WHO: Los Angeles Kings (40-20-9) vs. Vancouver Canucks (29-33-5)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Saturday, March 18 @ 7:00 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 are back in action on home ice this evening, as they host the Vancouver Canucks for the first time this season.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings will take on the Canucks three times over the final 13 games of the season, beginning tonight at home. Forward Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with six points (1-5-6) over his last seven games versus the Canucks.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings held an optional morning skate today, coming off a full-team practice yesterday morning at Toyota Sports Performance Center.
The Kings appear set to continue their rotation between the goaltenders this evening, with Joonas Korpisalo the first goaltender off this morning. Korpisalo has faced the Canucks five times throughout his professional career, posting a record of 2-2-1, with a .897 save percentage and a 3.37 goals-against average. Defenseman Alex Edler played 925 games with the Canucks from 2006-21, fourth-most in franchise history.
Based on the skates over the last two days, here’s how the Kings could potentially align this evening –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Vilardi
Grundstrom – Kupari – Kaliyev
Anderson-Dolan – MacEwen
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Spence
The Kings will likely make one lineup change this evening, with Todd McLellan confirming that defenseman Jordan Spence will step into the rotation, in place of Sean Walker. Up front, looks to be status quo, with Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Zack MacEwen on after morning skate alongside Walker.
Additionally, McLellan offered the following update on the currently injured duo of Sean Durzi and Kevin Fiala. A good sign for both moving forward.
“Durz skated a little bit today and I think Kevin is going to skate tomorrow. They’re obviously not going to play tonight, but I would say that they’re progressing.”
CANUCKS VITALS: Vancouver saw a five-game winning streak come to an end last time out, with a 3-2 defeat versus Arizona.
Goaltender Thatcher Demko is expected to get the nod this evening for the visitors in what would be his eighth start from his last nine games played. Demko brings with him a record of 3-0-0, with a .972 save percentage and a 0.97 goals-against average.
Per the Vancouver team account, here’s how the Canucks lined up last time out –
LINE 'EM UP!
📺 Sportsnet Pacific
📻 Sportsnet 650 pic.twitter.com/EP6VnJYlMF
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 17, 2023
Former Kings defenseman Christian Wolanin is expected to play for the Canucks tonight, projected on the third pairing. Forward Elias Pettersson has 13 points (5-8-13) from his last seven games versus the Kings, while forward Brock Boeser has five goals and six points from his last three games in the head-to-head series.
Fourth Line Feelin’ It
Since Arthur Kaliyev returned to the lineup versus the New York Islanders on Tuesday it’s been a strong showing from the team’s fourth line over the most recent two games.
The combined totals from the two games show the line controlling 64 percent of shot attempts, in addition to 65 percent of scoring chances and a whopping 94 percent of high-danger chances. Most importantly, the end product of those numbers is a goal for and none against. That number should really be two goals for, though Kaliyev wasn’t officially on the ice for one of the two goals that line scored versus the Blue Jackets.
Semantics aside, a strong showing from that group, which has liked its game together.
Grundstrom – I think we’ve forechecked really well, we’ve played a lot in the o-zone instead of the d-zone. We’re three big players, three who want to play with the puck. I’ve liked our game over the last couple of games.
Kaliyev – It’s going good and we’ve just got to keep it going the same way. Everything that we did. [we want to continue doing].
Kupari – We played well last game, really both games we played together we’ve played well in my opinion. We’ve created some chances and scored a few goals. We’ve got to just keep that going and work hard every game, be solid all over the ice. Playing well defensively is huge, plus bringing energy for the team.
Kupari elaborated to discuss how nice it is right now to have a guy who can shoot the puck on either side of him, with the ability to make plays both off the rush and in the zone. He also used that word, “energy”, which is a key part of any fourth line. Over the last three games, they’ve brought energy to the team and earned themselves more ice time for it versus Columbus.
While those three individuals have played well and will skate together again tonight, Todd McLellan believes that the fourth line is a five or six man unit, not just three. While we’d like to see an identity develop for that line as assembled, we’ve also seen rotation amongst the personnel as of late, especially when the team was at full health. That will inevitably lead to a different identity on a given night.
“That line consists of more than three players in my mind. I think, in my mind, we have nine that are pretty consistent, with Kevin sitting in the wings,” McLellan said. “Then, that line has five or six different players that can go in on any given night, based on different ingredients that may be needed. The identity can be different on any given night.”
Tonight, however, that line will run it back, with the hopes of replicating success from their last two trips out.
A Difficult Test
Not to say that there’s a game that is not difficult on the calendar, but tonight’s game is a tricky one for the Kings.
Tonight’s opponent presents a difficult challenge, in that they’ve had the better of the Kings over the last few seasons. Vancouver has won eight of the last nine games played between the two teams and the Kings haven’t beaten the Canucks in regulation since 2017.
“They score a lot of goals, their power play is dangerous and their top players are very much a threat,” McLellan detailed of the Canucks. “They have 11 shorthanded goals, their penalty kill is dangerous, Demko is back in and they’ve got a renewed life. They’re like all the other teams we’re going to play until the end of the year, they’re dangerous.”
As the Kings continue on a point streak – which currently stands at eight games overall and nine games on home ice – more and more do you wonder if there could be a setback coming. You hope not, and when you look at how the Kings have been playing, the commitment to the defensive parts of the game has been noticeable. It’s only natural to wonder, though. The Kings have the league’s best winning percentage thus far in the month of March and have allowed the fewest goals against, per game, of any team in the NHL.
McLellan and the staff have certain things in the team game that they look for to hopefully prevent any such slippage from happening.
“We watch for it, we certainly do,” McLellan said. “It usually arises when guys begin to cheat, they don’t take their assignments seriously all the time, they extend shift length when they don’t have to, game management skills dwindle, structure maybe begins to fall apart a little bit, so we look for that and we hold them accountable. We hold them accountable when they’re playing well too, just to try and keep the edge.”
There’s also the notion of the time of the year doing that job for the coaching staff, and there’s something to that. The magic number for the Kings is down to 17 and every victory brings the team two points closer to clinching a playoff spot. LA is also firmly in the mix for the division title and a win tonight over Vancouver would push the Kings into the top spot, not just in the Pacific, but in the Western Conference. McLellan acknowledged that the magnitude does help keep the group on course. They’ll be hoping it does again tonight.
McLellan on Spence
Lastly, Insiders, sharing an extended quote from Todd McLellan with regard to how defenseman Jordan Spence has carried himself over the last few games when he hasn’t been in the lineup. Spence is expected to play tonight for the first time since March 9 in Colorado. The clip also dives into the notion of competitive depth, both at forward and on the backend, with a bit of a comparison between how the situation currently differs at both positions.
Kings and Canucks, tonight at 7 PM……NOT 7:30……at Crypto.com Arena. See you then!