11/28 Practice – Lizotte Out Tomorrow + Spence’s Growth, Dubois’ Play, Moverare to ONT

Another practice day, Insiders.

The Kings hit the ice this morning for their final tune-up heading into tomorrow’s game against Washington. Looking at the group today, here’s how they aligned throughout practice.

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Fiala – Danault – Moore
Grundstrom – Dubois – Laferriere
Anderson-Dolan – Lewis – Kaliyev

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence

Copley / Talbot

That’s the bare bones right there. 12 forwards, six defensemen, two goaltenders. All that’s needed at this point in time.

As was the case yesterday, forward Blake Lizotte skated on his own before practice, but has not yet joined the full group at this time. Regarding tomorrow’s game versus the Capitals, Lizotte’s will not play, with perhaps more of an eye at this point in time on Sunday’s tilt against the Colorado Avalanche.

Spenny For Your Thoughts
Been a pretty solid start to the season for defenseman Jordan Spence.

Spence came into this season with NHL experience, certainly, but he’d never cracked the roster to start a season. While he missed out on opening night due to salary-cap complications, Spence has played in every game since. Every game in that time he’s grown.

We all knew about Spence’s offensive gifts. Over the last two seasons, he’s been arguably the best offensive blueliner playing in the AHL, producing regularly in that league for Ontario, both at even strength and on the power play. We saw some of that production translate to Spence’s game at the NHL level as well, when he’s been up with the Kings. His puck-moving abilities have always shined through, even when the production hasn’t.

Now, he’s taken the next step, because what we didn’t know enough about was Spence’s ability to defend, night in and night out, against NHL-caliber forwards. Todd McLellan believes he’s taken that stride forward at the defensive end of the ice.

“With the d-zone stuff and around the net, he’s improved in that area,” Todd McLellan said of Spence. “We gave up a 2-on-1 in the third period and he swept the crease out really well, situations like that, I just think he’s stronger and more committed to defending. The other part of the game has always been there and once he does that really well, he gets more confident to be able to play the full game.”

By Spence’s own admission, he was more of an offensive player when he came into the professional ranks.

Spence won the Raymond Lagacé Trophy in 2019, awarded to the QMJHL’s best rookie defenseman. A year later in 2020, he won the Emile Bouchard Trophy, awarded to the league’s defenseman of the year. In both seasons, he produced heavily at the offensive end of the ice. Sometimes in juniors though, you don’t have to hone the defensive skills quite as much as what’s needed at higher levels, simply because of the gulf in competition between younger players and the top players in the league, such as Spence.

As he’s become more and more established a professional, Spence has honed in on that part of his game.

“I think I was more of an offensive player, an offensive defenseman coming into pro and being in the AHL for a couple of years, I think I’ve learned a lot from the coaches that I had, and the development coaches,” he said. “For me, we’re doing well, and I just want to be reliable guy on the ice. Just working on that during practice and trying to become a better player in general, but also be a threat on the ice in the offensive zone.”

Now, the NHL is no development league, but that doesn’t mean that players aren’t improving and developing the more they play at that level.

That certainly rings true for Spence, who we’ve seen tons of improvement of, even from his season debut back in October until now. Certainly from the talented yet raw player we saw break into the NHL back in 2022. Among NHL defensemen with at least 200 minutes this season at 5-on-5, only four have more assists per/60 than Spence does. Those four defensemen? Cale Makar, Zach Werenski, Victor Hedman and Filip Hronek. Not exactly a rag-tag squad. Spence is feeling good and working to improve each time out.

“I feel good,” he added. “I think the first couple of games, I still had to adjust to the speed and kind of get back to hockey in general, but I think every game I’ve been getting more and more comfortable. I’m getting more confident with the puck, I’m getting more confident without the puck and being in the defensive zone. I think, 20 games in, I feel pretty good. Obviously there’s some things to improve, but I think it’s off to a great start.”

That improvement has trickled down to his teammates as well.

His most regular partner this season has been Andreas Englund, with the two forming an impressive and steady third defensive pairing, especially when you consider the fact that they’d never played together entering the season. Englund is seeing the confidence and overall improvements from Spence, day in and day out.

“You can definitely tell that he’s more confident, he’s assertive and playing with him, he’s such a great puck mover, it’s easy for him. I think our defensive game has become stronger and we’re talking better, play off each other better.”

Confident. Assertive. Productive. Committed.

Good words to hear about a younger player, that’s for sure.

We’re starting to learn, more and more, what the Kings have in forward Pierre-Luc Dubois.

I think it’s fair to say that the initial plan didn’t quite work as anticipated, but the Kings showed a flexibility in being able to adjust things on the fly. We’ve talked about how recent line changes have impacted forward Kevin Fiala, but let’s dive a bit more into how they’ve impacted Dubois.

Todd McLellan has spoken about how a pair of straight-line players in Carl Grundstrom and Alex Laferriere have perhaps benefitted Dubois, who has really driven the play himself much more regularly over the last five or so games, specifically this past weekend. The performance led to a pair of assists in the win over Montreal on Saturday, with the first coming on a zone entry with possession, dragging the attention to him and using his strength to get the puck through the slot to Grundstrom, for the one-timer goal.

“I think we’re well on our way to seeing that and we see tendencies in his game right now that, when he’s doing certain things, you know he’s having a real good night and you look for those things early in his game,” McLellan said. “Linemates obviously, we’ve changed some things up with him, just to find different combinations and see if he does play better with certain individuals on our team and we’ll continue to do that. He’s found ways to contribute basically on a nightly basis to the success of the group and that’s important.”

Against Montreal, the results were evident.

Dubois was on the ice for 21 shot attempts for, compared to just four against. Scoring chances were 12-1 and high-danger chances were 5-0, per Natural Stat Trick, with two goals for compared to none against. While the overall puck possession metrics haven’t been that strong in other recent games, Dubois has been on the right side of scoring chances controlled in each of those last five games (seven games really) and he hasn’t been on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal against in that time.

On an individual level, Dubois has more high-danger chances per/60 than any other Kings forward. He’s also picking up a point on just over 57 percent of the goals that he’s on the ice for, one of the lowest rates on the Kings. Seeing some positive signs, in a good spot in the lineup, for Dubois as of late.

Overall on the season, Dubois has 11 points from 19 games played, which is right around a 50-point pace over the course of 82 games. We saw the offensive numbers for Phillip Danault and Kevin Fiala rise during the second half of their first seasons with the Kings, and there’s no reason to expect that we won’t see the same from Dubois as well. He seems to be comfortable where he’s at and his level of play was quite noticeable on the ice last time out.

Lastly, Insiders, expect to see defenseman Jacob Moverare on the ice tonight in Ontario with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. The Kings loaned Moverare to the Reign earlier on today, with the expectation that he will play tonight against the Tucson Roadrunners. It’s a process we’ve seen over the last couple weeks, as Moverare has served as the seventh defensemen with the Kings, while simultaneously playing in selected games Ontario as well, to maintain sharpness. Could see the same thing this weekend, with Ontario playing a home-and-home with Bakersfield.

Defenseman Tobias Bjornfot remains on injured reserve with the Kings, amidst his conditioning loan, and is not expected to play today, though the injury is not thought to be longer term. Still, with both teams in-state for the next five days, nothing imminent is needed until the Kings depart on a four-game road trip on the East Coast early next month.

Kings will hold what will likely be an optional morning skate tomorrow at TSPC before hosting the Capitals tomorrow evening at 7:30 PM! Full coverage to follow tomorrow.

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