Practice 4/16 – Vilardi Joins Full Group + G1 Goalie Thoughts, Best Defending Best, LAKI Bracket Challenge

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd we’re off!

The Kings hit the ice this morning in El Segundo in a shorter skate than yesterday, before the team departed for Edmonton here this afternoon. As to be expected.

One change this morning to the alignment we saw yesterday as forward Gabe Vilardi re-joined the group in a non-contact, red jersey. Vilardi has skated on his own over the last few days and today’s practice was his first back with the group. No timeline for Vilardi as far as playing, but without a doubt a good sign for the group. Regarding Kevin Fiala, he did not skate with the group today.

Expect questions asked regarding a status update on those individuals during each availability, though the questions will likely not be met with firm answers. Each article moving forward will contain the updates until the players are back in the lineup. When that time comes and they’re ready to go, both players will be plugged in. Until that time, the Kings will proceed with the players they have and there’s confidence in that group, with or without 13 and 22, as it pertains to getting results in Edmonton.

For reference, here’s how the team aligned this morning during practice –

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Grundstrom – Kupari – Anderson-Dolan / MacEwen
Laferriere – Vilardi (red)

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Durzi – Walker

Copley / Korpisalo

The next time the Kings hit the ice will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton, tomorrow morning, in advance of Game 1. Hope to have a better sense of the process at that time, with a couple of decisions to be made.

Notes –
Talking Goaltending
“It will be one of Copley or Korpisalo”

For those who had Felix Potvin between the pipes for Game 1, I express my condolences.

‘Tis the time of the year for being tight-lipped, as neither side of a playoff matchup is interested in giving the opposition a piece of information that could benefit them. Last year, there wasn’t really a question that needed to be asked, as Jonathan Quick’s play over the last two weeks of the regular season cemented him as the Game 1 starter. The Kings have employed a successful tandem here in 2022-23, with Pheonix Copley and Joonas Korpisalo largely trading off starts following the trade deadline.

Since March 3 –

Joonas Korpisalo – 11 GP, 7-3-1, .921 SV%, 2.13 GAA
Pheonix Copley – 9 GP, 5-2-1, .916 SV%, 2.19 GAA

Not much to separate those two goaltenders, is there?

“They each have their own story they’re writing. I’d like to think that they’re not done writing it,” Todd McLellan said of his netminders.

Not disclosing a Game 1 goaltender doesn’t mean that the Kings haven’t discussed the plan, or that they don’t have one. They do. They’re just not all that intent to disclose it. Internally, they have a good idea of who gets the nod tomorrow evening in Edmonton.

“We have a really good idea of what we’d like to do and when Game 1 rolls around, we’ll have that guy in there and ready to go,” McLellan said. “The other guy, whoever it might be, will be anxious to play. He knows that we believe in that individual, because we’ve used these guys down the stretch and they’ve both played really well. If there’s one area of comfort going into the playoffs, it’s that we’ve got two guys who are ready to play.”

Korpisalo received both starts last week – wins over Vancouver and Anaheim – which is perhaps one sign that could point to him as the Game 1 starter. His experience would be another, with playoff games under his belt at the NHL level, dating back to the NHL’s COVID Bubble in 2020. Korpisalo won a preliminary-round series over Toronto and set an NHL record with 85 saves in a game during the first round proper against Tampa Bay.

Not only having experience, but experience playing against elite-level competition in the postseason, is a plus for Korpisalo.

“It certainly helps him and it helps our team as a whole,” McLellan said of Korpisalo. “He’s been in that environment where the opponent had an outstanding season, the opponent had MVP-caliber players playing against them, the opponent had a high-end power play. He was able to play in that environment against that type of a group of players.”

That’s not to say that McLellan and his staff have forgotten about the man who helped to stabilize the season.

Pheonix Copley was voted as the team’s Most Inspirational Player by this teammates, showing what he means to the group as a whole. He was also nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy, showcasing his perseverance to assume the net at an imperative time for the Kings, as they struggled to establish consistency, which Copley helped the group to do.

Copley has playoff experience in the minor leagues, but doesn’t have any in the NHL. What he does have is the greatest familiarity with the group and he’s played and won against Edmonton before. Copley has been counted out before and we’ve seen him rise and overcome. Wouldn’t bet against that again.

“When Copley got the opportunity, it was ‘okay, let’s see what he could do,’ we didn’t know a lot about him,” McLellan said. “He just played, then he played again, he played again, he practiced and he played again. It was just seamless, he just fit in and away he went, he just kept winning.”

McLellan has referenced in the past the 2008 Detroit team he was a part of as an assistant coach. He’s now referenced it multiple times. In that series, the Red Wings began Round 1 with veteran Dominik Hasek but switched goaltenders midway through Game 4. Fellow veteran Chris Osgood then won Games 5 and 6 and the team went on to win the Stanley Cup, with Osgood in net, allowing three or fewer goals in regulation every game the rest of the way.

The moral of the story is that what happens in Game 1 is not a certainty for Game 2 and beyond. One game at a time and we go from there.

“We have a pretty good idea of who it’s going to be [for Game 1], but the luxury we have is the other guy and the ability to make change if needed, to alternate if we select that route,” McLellan added. “Both goaltenders played very well for us.”

Defending The Best
It’s one thing to have players who are capable of defending against the best players in the NHL. It’s another to have those players embrace the assignment.

That’s what the Kings have in their top defensive pairing of Drew Doughty and Mikey Anderson. Against a team like Edmonton, it’s not enough to just have one duo, and the Kings believe they also have it in a second pairing of Vladislav Gavrikov and Matt Roy. It starts at the top though and the Kings have that in their DNA on the backend.

“When you play over 20 minutes a night as a pair, you’ve got to accept that responsibility,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “If you accept that head on and know that’s part of your job, it’s in your DNA as a pair, you have a better chance at success. They’re not perfect, nobody is, but we feel comfortable when they’re on the ice. We also feel we have a secondary pair that can be put into play there as well, with the same responsibilities and the same expectations that are put on Mikey and Drew.”

Looking specifically at Anderson and Doughty, both are more than capable defenders.

Just one pairing around the league has logged more minutes together this season than Anderson and Doughty. Among pairings with at least 500 minutes together at 5-on-5, the pairing ranks second in the NHL in terms of shots on goal allowed per/60, despite the level of competition they face on a nightly basis. They’re also a Top 10 pairing in shot attempts and scoring chances against, per/60. As stout defensively as they come in the NHL.

When it comes to a matchup like this one, both players not only accept the challenge, but embrace it. Anderson and Doughty get fired up for playing against competition and they’ll face the best of the best in Round 1.

Anderson – Drew always says it, we take a lot of pride in defending and these are the matchups you’d like to have. You want to play against the best, you want to show that you’re up to the task of trying to handle it. Obviously it’s never always easy but I mean it’s what you play the game for, you want to be in those moments, you want to have those matchups, those battles. I know he’s excited from not being able to be a part of it last year so it’s nice to have him back and add a little more energy.

Doughty – Me and Mikey work so well together, we’re both very good defensively. We both get up for the challenge, we’re not scared of the challenge, we’re excited for the opportunity……I love playing against them. It’s super difficult, but you’ve got to be on your toes at all moments. I’m starting to learn [McDavid’s] game a little more by watching him and playing against him and I’m sure he’s learning me too, so it’s going to be an absolute battle out there. If we do our jobs the way we know we can, I think we’ll have a big factor into whether or not we can win this series.

A big storyline to watch for and having everyone slotted into a familiar home in the lineup is something the Kings did not have at their disposal a season ago.

LAKI Bracket Challenge
Lastly, Insdiers, sharing the communal bracket challenge, put together by our own Brian Sezgin.

Bragging rights for the next 12 months are on the line, join the pool HERE.

The password, if prompted, is SECTION334. Surprised it isn’t cornfield, to be honest! Either way, join in and enjoy.

Off to Edmonton! Kings will skate at Rogers Place tomorrow morning in their final practice setting before Game 1. 8 PM Local, 7 PM Pacific and off we go!

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