The LA Kings returned to the ice today for a practice day in El Segundo, coming off a team off day on Thursday.
First things first, the Kings welcomed forward Blake Lizotte back to the team for his first full practice since he suffered an injury on November 18 in the win over St. Louis. Lizotte has been progressing steadily on his own, first skating independently, then taking the morning skate on Wednesday in a red, non-contact jersey. Today, he re-integrates into the group for the first time on a practice day, though the non-contact jersey remains for the time being.
Lizotte is naturally a player the Kings want to have back in the lineup. His energy level, two-way play and presence on the penalty kill are always missed by the Kings. Per Todd McLellan today, Lizotte will travel with the team on their trip East net week, barring any sort of setback. He has not yet been ruled in or out for Sunday’s homestand finale against Colorado, so we’ll keep an eye on that as we progress towards that day.
As for today’s practice, the Kings took a little bit of a different approach.
Instead of players sorted by line combinations, players sorted by two different jersey colors – gray and white. The design today was simple. The Kings have had a lot of practice time as of late, without a ton of games. The word of the week has been rhythm, and while at times the Kings felt that had it, when you play one game in seven days, it’s hard to keep it.
“The common word is rhythm, we just lack a lot of rhythm in and around our team for games right now,” McLellan said. “We’ve been practicing a lot, which I think has helped us, but sometimes I think you can de-train in those situations. So, we wanted to get a lot of game situations in. Call it a scrimmage but it was really controlled, there was a lot of different aspects to it and it was competitive, it was something that we needed. Jerseys were done to make it easier, two teams ,colors and that’s what we did today.”
It’s a small detail, a small change.
But it’s something we’ve seen the Kings do occasionally over the last few years on days when they really want to replicate game situations. It’s something we see during training camp as well, on days that the Kings plan to scrimmage in between practice time. Today’s practice wasn’t a time on the clock, count the score day, but there were specific drills run with an eye on replicating things that you’ll see in a game. When you have lines in different colors, and defensemen in black jerseys, it just doesn’t quite have that same feeling.
Again, a minor thing to the eye, but the Kings felt it would be helpful to switch things up.
“You look up and you see four [defensemen in black jerseys] on the ice, it’s not the same, so we try and replicate it as much as we could,” McLellan added.
The proof will be in the pudding on how much it impacted things come Sunday, with the Colorado Avalanche in town for a the final time this season. A good test awaits, as the Kings wrap up a segment in their schedule with more off time than they’ll have the rest of the season.
“I think he’s come in and it’s taken him some time to adjust. I think he’s been better of late, which tells me he’s starting to adjust. He’s very bold and strong with the puck, you see with rushes, you see him driving to the net [Wednesday] he took it to the post. Without the puck, I think he’s still trying to read and react to what we’re doing as a group and it’ll take some time, but I think his game is going up.”
That was Todd McLellan’s assessment of Pierre-Luc Dubois at the 20-game mark.
It’s an assessment that jives pretty well with where Dubois himself feels like he’s at right now.
“I think a lot out there, I try to process the game a lot out there, especially as a centerman,” Dubois said this morning. “I think to be able to play at the fast speed that I want to play at, I’m not 100 percent there yet, but I’m getting there. Everybody here has been doing a really good job of helping me out and making it as easy as possible for me.”
It’s been 20 regular-season games now for Dubois, the marquee acquisition for the Kings this summer. Dubois has 11 points through his first 20 games, working through new roles, new linemates, new systems and a new situation as a person. He admitted it’s a process that takes some time, though he feels like he’s picking up the pace with the learning process and that’s a good thing for the Kings.
The last time this happened for Dubois was the 2020-21 season, when he was traded from Columbus to Winnipeg during the COVID-impacted campaign. He recalled being quarantined six different times that year – and I’m not even sure that was an exaggeration – which made his transition even harder. The result was a slump in overall production as he struggled to connect with a new team.
“Right now it’s very different and I had training camp with everybody here, not just showing up in the middle of the season, that’s a huge advantage,” Dubois added. “Like I said, everybody here has been really helpful, the players, staff, everybody, that’s been good.”
2020-21 was also a shortened season, as he featured in just 41 games with the Jets. Once he got some time under his belt? Dubois began the next season with seven goals from his first nine games played. 41 games, as you may understand, represents the halfway point of a regular season, which we’re only halfway to. Perspective, especially when it comes to a player who represented a sizable investment, can still be important.
Dubois has indicated he’s never been a player who counts stats as an identifier of playing well or not playing well. He sees the numbers as a result of doing the right things. Last weekend against Montreal, Dubois did a things well, resulting in two assists in the win over the Canadiens. Against Washington last time out, we saw a play where Dubois drove through the neutral zone with power, took the puck through the defense and got to the net for one of so many near-misses for the Kings on the evening. It’s those types of plays that you pick up on.
Early in the season, you’d see a selected play in a game and point to it, Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon In Hollywood style, as that high level. Now, those plays are happening more and more regularly. As Dubois has gotten more and more comfortable, McLellan is seeing a player who is doing most of the right things with the puck. It’s about that continued adjustment both men have spoken on that is what everyone hopes will come next.
On a team that’s 13-4-3, the Kings are playing the long game when it comes to not just Dubois, but assembling the best puzzle with the available pieces. Even if that means losing a couple of minutes here and there, McLellan sees how the situation is a bit different, not just for Dubois but for all of his centers. It’s the end game he’s got his eye on, with the hope that it pays off for everyone in the long run.
“We’re a deep team and where he’s probably used to being rolled out in every situation, now we’re deep and we play four lines quite often,” McLellan added. “You’re probably going to give up, in his case, Kopi’s or Phil’s, or anybody else’s, a little bit of offense for team depth, because you might not be on the ice as much. Hopefully that pays off in the long run.”
Additionally, Insiders, a couple of transactions to update you all on.
Expect to see both Tobias Bjornfot and Jacob Moverare in action tonight with the Ontario Reign, as they host the Coachella Valley Firebirds at Toyota Arena. Moverare has been shuffling between the Kings and Reign over the last couple of weeks, playing games in Ontario and regularly serving as the seventh defenseman with the Kings.
For Bjornfot, it would mark his first game since he suffered an injury against the Firebirds on November 21, after a hit into the boards. Shortly after, Ontario Head Coach Marco Sturm noted that the injury was not all that severe, with Bjornfot now ready to get back in action tonight. Bjornfot’s loan to the Reign was of the conditioning variety, and he should be a factor in both games versus the Firebirds this weekend. After that, it’s off to Columbus for the Kings, who will need to make a decision at that time regarding the Swedish blueliner.
See how the next couple of days go, but good sign to see Bjornfot ready to roll.
Lastly, Insiders, the Kings will practice tomorrow at 10 AM, before participating in their annual Rink Tour, as players will visit seven different rinks throughout the community. Those rinks are as follows –
LA Kings Ice at Pickwick
LA Kings Ice Promenade of the Peninsula
LA Kings Iceland Paramount
LA Kings Iceoplex Ice Arena
LA Kings Valley Ice Center
Toyota Sports Performance Center
Each venue will have a few Kings players at it, working with players of a variety of different ages, skill levels and backgrounds. Will have some coverage on the impact that an event like this has on the local community, with the guys weighing in on what it means to them to give back.
“It’s very important……everybody had somebody that drove them to the rink, it didn’t have to be mom or dad, it could be a mentor, a neighbor, everybody had somebody that bought them equipment, that somehow got them on the ice, that patted them on the back, sometimes they needed a little nudge too,” McLellan said. “That’s what we’re going to tomorrow, to celebrate, and make sure that the kids understand that we all came through this too and we’re giving it back.”