10/19 Preview – Talbot In Net + Starting Games Quicker, Minnesota Men, Kopitar Milestones

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (1-1-1) @ Minnesota Wild (2-1-0)
WHEN: Thursday, October 19 @ 5:00 PM Pacific (Coverage Starts at 4:30 PM)
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center – St. Paul, Minnesota
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings conclude an early, two-game roadtrip this evening as they visit the Minnesota Wild for the first time this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings posted a 2-1-0 record against the Wild last season, with each team winning once ate Xcel Energy Center. Forward Anze Kopitar led the Kings with five points (1-4-5) in three games against Minnesota last season, while linemate Adrian Kempe had two goals and two assists.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings appear set to run with a consistent lineup from Tuesday in Winnipeg into tonight’s game, at least amongst the skaters. Tuesday’s lineup is shown for reference –

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Kaliyev
Fiala – Dubois – Laferriere
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Lewis

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence


Goaltender Cam Talbot was off the ice first this morning after morning skate, with Todd McLellan confirming that he will be the starting goaltender this evening against his former team. Throughout his NHL career, Talbot has posted a record of 7-7-1 versus Minnesota, with a .929 save percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average.

Should the visitors opt for any changes to that group, forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan and defenseman Tobias Bjornfot are both healthy and available to check in. McLellan noted, however, that the Kings are expecting to use the same six defensemen as Tuesday, though Trent Yawney has the flexibility to change pairings around should he choose to, based on the feel of the game.

“Same 6 D, we’ll see how then the night rolls on,” McLellan said. “We start with lines, we start with a back end and then Yawns gets a feel for what’s going on back there and he has the freedom to make adjustments as he feels we need. He’ll do that again if we need to.”

We saw some of those adjustments on Tuesday against Winnipeg, with Vladislav Gavrikov and Matt Roy splitting up at times during the third period. Gavrikov partnered Jordan Spence and Roy paired with Andreas Englund at times, with Yawney having the ability to move players around as needed.

WILD VITALS: Minnesota sits tied for second in the Central Division in the early goings of the season, with four points from their first three games played.

Per Jessi Pierce of NHL.com, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start tonight for the Wild. Fleury brings with him an all-time record of 12-9-4 against the Kings, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average.

Per Michael Russo of The Athletic, here’s how the Wild aligned on Tuesday, with a couple of changes expected for tonight –

Expect to see 12 forwards for Minnesota, with forward Sammy Walker filling the spot alongside Eriksson-Ek and Johansson.

Wild defenseman Brock Faber is expected to play tonight against the Kings, who drafted Faber in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft. Minnesota had three skaters at a point-per-game versus the Kings last season, led by forward Ryan Hartman, who had two goals and an assist. The Wild are expected to be without defenseman Alex Goligoski, who was placed on LTIR, as well as forward Matt Boldy (upper-body injury) and defenseman Jared Spurgeon (upper-body injury).

Notes –
Starting On Time
Todd McLellan doesn’t believe that the Kings are a slow-starting team, even if they’ve been that through the first three games of the season.

“I know that three games is not enough, because I don’t think we’re a slow-starting team, I don’t think we’ve been that in a long, long time, but we’ve shown that this year,” he said this morning. “We’ve got to play our way out of it.”

He’s right. The Kings have been a slow-starting team through three games, but that was not a narrative last year. Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg was the most pressing example of it, but in McLellan’s eyes, it’s been a lot more than just the one game, which he was clear to emphasize this morning.

“It’s not just Tuesday’s game, it was the games prior,” McLellan said. “Overall, when we are a direct team, when we’re playing simple, our playmaking game comes later, we can’t do it the opposite way, we can’t start with playmaking and cute and then get to the grind, we have to grind and the rest will come, so we’ll look for that.”

McLellan pointed to faceoffs as an area that he always sees as an opportunity for players to compete early in a game.

On Tuesday, the Kings drew a penalty on their first shift, leading to an early power play, and McLellan didn’t feel like the group was ready to go for that. He believes they will be if that situation comes again tonight, but it’s about more than just a special-teams situation.

For the players, center Blake Lizotte was inclined to agree regarding faceoffs being an opportunity to engage early. Lizotte likes to have a physical battle, right off the bat, to get himself engaged in a game.

“I think most importantly, right off the bat, it’s just getting a physical battle for me,” Lizotte said. “Thankfully, being a center, it’s probably easier than for the wingers because you’re going to face off almost right away in the game, you’re already in a battle. I think that helps, just getting in a battle, playing the body.”

Despite not being a center, forward Alex Laferriere was inclined to agree.

While faceoffs naturally focus more on the centers than the wingers, being engaged physically, early on, is key for the wingers as well. Laferriere used similar words to describe how he can get involved early in games.

“I think just getting into the game right away, maybe it’s throwing a hit or shooting a puck, something like that. I think any sort of physicality gets you right into the game mode and I think we’ve got to get to that faster.”

The Kings know it’s on them to be ready to go right off the bat. If history is an indication, they’ll sort it out before it becomes a trend for this season’s group.

Minnesota Men
Certain trips for NHL teams come with more homecomings than others. Outside of going North to Ontario to play Toronto and Ottawa, there are few trips with more homecomings than Minnesota.

“I think you’re seeing more and more players from Minnesota enter the National Hockey League and we have a number of them,” McLellan said. “They all like coming back here, seeing their families and playing in front of them.”

A pair of Minnesota natives – Mikey Anderson and Blake Lizotte – are expected to play tonight in their home state. Additionally, forward Kevin Fiala and goaltender Cam Talbot will play in an arena they used to call home, as both players were teammates in Minnesota as recently as the 2021-22 season. A homecoming that is always special, even when it’s not the first time back.

“I think it’s always fun when you come back here,” Lizotte said this morning. “Growing up as a kid, coming to the Wild games, it’s always a dream of mine to play in NHL and to play in this building. That feeling hasn’t really gone away, I think it’s maybe tamed down a bit, but I think any Minnesotan that comes back and plays here is excited.”

This is not unique to the Kings, because as McLellan said, there is a large number of Minnesota natives who have reached and now play in the NHL. But the cheering section, if you will, for the Kings might be a bit larger than it was in say Winnipeg on Tuesday, simply due to the homecomings of players like Lizotte and Anderson.

“I say it every year, but the town I come from is so supportive, they follow me and cheer me on,” Lizotte added. “I think most of the town will find their way down here.”

For Anderson, it’s a similar kind of story.

He played at the Xcel Energy Center several times as an amateur player, skating in between periods as a kid, playing in the Minnesota High School state tournament and playing in the conference tournament with Minnesota Duluth at the collegiate level.

Growing up, Anderson was the younger Wild fan, watching young defenseman like Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin cut their teeth in the league.

Now, he’s that player himself, who has gone through things himself. A true full-circle moment.

“Spurgeon and Brodin were the young guys here when I was growing up, when I was starting to watch hockey and it’s fun to play against them and now you realize you’re in that situation. It’s super cool.”

Like Lizotte, Anderson will have a large support section tonight, with friends and family alike coming out to support number 44. A special day, always.

“It’s cool coming back to Minnesota, because you know you have a lot of friends and people there,” Anderson added. “You’re getting all the texts the day before, so you know you’ll have a lot of people there [supporting you]. A lot of good friends who I grew up playing hockey with and it’s cool to be able to live it all with them and have them be a part of it with us.”

A night to look forward to, as always, for the Minnesota Men.

Lastly, Insiders, just a quick look ahead to what’s coming over the next couple of days for forward Anze Kopitar.

Tonight, Kopitar is set to play in his 1,296th regular-season game, which ties Dustin Brown for the most games played in franchise history. Tonight will also mark the captain’s 647th career road game, which will surpass Brown (646) for the most road games played all-time.

Another milestone coming here this week, in Hall of Fame worthy career full of milestones. He picked up his 750th career assist in Winnipeg and has a few more milestones on the horizon in terms of goals scored and games played. We’ll have a lot more on Kopitar here in the coming days, and throughout the season, as his name moves atop yet another Kings list.

5 PM puck drop here in Minnesota – Pacific time – as the Kings look to keep it rolling off of Tuesday’s victory.

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