3/20 Preview – Full-Team Skate + Kupari’s Faceoff Numbers, McLellan on CGY, Kings Acquire Krygier

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (40-20-10) vs. Calgary Flames (31-24-15)
WHEN: Monday, March 20 @ 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 will play game five of seven straight here at home this evening, taking on the Calgary Flames before a stretch of four days off.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Blake Lizotte leads the Kings with three points (1-2-3) versus the Flames this season. He has six points (1-5-6) from seven career games against Calgary. Forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Adrian Kempe each have two goals in the season series, with Kempe scoring four from five games over the last two seasons against the Flames.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held a full-team morning skate today, after they opted to cancel their practice yesterday morning.

Look for goaltender Pheonix Copley to get the nod for the hosts this evening, returning to the net for the third time on this homestand. Copley has faced Calgary twice in his NHL career to date, bringing with him a record of 2-0-0, alongside a .900 save percentage and a 2.80 goals-against average.

Based on the line rushes presented this morning, here’s how the Kings are expected to align this evening versus Calgary –

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

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Walker


This morning’s line rushes give an indication of two changes amongst the skaters, with defenseman Sean Walker appearing likely to check in on the backend, in place of defenseman Jordan Spence and forward Zack MacEwen looking likely for Arthur Kaliyev up front. Kaliyev was on late, alongside Spence and forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan, as tonight’s likely scratched players.

FLAMES VITALS: Calgary begins a short, two-game California trip this evening, bringing points from six of its last seven games into tonight’s action.

The Flames have ridden goaltender Jakob Markstrom as of late, with the Swede being the goaltender of record in Calgary’s last 11 games. Markstrom has faced the Kings 16 times throughout his professional career, carrying with him a record of 9-3-4, with a .918 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average.

Peer Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960, here’s how the Flames lined up last time out –

Calgary has three former Kings players – Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis and Troy Stecher – expected to be in tonight’s lineup, while former Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter is behind the bench. Reports have forward Jacob Pelletier in place of Walker Duehr in the above lines. The Flames enter tonight’s action with more OT / SO defeats (15) than any other team in the NHL.

Notes –
Down In The Dot
Since January 1, the LA Kings rank fourth in the NHL in the faceoff dot at 53.5 percent. Breaking down their four primary centermen during that stretch –

Kupari – 58.9
Danault – 54.9
Kopitar – 53.8
Lizotte – 52.2

The concept of faceoffs is typically pretty simple. Win the faceoff, start with possession of the puck. Todd McLellan believes it to be one of the most underrated parts of the game for that reason. A faceoff begins every shift from a whistle and though not every shift starts that way, it’s a clear advantage for one team versus the other when it does, depending on a team’s prowess in the dot. As of late, the Kings have had that advantage, more often than not.

Perhaps a surprising name atop that list is forward Rasmus Kupari, but he’s put a lot of work into improving his own performance in the dot. That’s something that has been a process now for multiple seasons, dating back to his time in the American Hockey League. He pointed to work with Jarret Stoll of the player development team, though that time was a lot more readily available when he was with the Reign as opposed to now, with the day-to-day grind of an NHL schedule. Right now, what he’s doing is working for him and it’s been hard work paid off.

“I’ve got good flow going with the faceoffs,” he said this morning. “I’ve worked on those with Stollie quite a bit in the past and I watch videos and work on my technique a lot. Over the last couple of months, once in a while I take some time to work on my timing and on my faceoffs, have one of the coaches drop me a few pucks, [to stay sharp].”

McLellan believes that the need to improve is a balance between player and coaching staff.

He and his staff are active in telling a player about the areas they feel he could work on. With Kupari specifically, this isn’t a one-year process, but something that’s been communicated over time. The onus is then on the player to watch video, work on certain parts of the game and eventually implement them during games.

“That’s the vibe between staff and player, we have to give him direction, we have to help him, we’ve got to create situations for him but he and all our players have to be self-driven, self-starting, self-hungry to get better in those areas,” McLellan said. “Kup’s faceoff percentage has improved throughout the season, we’re pleased with that and we want it to continue as part of what makes him a player. It’s his responsibility, but it is a shared responsibility when it comes to getting better.”

It’s clear that Kupari has accepted and executed that responsibility.

He’s now at a place where he’s watching video clips and scouting his opponents on a game-by-game basis. He’ll look specifically at centers in the bottom six to analyze who he might square up against on a given night. He also added that he’s watched the other centers on the roster for small tricks and tools that can help him, integrating things that they do with his own style and technique. Kopitar and Danault are notably good on faceoffs and Lizotte has really developed into a strong faceoff option as well.

It’s all paying off and a part of why Kupari has remained in the lineup every night, as others around him have come out.

“I try to do a pre-scout before the game, who they have as a centerman I might face, maybe a third or fourth-line centerman,” he added. “I usually go against those guys, just to realize if it’s a lefty or righty against me. I’ve been watching [my teammates] a litte bit too, taking a few things from them and mixing it with my own technique and strengths. As I’ve realized that I’m doing well, it gives me some confidence to keep that going and do whatever I do on faceoffs with the same technique.”

Flame On
Has to be desperation time for the Calgary Flames, who enter tonight’s action on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, but with a clear possibility of qualifying.

Being four points behind the second wild card position, however, makes every game extremely important for them. The Kings are operating as if that will be the case, with a team battling for its playoff fate.

“I’m sure that ‘must win’ is a line that’s being used around the league right now,” McLellan said this morning. “Just because of where we are in the standings, we think this is a must-win, we want to win this game. We have to be prepared for their must-win intensity.”

As McLellan indicated, it’s that time of the year, not just for the Kings but for the teams around them. The Kings are in two fights, both to qualify for the playoffs 9the magic number currently sits at 14), as well as for seeding, which comes with the possibility of anywhere between one and three rounds of potential home-ice advantage. That puts the onus across the board on a must-win mentality, even as it’s not necessarily a “backs against the wall” situation.

In tonight’s game, the Kings will face an opponent that plays the game a certain way. Calgary is a side whose puck possession metrics don’t exactly match their win/loss record. The Flames rank second in the NHL in CF%, behind only Carolina. They’re also a top-five team in scoring chances and high-danger chances allowed per game. They have not allowed much and it shows both in the numbers and through scouting the tape.

“They check. What do they give up, 27 shots a night, they’re one of the top teams in the league is suppressing shots on goal,” McLellan added. “They’ve been able to score goals, they play hard, they’re a really good hockey team.”

The Kings are expecting that tought test this evening, with a chance to move clsoer towards their own goals in the process.

Cole In One
Lastly, Inisders, briefly sharing information on defenseman Cole Krygier, who the Kings acquired via trade earlier today from the Florida Panthers, in exchange from future considerations.

Krygier, a seventh-round selection by the Panthers at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, recently completed his fifth collegiate season at Michigan State in the Big 10 Conference. Krygier netted 10 goals during his most recent season, tied for the fourth-most amongst defensemen across the NCAA. Krygier does not have a contract signed at this time, with either the NHL or AHL club, so we’ll keep an eye on his next steps in the coming days.

If you’re sitting there saying “hey I recognize that name” Cole is the son of Todd Krygier, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons, including two in Anaheim. Cole is also a twin to brother Christian, who also played five seasons at MSU. More to come on Krygier as we learn about his next steps.

That’s all for tonight, Insiders. A desperate Calgary team against a Kings team that should have that same push. 7:30 PM puck drop, see you there!

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