WHO: Los Angeles Kings (14-4-3) @ Columbus Blue Jackets (8-14-4)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Tuesday, December 5 @ 4:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Nationwide Arena – Columbus, OH
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings begin a four-game roadtrip here this evening, as they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time this season.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forwards Anze Kopitar (3-0-3) and Carl Grundstrom (1-2-3) led the Kings with three points from the season series against the Blue Jackets, which ended with LA taking three of a possible four points. Kopitar has 20 career goals against Columbus, tied for the fifth-most in the NHL since he came into the league.
KINGS VITALS: Following a travel day yesterday, with no practice, the Kings held one of their first full-team morning skates of the season today in Columbus.
Goaltender Pheonix Copley was off first this morning, making him tonight’s projected starter versus Columbus. Copley has faced the Blue Jackets three times throughout his career, posting a record of 1-0-1, with a .900 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average.
Here’s how the Kings aligned during line rushes at today’s morning skate –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Fiala – Danault – Moore
Grundstrom – Dubois – Laferriere
Anderson-Dolan – Lewis – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence
Today’s skate showed forward Blake Lizotte on the ice in a regular jersey today, though he did not take part in line rushes. Per Todd McLellan, Lizotte will not play tonight and the Kings will have a better sense of his availability for Thursday after tomorrow’s practice day in Montreal. Lizotte and defenseman Jacob Moverare were on late today, making them tonight’s projected scratches, with Moverare healthy to play if needed.
BLUE JACKETS VITALS: Columbus has won four of its last seven games, as it sits in the middle of a stretch that consists of six of eight games played on home ice.
Per Jeff Svoboda of BlueJackets.com, look for goaltender Elvis Merzlikins to make the start this evening for the hosts. Merzlikins has faced the Kings four times throughout his professional career and brings with him a record of 2-1-1, with a .917 save percentage and a 3.21 goals-against average.
Per the Brian Hedger of the Columbus Dispatch, here’s how the Blue Jackets lined up this morning –
#CBJ a.m. skate lines:
Gudbranson not skating this a.m.
— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) December 5, 2023
Per Svoboda, defenseman Erik Gudbranson is a game-time decision tonight for the hosts. Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski has collected 18 assists so far this season, fifth most in the NHL amongst all blueliners. Merzlikins ranks third in the NHL this season with 519 saves. Columbus will be without forward Jack Roslovic, who is on injured reserved. Roslovic led his team last season with four points (2-2-4) against the Kings.
Rollin On The Road
The Kings bring a 9-0-0 road record into tonight’s game, one win shy of a piece of NHL history. The 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres – a damn good team, as I recall – won their first 10 road games of the season to set the league record. With a win tonight, the Kings could equalize that mark.
It’s not really about a record for this group, though. They are aware of it, but it’s more about the way the Kings are playing on the road and how they’re winning hockey games.
While the home record has definitely sorted itself out, with Sunday’s win over Colorado the icing on the cake to conclude a recent homestand. The Kings are a veteran team in terms of being a group that’s played together, large in part, going on three seasons. Pieces have been added along the way, but other than Alex Laferriere, it’s been veterans added, not rookies.
“We’re a veteran team, we don’t have a lot of rookies on the team and we’ve been together for a long time,” McLellan said. “We understand what our structure is, our game management skills have gotten better from the beginning of the year and all of those things are really important when you play on the road.”
The Kings lead the NHL in terms of goals allowed on the road this season, at 1.67. Clicking at 90.3 percent, the Kings have the league’s second-best penalty kill away from home as well. With a mark of .940, the Kings also have the NHL’s third-best save percentage away from home. Three good signs of a team that is playing well and a good recipe for success on the road.
Feels like a pretty simple recipe, doesn’t it, but when you keep the puck out of your net, with most facets of the game clicking at the defensive end of the ice, good things happen.
“I think we’ve had a mix of everything,” defenseman Mikey Anderson said of the team’s defensive efforts. “Our forwards have done a good job of keeping plays alive offensively, maybe we give up the puck, they’re able to track it down and coming back in our end, they’re not able to make plays, so they’ve got to give it up, which lets us break out. Game management is a part of it, allowing us to be fresh. The times when we get stuck out there, guys have done a good job of kind of keeping it tight, compact, keeping them to the outside to get a clear.”
If there’s one thing that could be different here today, it’s the travel the Kings had coming into today’s game.
Typically, the Kings like to fly East two days before the game. That gives the team a day to fly, a day to practice and adjust and then play the game, as we saw with the trip to Toronto earlier this season and we’ll see with the next Eastern trip, to Washington, in January. The schedule this time around did not allow for that, with the Kings playing on Sunday against Colorado, flying all day yesterday without taking the ice and eventually getting out today for a full morning skate, one of the first so far this season. Just a part of the schedule, not really within anyone’s control, so it’s what the Kings are adapting to here today.
“We traditionally don’t have a lot of pre-game skates with the full group but yesterday was spent in the air, time change, you just don’t have time to practice before you leave,” McLellan said this morning. “Full pre-game skate this morning, obviously really quick, and other than that, there’s not much that changes. We’ll get ready to play against a good team that plays well here at home.”
A bit different, sure, but also nothing that can be done about it and you don’t get anything bonused for not getting the travel schedule you want. A shot at history for the Kings here tonight as they begin another trip.
The Gift Of Gav
A special night ahead for Kings defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov.
First things first, sharing an interview with Gavrikov and his defensive partner, Matt Roy, upon the former’s return to Columbus.
Gavrikov and Roy join the program to talk about a number of things, including their chemistry as a defensive pairing. We also get some good conversation from both players, including Gavrikov’s version of how the post-win locker room dance started, their experiences in Australia and their impressions of an impressive hit from Adrian Kempe while he was playing as a defenseman.
More from Gavrikov HERE on his return to Ohio, but the blueliner spent the better part of four seasons with the Blue Jackets organization, as he played in 256 games with the franchise from 2019-23.
Gavrikov spoke to a lively media contingent here in Columbus this morning, a player and person who both had fond memories of his time here. It’s clear on the other side of things that there are a lot of people here in Columbus who are excited for Gavrikov’s return as well, as a player and as a person. He’s enjoying his time with the Kings, but that doesn’t take away from the memories he had here.
In speaking with Todd McLellan this morning, he’s hopeful the team will put in an amped-up effort behind Gavrikov tonight, as well as forward Pierre-Luc Dubois who spent the first part of his career here. He’s heard great things about being here, from those players as well as goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, and he’s excited for Gavrikov to get his moment here tonight.
“I think he’s going to be really excited about being here,” McLellan said of Gavrikov. “Listening to Korpi, Gavrikov, PL, their time spent here, they really enjoyed it. They appreciate the fans, the community, they liked being here, so I think when you’ve had that experience and you’re coming back, you look forward to seeing old teammates, media people, but you’re also coming back to an environment that you were comfortable in. I’m sure Gavi feels that way, PL as well and for him to play tonight, we’re excited for him. I hope our group gets jacked up and wants to play for those two, I’m sure they will, it’ll be an exciting return for them.”
Gavrikov against his former team, Kings against Columbus, with a 4 PM puck drop, Pacific time, coming at ya. Kings begin a stretch of four games in six nights, with some big points on the line in their sights.