Practice Day, Insiders!
The second of three days in between games for the Kings and the first day back on the ice after a much-needed day off yesterday. Todd McLellan detailed his plan for the three days, which began with yesterday’s time away from the rink that was needed both from a mental and a physical standpoint.
“A complete day off which our group needs right now, mentally and physically,” McLellan said yesterday. “We’ll break the game down today from [Game 5], look at some of the things we did well and obviously there’s things we have to do better and we’ll address some of those [in practice]. We’ll get a little bit of pace on Friday, and we’ll find out what time we’re playing on Saturday.”
Saturday’s start time is the next piece of information to come and we’ll likely get that this evening, after the conclusion of the Toronto / Tampa Bay and Vegas / Winnipeg matchups. Both of those series are standing at 3-1, in favor of the first-listed team. Seeing both series wrap up would mean just one other game on Saturday, while seeing one or both of those series extend to six games would see a much more congested schedule.
In what will be referenced below, here’s how the Kings finished Game 5 –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Byfield – Vilardi
Grundstrom – Kupari – Anderson-Dolan
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Durzi – Walker
With regards to today, full group on the ice for the Kings.
Forward Blake Lizotte has missed Games 3, 4 and 5 with a lower-body injury, while it was reported that Arthur Kaliyev did not travel to Edmonton for Game 5 due to illness, first by Dennis Bernstein of The Fourth Period. Both players were on the ice today, with both players in full-contact jerseys. A good sign for his potential availability for Game 6 on Saturday, though we’ll see how things shake out. More on Lizotte below.
McLellan Talks Changes
During Game 5 in Edmonton, the Kings made adjustments to the lineup both coming into the game and during the game.
They made a lineup change on the backend with defenseman Sean Walker replacing defenseman Alex Edler, as Walker made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut. Todd McLellan spoke about the skating ability that Walker possesses as a reason behind getting him into the lineup and felt that he used that skating ability to his advantage. As Walker discussed after Game 5, the pace and intensity at this time of the year is enhanced. McLellan felt that Walker used his legs well to match that rise and was happy with what he brought as a whole.
“Absolutely, he went in for his legs and he used his legs,” McLellan said of Walker. “It’s interesting because he was injured last year and that’s his first NHL playoff game, not an easy task to do, to come in at Game 5, but he did a really good job. “With his game, his play, what he brought to the team, his legs were his asset and he used them every opportunity he could.”
In 15:31 played at 5-on-5, Walker was on the ice for 14 shot attempts for versus six against. He was on the ice for a goal against but was not at fault on a blown defensive-zone coverage. Walker was typically playing behind the third line, which consisted of Gabe Vilardi and Kevin Fiala, along with a rotating cast of characters. The third line and pair will be important in establishing the Kings depth again in Game 6, with Walker hoping to be an even bigger factor should he continue in the lineup.
Up front, the Kings shuffled things around midway through the first period. For the first time in this series, the Kings adjusted their top six, with forward Alex Iafallo moving up to the top line alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. The move came after a goal against, on an exchange between Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. While the move wasn’t necessarily an adjustment to what Edmonton did, the Oilers started playing those two players together in Game 4, with Kopitar’s line drawing the assignment.
Draisaitl and McDavid played 1:39 together at 5-on-5 in Games 1-3. That total ballooned to 29:55 in Games 4 and 5. Enter in Iafallo, who is a responsible and trusting player in McLellan’s eyes. The results were immediate, as Iafallo scored LA’s first goal and that line did not concede the rest of the night, despite a heavy dosage of Edmonton’s big unit. As he has been throughout the series, McLellan was complementary of Iafallo’s game.
“He’s responsible,” McLellan said. “We do we talk about him being trusting and that type of stuff, but he’s provided offense in this series, which has been hard for us to come by. He’s got the ability to play on both sides of puck, which is nice.”
The corresponding move saw Quinton Byfield move into the bottom six. He took shifts both at center and on the wing and he wound up scoring his first career playoff goal in the third period, off a nice pass from Gabe Vilardi. It was a consolation goal in a 6-3 defeat, but still an accomplishment to bury your first in that situation. He was also on the ice for the second and third goals against in a wild first period. Mixed bag in that regard, but important not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
“He’s played very well in these playoffs,” McLellan said of Byfield. “He had a tough first period in Edmonton the other day, but there were a lot of other white jerseys that had a tough first period in Edmonton the other day. The lifeline’s really long there because I see him improving in a lot of areas. When I compare him to April 27 this year to April 27 last year, there’s massive improvements in strength, tenacity and physicality. He’s learned a new position, he still has his old position, he’s created an immense amount of ATM points.”
Today’s practice saw a version of these changes remain intact, though it wasn’t a day that saw a ton of line work during the skate. With Blake Lizotte hopefully working towards full health, his availability will naturally factor into these decisions. A good problem to have and we’ll see how the next 48 hours play out.
Baby How You Feeling?
A welcomed return to a white jersey for forward Blake Lizotte, who rejoined the full group during today’s practice. Lizotte hasn’t been in a regular jersey since Game 2 and he’s missed the three games since with a lower-body injury. Lizotte’s importance to this group is a big one. A hardworking and honest effort every time he’s on the ice, Lizotte brings energy and intensity to the group whenever he’s in the lineup.
After Game 4, Todd McLellan spoke about the importance that Lizotte has to the group, highlighting his penalty-killing prowess, his ability to win faceoffs and his tenacity.
“Blake Lizotte means a lot to our team,” he said. “He is a sparkplug, he’s the Energizer Bunny, if you want to call him that and he often drags everybody into the game. I don’t think we needed that dragging into [Game 4], I don’t think we needed that from him, but he’s a real good penalty killer, he’s pretty good in the faceoff circle, he’s tenacious. One of his strengths we didn’t need, we already had the group in there, but we missed all of his other attributes on the ice.”
McLellan did not confirm that Lizotte will return to the lineup in Game 6, but noted there is a “real good chance” that Lizotte would be an option. Seeing him in a white jersey today at the very least labels him as a potential option should everything progress in the correct direction.
Speaking with Lizotte today, he was naturally disappointed to have missed out on Games 3 – 5. It’s the most exciting time of the year for hockey players and they want to be in the lineup each and every night, especially when he’s battled with the group all season long. That part was challenging for Lizotte. Watching a Game 3 win made it a little bit easier, but it was even tougher the last two when the Kings were defeated. Should he be called upon, he’s excited and ready to go in Game 6.
“In the playoffs, everyone really wants to play, you work all year for it, so yeah, it was pretty tough at home or even down at [Crypto.com Arena], just to watch,” Lizotte said.”Especially the games you lose it hurts a little worse than when you win, it’s great when your teammates pick you up. I’m definitely excited to be available for next game.”
Should he be able to go, and be selected, Lizotte will be hopeful to use his talents to impact the game.
Those traits include intensity and an aggressive mindset and doing those things right off the opening faceoff. It’s a key in his mind not just in Game 6, not just in the Kings / Oilers series, but across the NHL at this time of the year. Should he be fortunate enough to play on Saturday, that’s what he’s hopeful to see his team do right off the bat.
“Playoffs, not just this series but every series, you have to swing back,” Lizotte added. Most teams that swing first end up winning the game, so I think for us to come out and have a good start is important and they’re preaching the same thing. I think it’s a great series and I think both teams are going to be aggressive going forward.”
Lastly, Insiders, today began the skates for the team’s Black Aces.
Defenseman Tobias Bjornfot and Cal Petersen were recalled separately from this group and have practiced with both the main group and this group. Now, a larger group of players from the Ontario Reign and the CHL ranks were recalled earlier today and joined the practice towards the end.
This group consists of defensemen Jacob Moverare and Jordan Spence, as well as forwards Lias Andersson, Samuel Helenius, Andre Lee and Francesco Pinelli. Goaltender Erik Portillo, who was signed to an entry-level contract earlier in the seires, is a part of this group as well.
“It’s only as good as they make it and if they’re willing, that whole group out there is willing to take advantage of their time to get better, than it’s a great opportunity,” McLellan said this morning. “If they’re waiting to go home, that’s a waste of time. Each one of them can answer the question, with how they approach it.”
For younger players, the hope is to use the extra ice time to improve. For the veterans included, it’s more so about staying sharp should they potentially be needed in this series. It’s not a major storyline at this time, as the Kings are – knock on wood – close to having everyone available to play. Should they be called upon though, the hope is that they will be ready.
Lots to follow here over the next two days, Insiders. Feature stories in the works on the unique nature of this three-day break, with the Kings hoping to use it to their advantage, as well as Adrian Kempe’s level of play over the course of this series, which has been at the highest of levels. Thanks, as always, for following along!