WHO: Los Angeles Kings (2-1) vs. Edmonton Oilers (1-2)
WHAT: ROUND 1, GAME 4 – PACIFIC DIVISION SEMIFINALS
WHEN: Sunday, April 23 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West (Local) / TBS (National) – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings have a 2-1 series lead as they look for another victory on home ice in tonight’s Game 4.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Carl Grundstrom had two goals and three points when these teams met in Los Angeles for Game 4 a season ago, while forward Trevor Moore had a goal and an assist. With a goal in Friday’s Game 3, forward Adrian Kempe moved into a tie for sixth in franchise history in all-time playoff points versus Edmonton.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings held an optional morning skate today, though it felt like a well-attended optional morning skate.
Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was the first netminder off this morning for the Kings, once again making him tonight’s projected starter in Game 4. Korpisalo has posted a 2-1-0 record so far in this series, with a .931 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against average. Korpisalo is one of two goaltenders with 100+ saves so far in the postseason and leads the NHL with 4.76 high-danger goals saved above average.
No formal line rushes this morning, so Game 3’s lineup is embedded for reference –
Tonight's @LAKigs Line Rushes For Game 3 –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Grundstrom – Vilardi – Iafallo
Anderson-Dolan – Kupari – MacEwen
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Edler – Durzi
— Zach Dooley (@DooleyLAK) April 22, 2023
To quote Todd McLellan – “I don’t know what our lineup is going to be yet.”
Kevin Fiala skated with the full group again this morning, again in a non-contact red jersey.
“I’ve got to see what the training staff says, after the morning skate, but he’s getting closer to playing,” McLellan said when asked about Fiala’s status for tonight.
Blake Lizotte took the ice after morning skate in a non-contact red jersey, though he came out after the skate had largely wrapped up. He will not play tonight. Should the Kings opt for any additional changes, forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Laferriere are options to check in, along with defenseman Sean Walker. More to follow when warmups begin.
OILERS VITALS: The Oilers scored two power-play goals in Game 3 and they lead the NHL in power-play percentage (50%) during the playoffs to date. Additionally, no team has more shots on goal (39 per game) than Edmonton so far in the postseason.
Goaltender Stuart Skinner will get the nod once again for the visitors this evening in Los Angeles. Skinner brings a record of 1-2 into tonight’s action, with a .900 save percentage and a 2.80 goals-against average. Skinner’s .929 even-strength save percentage ranks fourth in the playoffs among goaltenders with three games played.
From Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic, here’s how the Oilers lined up during morning skate at Crypto.com Arena –
Oilers lines and pairings pre Game 4 at LAK:
*Kane not on the ice but no placeholder on the line.
— Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBsports) April 23, 2023
Edmonton forward Evander Kane was not on the ice for morning skate, with Edmonton Head Coach Jay Woodcroft citing maintenance. With 17 points from 10 games played, only Wayne Gretzky has a higher points-per-game pace in the postseason against the Kings than Connor McDavid. McDavid scored his first two goals of the series in Game 3.
It’s time to raise the level.
The Kings were happy with their performance in Game 3, noting that they saw a rise right off the opening puck drop, as compared to the performances in Games 1 and 2. It was a well-deserved victory for the Kings, who took a 2-1 series advantage in the process, but we still haven’t seen the best version of this group over the course of 60 minutes. There’s still more to give.
In his availability yesterday, Todd McLellan indicated that he doesn’t think there’s any value in shying away from that thought process. He wants the group to recognize that and acknowledge it. Not sure if it even needed to be said, frankly. The message was reciprocated from forward Phillip Danault and defenseman Sean Durzi when speaking this morning, as it was from forward Trevor Moore who spoke yesterday afternoon.
For sure we know we’ve got another level, we’ve shown that level during the year and we know as a team that we’ve got more for sure. Definitely, it was better last game, we started right off the bat, but we definitely have another level.
Durzi – Yeah, I mean, we know what we’ve got and we know how we can play and I think that’s just executing and kind of bringing it. That’s important to say, that we have another level and I think guys in here believe that. It’s going to ramp up every game and we know that, we’ve got to bring it.
Moore- I think we have another level to get to. I think we played well last game but we can still be better, just in all areas. Competing, paying attention to detail and making sure we’re staying out of the box, that’s an important things. Just bring it up another level, it’s only going to get more competitive.
McLellan seemed pleased to hear those things and he believes that having that level of both self reflection and self evaluation are positive traits for this group.
“I think when your team has the ability to self-evaluate, and honestly do that, it’s a lot stronger than us going in and trying to convince them,” McLellan said. “We’re all on the same page, we know we have to be better in a lot of facets of the game and we think the tools are in that room, that we’ve done it before, so that we have a chance to take it up a level. Good recognition by the group that there are areas we have to be better in.”
It’s one thing to say it and another to go out there and do it. The evaluation side, however, is a positive for this team as it looks for its best 60 minutes of the series in tonight’s Game 4.
Spekaing about raising the level, how about the play of forward Alex Iafallo?
Iafallo has been referred to in a lot of different ways by McLellan. He once called him the team’s “deodorant” for how well he covers up some of those smellier moments. He reiterated that point when speaking about the messes he helps to clean up, all while filling whatever role is asked of him. He’s played on the first line and he’s played on the fourth line. He’s typically Anze Kopitar’s partner on the penalty kill and he’s the puck retriever on the power play, as well as the low option in front of the goaltender.
He’s able to do it all, in all three zones. Oh, and did I mention his two goals from three games so far in this series? Not a bad start.
“Alex is kind of our unsung hero,” McLellan said. “Trent Yawney always says he cleans up a lot of messes, errors, mistakes, he seems to be the clean-up guy for his teammates. On the other side, he has the ability to score. He can go up and down the lineup, he penalty kills, he blocks shots. He’s a utility guy that is often forgotten [externally], but he certainly isn’t forgotten in our locker room.”
The way that Iafallo’s goals and playoff campaign have gone to date have been almost the perfect picture of who he is as a player. First things first, he’s skated on a different line in each of the three games. He was with Blake Lizotte and Arthur Kaliyev in Game 1, Lizotte and Gabe Vilardi in Game 2 and Vilardi and Carl Grundstrom in Game 3. He’s played at last six minutes with five different players and his four most regular linemates have a higher expected goals-for percentage with him than without him.
While the sample size is obviously very small, Iafallo is one of two forwards on the Kings over 50 percent in terms of expected goals for. He also has the lowest expected goals against total among forwards who have played in all three games.
“He’s a very trusting player on both sides of the puck,” McLellan added. “He’s got a skillset that allows him to play anywhere in the lineup, he’s got some experience, he’s not a young player. He brings that every night, he doesn’t waiver a lot, he’s just steady.”
That consistency and trusting nature rubs off on his teammates as well.
McLellan always says that if you poll the players in the locker room about who they’d most like to play with, number 19 would be one of the most popular answers. Iafallo can slot onto just about any line, in any situation, and find a way to contribute. It’s part of what makes him an effective player for this team. Speaking with Vilardi, a regular linemate, he believes Iafallo excels in just about every aspect of the game.
“He’s just good at everything,” Vilardi said. “He’s very consistent, he’s efficient, you know what you’re going to get out of him and he works hard. He’s got underrated hands and he’s just really good at everything. He’s a solid player.”
The Kings will continue to rely on those things from Iafallo, with the importance of depth only growing as this series progresses. Having that stability in the bottom six is essential, and will continue to be so moving forward.
Lastly, Insiders, sharing this morning’s audio game preview as Jim Fox and I joined Jesse Cohen on All The Kings Men for a look at Game 4.
Wouldn’t share just any episode, but this was one of my favorite conversations of the season and I always enjoy the different perspective that Jim brings to these types of episodes. One of the best at what he does and he is able to translate his high-level understanding of the game to speak to just about any level of fan. A trait not many can do at that level. A really good chat, if I can self promote a bit, and hope you’ll give it a listen in advance of tonight’s game.
6 PM tonight, for those attending, so be sure to arrive early. Game 4 is a big one, Insiders! See you there.