WHO: Los Angeles Kings (39-20-9) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (21-38-7)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Thursday, March 16 @ 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 host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Game 3 of 7 on their season-long homestand.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Anze Kopitar led the Kings with two goals when these teams met back in December. Forward Viktor Arvidsson has four points (3-1-4) from three games against Columbus since he joined the Kings organization. Tonight marks the first games for Vladislav Gavrikov and Joonas Korpisalo against their former team, with more on that below.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings held serve with their usual routine, as they ran an optional morning skate today following the full-team practice day on Wednesday.
Todd McLellan confirmed yesterday that goaltender Pheonix Copley will get the start this evening versus the Blue Jackets. Copley did not start when these teams met in Ohio back in December, but he’s faced Columbus twice in his professional career, with a 0-0-1 record, a .833 save percentage and a 3.90 goals-against average.
When asked this morning, McLellan indicated that he did not expect any changes this evening, so listed below is a projected lineup for this evening –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Vilardi
Grundstrom – Kupari – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Walker
Minus the goaltender, Todd McLellan indicated that the Kings do not appear likely to make any changes this evening from the group that defeated the Islanders on Tuesday. Defenseman Sean Durzi and forward Kevin Fiala remain out with injuries, while the trio of Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Zack MacEwen and Jordan Spence were on late after morning skate for additional work.
BLUE JACKETS VITALS: Columbus kicked off a four-game trip with a 6-5 overtime win over San Jose on Tuesday evening up North at SAP Center.
Goaltender Daniil Tarasov is expected to get the nod this evening for the Blue Jackets, his second consecutive start. Tarasov has never faced the Kings throughout his career.
Per the Columbus team account, here’s how the Blue Jackets lined up last time out –
We've been doin' all this late night talkin'
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 14, 2023
Columbus starting goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is currently away from the team due to a family illness and will not play tonight. Defenseman Zach Werenski is currently out of action on long-term injured reserve. Blue Jackets center Jack Roslovic had four points (2-2-4) when these teams met in December, while forward Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine each had a goal and two assists.
New Team, Old Teammates
Last night’s post touched on how the new duo of Vladislav Gavrikov and Joonas Korpisalo have been embraced by their new teammates here in Los Angeles, how they’ve fit into the grop so seamlessly.
Today marks the other side of that deal, as they face off against their former team for the first time since the trade. For both, it’ll be the first time in their NHL careers dressing against Columbus, with Gavrikov expected to skate on the second defensive pairing alongside Matt Roy, while Korpisalo will back up Pheonix Copley.
Gavrikov noted that his Columbus reunion started yesterday, meeting up with a few of his former teammates after the Kings practiced. He joked that a lot of the guys might not want to come out in the rainy weather, not exactly what he or they expected here in Los Angeles, but indicated it’d be good to see former friends and former teammates. Korpisalo pointed out that it’s only been two weeks since he was a Blue Jacket. That will make things a bit strange come this evening.
“It’s going to be weird to see my former teammates on the other end,” he shared. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, it’s just like it was yesterday that I played for Columbus. It’s going to be a little bit weird.”
Starting today, though, it’s all business for Gavrikov as he checks into the lineup.
Sure it’ll be pretty weird to face off against his former teammates and though he didn’t single out anyone, in particular, he’s looking forward to competing against them as a group. Gavrikov has played more games as a Blue Jacket over the last four seasons than any other player. He’ll maintain that mark into next season, sitting 24 games ahead of the next closest player, Eric Robinson.
It’s a balance for him today. There is that element of his time in Columbus and facing friends and former teammates, but these are also two important points for the Kings on the ice. While there is a sentimental feel towards the former, the focus is on the latter.
“That will be kind of weird, it hasn’t been a long time [since I played there], but I will do my job,” Gavrikov said. “Not much more I can say, what’s more important for us right now is the two points to stay in the race and keep climbing in the standings.”
As noted last night, Gavrikov’s transition on the ice has been seamless. Since he made his Kings debut on March 2, the only player in the NHL with a higher xGF/60 is……Matt Roy, his primary defensive partner. On a per/60 basis, no player has been on the ice for more scoring chances than Gavrikov and, once again, the only player who has been on the ice for more high-danger chances has been Roy. Sample size be damned! It’s been good so far.
“As soon as you start playing more and more games here, you start to become comfortable and that’s how I’m feeling right now,” he added. “I’ve got to be better and better every game and I feel better and confident.”
Additionally, embedding Korpisalo’s interview below. Some good stuff from number 70, who speaks with candor and honesty in a very down-to-earth way.
Players Talk PP
The Kings entered last game on what you might consider to be a drought on the power play. They exited it with two goals stemming off a pair of penalties taken just 30 seconds apart, a big momentum swinger in the 5-2 victory over the Islanders.
Early in the second period, the Kings were locked in a tightly contested 1-1 draw, before a scrum behind the New York net led to a Kings power play. Exactly half a minute later, a one-man advantage turned into two, with the Kings playing 5-on-3. 54 seconds later, the Kings led. 60 seconds after that, the Kings led by two.
The “slump” was perhaps overstated a bit coming in, with a unit that’s been dynamite pretty much all season long. Whatever was discussed, though, seemed to have shown up in the game.
“When things don’t work, everyone is talking about pace and it’s just because the puck’s not going in,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “I don’t think we necessarily did anything different [against the Islanders], the puck just went in the net.”
Doughty added that the power play wasn’t up to standard in the games before Tuesday, referencing too many shorthanded chances against and units not clicking as they needed to each night. He also said that it wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing against the Islanders, meaning that it wasn’t as if the Kings weren’t trying to execute with pace and precision before that, it just didn’t quite work that way. Such is the case with ebbs and flows over the course of a season.
Speaking with Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, members of the other power-play unit, they felt things were better as well. Danault believed that the practice time helped a bit, giving the group the opportunity to hone back in on little details. As Doughty said, it wasn’t like the group was actively working against those things before, but perhaps the focused practice time got things back on track.
Arvidsson – I think it was just sharper and I think we were making the plays we needed to on the power play. We need to be creative and I think that’s what we were. We were more direct and it was good to see.
Danault – It was only a matter of time. We moved the puck quicker, we practiced it, sometimes you don’t get the chance to practice it a lot. We were quicker, more talking, better positioning, just the little details.
An important part of the Kings success offensively has been that of the man advantage. With points as valuable as they are right now, the PP retaining its momentum will be huge down the stretch.
McLellan Talks CBJ
Lastly, Insiders, Todd McLellan gives his scouting report on the Columbus Blue Jackets –
They’re aggressive all over the rink, they forecheck hard, they’re aggressive in the neutral zone. If you’re sloppy, which we were in in Columbus, they’ll make you pay. If you think about it, Johnny Hockey had five points the other night. Patrik Laine can shoot in the net, Boone Jenner’s having a good year. They are dangerous because they’re aggressive and they’ll make you pay for mistakes. They’re also playing quite loose, they’re enjoying the game right now. Record, who knows, but they look like they enjoyed the game the other night in San Jose.
As we saw in Ohio, an off night for the Kings can result in a defeat. On that evening specifically, the Kings struggled with details and came up on the wrong side of a high-scoring defeat in overtime. It’s a different team now, and they’ll hope to show that on the ice.
Kings and Blue Jackets, tonight at 7:30 PM from Crypto.com Arena. See you there, as the homestand rolls on!