Another practice day, Insiders!
The Kings hit the ice this morning in El Segundo for their final practice skate before taking on the Florida Panthers tomorrow evening at Crypto.com Arena.
The Kings lineup from today is below, unchanged from what we saw yesterday –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Fiala – Danault – Moore
Laferriere – Dubois – Kaliyev
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Lewis
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence
Today’s practice had a heavy focus on special teams, as the Kings tried to best take advantage of their practice time here in November.
It’s a schedule that will not be nearly as forgiving later in the season, when the Kings will play more games with fewer days off and less of an opportunity to practice. For today, it was an opportunity to work on some things on the ice, with both special teams units getting some attention, because this is the time to do it.
“Later in the year, when we don’t have it, it’s going to be through visual meetings, that type of thing and I think being able to feel it on the ice is more important,” Todd McLellan said today. “We tried to take advantage of that – not just with special teams but our full game over the last few days – and it still comes down to transferring that into the game and being, on the power play in particular, more productive.”
With regards to the man advantage, as McLellan has noted over the last two days, the Kings know they ultimately need to be more productive in those situations.
It’s also not as if things have been tragic, or dire, right?
The Kings are 20th in the NHL at 18.6 percent. They’ve scored 11 goals at 5-on-4 this season, tied for the 11th most in the NHL. It means that they’re converting decently from a volume standpoint, as 11 goals from 14 games would translate nicely over the course of a full season (64 over 82 games, which would equal last season’s pace). The percentage, though, is lower than the standard set last season. Last season showed what this team can be on the power play and we’ve seen that the power play can be the difference in games when it’s clicking in full.
“Our power play is not a disaster, but it hasn’t created the energy that we need in the game,” McLellan said. “Jimmy Hiller looked back to last year and our numbers were, at this point, quite similar, in fact, we’ve probably created more chances this year, just have had trouble finishing in some areas.”
McLellan pointed to the game against the Flyers on Saturday, in which the Kings did not score a power-play goal, and noted a sequence with two Grade-A chances, where Adrian Kempe’s chance hit the side of the net off a rebound look. If that goes in, we’re looking at a different percentage and perhaps a change in how the game played out. Timely goals can be just as impactful as overall output. If the Kings can find ways to finish more regularly in those situations, while working on eliminating the sequences when they don’t produce anything over two minutes, it’s a step in the right direction.
Having the opportunity to work on it today, during practice, is something the Kings were happy to have.
“I think during games, you can’t try stuff as much because it’s more high risk, but during practice, you’re able to try out different looks and different things,” forward Trevor Moore said today. “We’re just staying diligent and it’s nice to get some practice time, some time to work on some stuff you can’t when you’re playing every other day.”
Looking at how the units aligned today, the Kings did, in fact, try some things out. Forwards Quinton Byfield and Pierre-Luc Dubois changed spots between units – Byfield skated alongside his 5-on-5 linemates, Kempe and Anze Kopitar, while Dubois joined his own 5-on-5 linemate in Arthur Kaliyev.
Like we saw the other day with forward line changes, it’s not a drastic alteration, but rather a small, calculated one with hopes of getting more production from the power play as a whole. The unit that Byfield is joining has generally moved the puck quite well, but that possession has not translated, thus far, into the production that the group expects from itself.
McLellan pointed to Byfield’s level of “tenacity” as a driving force behind moving him to that unit, with the player’s willingness and ability to win pucks back being a big reason as to why he was placed there.
“Having played with Kempe and Kopitar, entering into the frame fresh with them, when the play starts, will help as well,” McLellan said. “But he’s got that tenacity to him and an energy to him right now in hunting pucks down, perhaps that’s what that group of players needs.”
Not to mention, as McLellan noted, the fact that it keeps him on the same rotation as Kopitar and Kempe, as opposed to having them take shifts at different times, which can make it harder to keep everyone fresh.
In Kempe’s eyes, there are some benefits to the consistency of playing with your regular linemates on the power play, especially when it’s someone who he clicks with as well as he has with Byfield.
“We’ve been starting to figure out the way Q plays more and more, playing with him [at the end of] last year and the first 14 games this year, so I think it helps,” Kempe said. “Not just in terms of stuff on the power play, but just in getting the lines in order after a power play too, it can help. It’s nice having him out there. We know him the best, me and Kopi, so I think it’ll be good, he’s working really hard, he gets a lot of pucks back and I think we’ve need some type of change, the power play hasn’t been where we’ve wanted it to be.”
For Byfield himself, he’s trying to bring the same game, despite being with different players.
As McLellan said, Byfield is doing certain things that suggested this could be a beneficial change. It’s not necessarily a swapping of pieces that is permanent, but it’s what we saw today and it’s something that the Kings believe can help the collective. For Byfield’s part, he’s going out with the same intentions, just alongside different, yet equally comfortable, players.
“I think it’s just trying to bring the same energy, trying to retrieve all the pucks and get it to the guys on the wall,” he said. “There’s skilled guys on the walls who can make plays, so I just want to get in the goalie’s eyes, Drew has been shooting a lot from the top and has a great shot, so if I can get in the eyes for him and just let him and Juice tee off, hopefully good things will happen.”
With Moore’s unit, the change adds in Dubois, who brings size, physicality and an ability to make plays in tight. That unit already has Moore, who excels at retrieving pucks, with Phillip Danault also bringing that trait in his game. Dubois lined up in the bumper role, which seems to suit his abilities. Perhaps a bit of a shakeup can work for the collective of the group, with Moore noting that it does change some things for his group.
“It’s more of working on the unit, but it definitely changes things, where we’re going to be at, different reads about where guys are going to be,” he added. “We’re with PL, we were today anyways, and it’s a different skillset and that kind of stuff.”
As the Kings approach three games coming up over the weekend and into early next week, the power play remains a big focal point. With minor changes to the alignment, minor changes to the personnel, and an aggressive focus towards improvement, they’re hoping to get things humming again in short order. For a team that has not had a ton of negatives here in the early goings of the season, the power play is one aspect of the game that remains a work in progress. The Kings will continue to work at it until they get it right. If Jim Hiller’s calculations are correct, and I’ll tend to believe a man who has had the success working with power plays around the NHL at the success rate that Hiller has, then things are trending fine. If the Kings can turn that into production, then it’s just one less thing to worry about as we press on into November.
Game Preview to follow tomorrow! A look at how Pierre-Luc Dubois is handling the transition to the Kings to start the season in tomorrow’s story, plus a feature story on Carl Grundstrom on deck for this weekend!