3/14 Preview – Kaliyev In + Pushin’ PP, A Responsible Third Line, McLellan on 34

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (38-20-9) vs. New York Islanders (34-26-8)
WHEN: Tuesday, March 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 extended homestand continues for the Kings, as they host the New York Islanders this evening for the only time this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Trevor Moore leads the Kings with three points (1-2-3) over the last two seasons versus the Islanders, while forward Quinton Byfield has two goals. Forward Alex Iafallo has seven points (2-5-7) over his last seven games played versus the Islanders, including an assist in New York last month.

KINGS VITALS: Following a full-team practice day yesterday morning, the Kings hit the ice for an optional skate here today at Toyota Sports Performance Center.

The Kings appear likely to continue their rotation amongst their goaltenders, with Joonas Korpisalo the first netminder off this morning. Korpisalo has a lifetime record of 3-4-3 versus the Islanders, supported by a .919 save percentage and a 2.73 goals-against average.

With just one lineup change likely, here’s how the Kings could align this evening on home ice –

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Vilardi
Grundstrom – Kupari – Kaliyev

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Walker


As indicated yesterday, defenseman Sean Durzi and forward Kevin Fiala are both out for tonight’s game with injuries. Todd McLellan confirmed this morning that forward Arthur Kaliyev will check back in this evening up front and added that the defensemen will most likely remain the same from Saturday evening. On late after morning skate was the trio of Jordan Spence, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Zack MacEwen.

Todd McLellan on Kaliyev – He’s going to get back in today. We all know that Arthur can shoot the puck, we all know Arthur can score, we know Arthur can be a factor of a power play. He has to be all of the things, but in other areas of the game, he’s a big man, he should be able to forecheck, and he should be able to loosen up pucks for teammates. Shooting lanes are important for Arthur, getting in them, as they are for everybody else on the team. Through no fault of his own, he was hurt for a long time and it’s hard to get your traction back and that’s where he’s at right now. There are some things that are given in his game that we expect to see every night, there are other things that we need to see at this time of the year. He can do them and I’m sure he will tonight.

ISLANDERS VITALS: New York kicks off a three-game California swing this evening in Los Angeles, with visits to Anaheim and San Jose to follow later in the week.

Regular starter Ilya Sorokin is expected to get the nod this evening for the Islanders. Sorokin faced the Kings for the first time when these teams met on Long Island back in February, as he made 25 saves on 28 shots in a 3-2 Kings victory.

Per Andrew Gross of Newsday, here’s how the Islanders aligned during yesterday’s practice –

Forward Mathew Barzal will miss tonight’s game due to injury, while forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau (personal) is a game-time decision, per Gross. New York winger Hudson Fasching was a Kings draft selection in 2013. The Islanders have points in seven of their last nine to retain the second wild-card spot.

Notes –
Pushing Power Play
The power play has been an incredibly important part of this season’s team. Though it’s gone a bit dry here over the last series of games, it hasn’t impacted the team’s wins and losses on a 5-0-1 stretch. Overall, the Kings are 1-for-22 on the man advantage, dipping below 24 percent, though they still rank inside the league’s Top-10 in power-play percentage, several percentage points over last season’s total.

On the season as a whole, the power play has been a net strength, helping to power through to victories throughout the course of the campaign. McLellan and the group are eager to get things back on track.

“We have to be cleaner,” McLellan said this morning. “Our slump, if you want to call it that, we’ve had fewer opportunities and we have killed our own power play six times – I keep bringing that up – so that takes the number way down, but it still doesn’t excuse the execution and the pace that we’re playing with right now. We’re back to thinking it a little bit rather than playing it and there’s no simple solution to that, the players have to take the pace up and move the puck a little bit quicker. They know what they need to do and how they need to do it, it’s just the execution part.”

The Kings spent an extended portion of yesterday’s practice working on the power play.

With both units working, Kaliyev is expected to check back in and will likely take his spot back on Danault’s unit, alongside Danault himself, Viktor Arvidsson and Sean Walker, as well as one of Trevor Moore or Alex Iafallo. Kaliyev is a power-play weapon, who McLellan noted does impact the PP in a positive way, but it’s not just about one guy either. There was a focus placed on both units and both units are looking to improve. Practice yesterday played into that.

“We spent some time working on the power play, just to try and pick the pace of it up a little bit,” McLellan added. “We’ve scored our share goals this year, which we haven’t done in the past and sometimes that goes dry, whether it’s the power play or the 5-on-5 play. They’re very capable of doing it again, we just need to help them a little.”

Despite the recent dip in production, the Kings have 11 points out of 12 and are keeping the puck out of their net, with just nine goals conceded over the last five games. Getting the PP going as well would add back that extra layer that could take things over the top.

Mister(s) Clean
It’s been nine games since the LA Kings assembled the third line of Blake Lizotte between Alex Iafallo and Gabe Vilardi.

In that span they’ve kept things quite clean. The line has scored five goals at 5-on-5, right around one every other game, and they’ve yet to allow a goal. They’ve controlled 60 percent of shots on goal over the course of those nine games, while they’re on the right side of shot attempts and Lizotte is winning nearly 55 percent of his 5-on-5 faceoffs. They’re spending a lot of time in the offensive zone and sometimes, the best defense can be a good offense.

“I think they have the puck a lot in the offensive zone, with Lizzo and Al buzzing around, Gabe shooting it and getting it back,” McLellan said. “They are able to prevent a lot of d-zone time by having the puck and doing some good things offensively with it and they’re responsible, all three are responsible. They know their assignments, if they error, it’s because a mistake happened, it’s not because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

As McLellan indicated, all three members of that line are responsible. It’s something that Vilardi has worked hard on over the last 12 months to improve in his own game and it’s certainly showing up on the ice. Those traits were always in Lizotte and Iafallo’s games, players who thrive in two-way situations and are frequently relied upon late in games to take care of a lead, as well as on the penalty kill. Vilardi brings offensive flair and a high skill level and with the responsibility element of his game now in place, it’s a trusting line that’s doing exactly what it’s needed to for the Kings.

Those involved have a lot of pride in what they’ve been able to do defensively and the responsible, trusting nature they’ve created by doing so.

Lizotte – I think, first and foremost, it’s been our defensive play. We don’t give up very many opportunities each night and if you look at the chart, we’re the third line if you will, it’s important for depth players to be good [defensively] and down the stretch, we have to be good defensively. Secondly, playing with Gabe and AI, we can make plays, they’re good players. I think we’ve created quite a bit and haven’t necessarily finished on all of our chances, but going forward that’s something we can improve on.

Iafallo – There’s been good communication and I think we’re buying into what we’re doing [in the defensive zone], plus we have good chemistry. I feel like we talk about things before every defensive-zone faceoff and they’ve done a great job. As a whole, it’s helping us to break out faster and get us going towards the neutral zone or the offensive zone.

Lastly, just for fun, how about the LA Kings favorite pies here on Pi Day.

Kings and Islanders, tonight at 7:30 PM from Crypto.com Arena. See you there!

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