Happy Friday, Insiders!
An Ontario Reign game day and an LA Kings off day are on the docket. Coming off of yesterday’s travel home from Colorado, the original plan called for a practice day in El Segundo, but the Kings called an audible with the long travel home. Today leads us into tomorrow’s showdown against the Nashville Predators, which is drawing a lot of hype in the magic number fandom community.
For those unfamiliar, the magic number is a way of determining how close the Kings are to clinching a playoff berth. Among teams currently outside of the playoff field as of this writing, Nashville has the highest ceiling, meaning the highest maximum point total. If the Predators won out, they’d hit 109 points. The Kings currently have 84 points, meaning a combination of 26 points earned by the Kings, or dropped by the Predators, would clinch a playoff spot over the Predators. With those teams set to meet on Saturday, it’s a four-point game as far as the magic number is concerned.
The magic number is nothing more, really, than something fun for us all to look at as a countdown clock of sorts on the postseason. Sitting at 26, there is much work to be done mathematically before we even approach scenarios that see a number of zero. I mean, even if things went absolutely perfectly, meaning the Kings continued on a tear and the Predators and Calgary Flames tailed off, we’re weeks away from any scenario coming into frame. So, for now, we follow along as the number slowly ticks lower and lower, in eventual anticipation of what it ultimately means, for better or for worse.
The Kings opted not to practice today, following the game yesterday and the late flight in from Colorado. As we were flying back last night, I began to frame what would have been today’s practice report with a projection of what we might see on the ice, in a fruitless attempt to save some work on the backend. As I was writing out the team’s alignment of players, with or without Kevin Fiala and Sean Durzi, it hit me with the competition this group has right now.
Jordan Spence stepped into the NHL for the first time since late-December and gave the Kings something to think about. Spence tallied his first assist of the season and led the team in CF%, in a game the numbers would call a low-event night. For a skilled and mobile defenseman, who dominates offensively at the AHL level, a low-event game by the numbers with a point on the scoresheet is a good night in most books.
Spence has been kept out of the lineup due to the exact same reason that vaulted him into it last year – health. At this time in the 2021-22 campaign, defensemen Drew Doughty and Sean Walker were lost for the season. Alex Edler had also been out for a substantial period and Mikey Anderson was out as well. Opportunity was available and Spence skated into it, logging 24 games down the stretch and impressing in doing so.
This season, however, the Kings have had a relatively clean bill of health on the backend. Anderson and Matt Roy have both played the full 66 to date, while Doughty has missed just one. Please knock on wood with me. As Sean Durzi is currently sidelined, opportunity presented itself to Spence once again and he looked determined to make the most of it. Skating with Sean Walker on a new-look third pairing, while also quarterbacking the second power-play unit, Spence was effective on night one.
Up front, the Kings have a versatile mix of forwards that can give them a different look on any given night. Last night’s fourth line consisted of Trevor Moore in his return to the lineup, alongside Rasmus Kupari and Zack MacEwen. Moore certainly could move up in the lineup as he gets more comfortable and would likely be the first option if Fiala has to miss any time. Moore had been out of action since February 21 and played on the fourth line for most of the evening but found himself bumped into a higher role when Fiala could not return. Always present on the penalty kill, Moore was a part of a suffocating kill in the second period and had the best chance of the two minutes, a shorthanded breakaway the other way.
MacEwen has brought a hard-working, honest approach to the group since he joined from Philadelphia. Last night’s scratches – Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Carl Grundstrom and Arthur Kaliyev – each bring something different to the lineup and are likely chomping at the bit to get back in. None are extra forwards by quality. When they get their next chance, and all three will get a next chance, they’ll likely be quite motivated to make the most of it.
Morning skate coming up tomorrow, same bat time, same bat channel. Then it’s a 7:30 PM faceoff against the Nashville Predators, before a couple of days in between games. Nashville has got to be one of the league’s most interesting teams right now. They traded four NHL regulars at the deadline and acquired two first-round picks and three second-round picks as a part of nine selections acquired in total. They’re also 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and have more games in hand than any other team in the NHL, sitting in striking distance of the postseason. With an elite goaltender, an elite defenseman and a commitment to team structure, they’re one to keep at least a side eye on.
Hot and heavy here in Los Angeles this month, with the next seven to come at Crypto.com Arena. More on that and more in tomorrow’s preview!
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