘these guys found it.’”
The grasping of concepts has been particularly noticeable with Kopitar’s unit and how well they’ve thrived here in the last chunk of games. When looking at that 16-game sample size, Adrian Kempe has five power-play goals, while Kevin Fiala and Anze Kopitar each have three.
They’re clicking at the right time and finding their stride as a unit.
“We’re moving pucks quickly, shooting pucks and now that we’ve played for 50 games or so, we know what to expect a little bit more,” Fiala said. “There’s still more to come, I feel like. It always takes some time to get comfortable, but it’s going well right now.”
The Danault unit was firing on all cylinders over the first couple of months this season but hit a bit of a lull when Arthur Kaliyev was out of the lineup recently with a lower-body injury. He’s back now though and that unit scored twice in the win over Buffalo, even if one of those goals was a flukey bounce. The other, however, was a heavy shot by Kaliyev, from a dangerous scoring area.
With their “secret weapon” back on the ice, that unit feels like they’re back at full strength. Kaliyev’s shot is an option in itself, but it also opens up ice for others around him.
“Obviously it’s a big weapon, he’s got a really good shot and he’s very opportunistic, he doesn’t miss a lot,” Danault added. “Very good to have him back and like you saw last game, he’s a huge part of it. We have a lot of weapons and it’s good to have him back, it opens up more for us on the other side too.”
Lastly, Insiders, the Kings made a roster move earlier on today as defenseman Tobias Bjornfot was recalled from the AHL’s Ontario Reign.
The Kings had just six defensemen on the active roster and naturally wanted to add a seventh for the upcoming back-to-back set versus Anaheim and Arizona. The Kings have opted in certain situations to give veteran Alex Edler a rest day on one of the two ends of a back-to-back. It does not appear as if Bjornfot will go today, but he could be an option against the Coyotes tomorrow evening.
This season, Bjornfot has one assist from six games played. The Swede has posted positive metrics this season, coming in over 50 percent in shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances. He’s also on the positive side of goals for/against. With 112 games played over the last four seasons, no worry at all from LA’s perspective in putting Bjornfot into the lnieup as needed.
Todd McLellan is scheduled to speak with the media in Anaheim later on today, a couple of hours before puck drop. Will add in any relevant information from that interview as it comes.