12/7 Preview – Kings In Search Of “Direct” Start + Latest On Lizotte, Talbot, Road Point Streaks

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (15-4-3) @ Montreal Canadiens (11-11-3)
WHEN: Thursday, December 7 @ 4:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Centre Bell – Montreal, PQ
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are in search of sole possession of an NHL record, as they visit Montreal riding a ten-game winning streak on the road.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forwards Trevor Moore (2-0-2) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (0-2-2) led the Kings with two points apiece when these teams met last month in Los Angeles. Dubois’ two points were his first with the Kings against Montreal, but the Quebec native had 12 points (4-8-12) from 13 games played against the Canadiens as a member of the Winnipeg Jets over the last three seasons.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held a full-team practice yesterday and returned to the ice this morning for an optional skate in Montreal.

Look for goaltender Cam Talbot to return to the net tonight, after Pheonix Copley won both the last game played, and the last game played against Montreal. Talbot has a lifetime record of 7-2-1 against the Canadiens, with a .944 save percentage and a 1.48 goals-against average. Talbot’s save percentage versus Montreal is his highest against any opponent he’s faced at least 10 times throughout his career.

For reference, here’s how the Kings aligned last time out versus Columbus –

More on forward Blake Lizotte below, but there certainly feels like a change he makes his return to the lineup tonight against the Canadiens. Lizotte has missed the last six games due to injury, but has been working his way back into contention over the last week or so. Defenseman Jacob Moverare is also an option on the backend, should the Kings opt for any changes on the blueline.

CANADIENS VITALS: Since visiting Los Angeles 11 days ago, Montreal has posted a 2-1-1 record in their four games played since.

Though he did not make the start the last time these teams met, expect goaltender Samuel Montembeault to make the start this evening for the hosts. Montembeault has faced the Kings twice during his NHL career, bringing with him a record of 2-0-0 with a .887 save percentage and a 3.28 goals-against average.

Per Arpon Basu of The Athletic, here’s how Montreal lined up last time out against Seattle –

Look for former Kings forward Tanner Pearson to faceoff against his former team again tonight. Defenseman Mike Matheson tallied 11 points (3-8-11) during the month of November, tied for the ninth-most in the NHL amongst blueliners. Per CapFriendly, Montreal currently has the second-highest combined salary of injured players in the NHL.

Notes –
Direct From The Drop
It was a tale of two teams on Tuesday – the first 40 minutes and the final 20:33.

Over the first two periods in Columbus, the Kings got away from many of the things that have made them successful this season. For two periods, their winning streak on the road appeared to be in jeopardy.

“A lot of uncharacteristic situations and plays from our group, at least this year,” Todd McLellan said of the first two periods in Columbus. “When that starts creeping into your game, you’ve got to get it out as quick as you can. We were fortunate, but there’s still some concern that it lingers. I’d like to think that our guys can clean it up and be prepared to play a better game [in Montreal].”

In the third period, though, things changed for the better. Phillip Danault scored on the first shift of the third, his first of two goals scored that period. Arthur Kaliyev added a third to force overtime, before Drew Doughty eventually won the game during 3-on-3 play. The common theme of the goals scored in the third? Direct hockey.

Danault’s first goal came off a shot from the point, via Matt Roy, that Danault got a deflection on. His second goal came off a Vladislav Gavrikov rebound. Kaliyev’s goal was initiated off the rush, but he scored it by sticking with a play and swatting home a rebound from just outside the crease. It was a stark change for the Kings and one they were able to make during the game, without the consequence at the end of the day. It’s an approach they know, and one they are hoping to replicate here tonight.

“I feel like we’ve been saying it for years, but when we’re direct, when we’re a volume-shooting team, we can be really good,” forward Trevor Moore said of the transition. “When we try to get too cute, when we try to pass it around the goalie, sometimes it doesn’t always work out great. We obviously don’t want to be in those holes going into the third period.”

To not be in that hole going into the third period requires the right start to the game.

We’ve seen a Kings team that is capable of doing that. We saw it regularly earlier in the season. They saw how things went on Tuesday and there’s a clear commitment in the room to trying to bring that game right off the opening faceoff.

Alex Laferriere – That’s definitely something we’ve been focusing on is the starts, over the past couple of games. We got away from that at the beginning and chased the game in the third. I think we’ve just got to find that game from the start.

Jordan Spence – I think that’s the main part of our goal for [tonight’s] game, is just to be more direct and keep it simple. Obviously we can make plays, but I think to start it off, we have to do that.

From McLellan’s perspective, it’s something he’s spoken about with the players, noting that it’s been the case over the last few games. Sunday’s win over Colorado, while a three-goal victory, saw the Kings settle into the game, breaking through and pulling away in the third period. A slow start last week against Washington led to a game the Kings eventually lost, despite a relentless finish.

Beginning tonight, the Kings want that mindset, that approach, right from the start of the game.

“We’ve talked about it lately, some of our games, the last two or three, have been approached that way by our group, where as earlier in the year, we had our foot on the gas right away,” McLellan added. “We’ve been more in the feeling out process and then been getting after it. I’d like to see us get back to what we were doing earlier and attacking.”

Lizotte’s Latest
While there’s no guarantee, there certainly feels like a chance for Blake Lizotte to make his return to action tonight.

“He certainly is [an option], he was awfully close in Columbus, two extra days have helped him,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “He had a chance to really push himself yesterday, again, and we want to make sure he’s 100%, but I’d say he’s there now. It’s up to us whether we want to use him or not.”

Certainly a pretty good sign there, wouldn’t you say?

We all know what Lizotte brings to the Kings.

He’s the engine of the group, dragging and willing others into the game with his energy, with his drive. It’s a style of play that’s earned him a lot of respect amongst his teammates. Naturally, the Kings want that player in their lineup.

It’s also December, though, and the Kings have gone 5-1-0 without Lizotte. This team has aspirations that run deeper than a December tilt in Columbus or Montreal. They want him to be as close to 100 percent as possible, to minimize the risk of any sort of re-aggrivation as much as possible.

In speaking with Lizotte today, he praised the training and medical teams here with the Kings, noting that all he really had to do was show up ready to work and the staff here would give him what he needed in the rehab process.

“I think different injuries are different, but anytime you get injured, I don’t think you’re fully back when you return, I think you’re maybe 90, 95 percent and then that last five percent slowly comes back over the next couple months,” Lizotte said. “I think I’m in a spot where I feel good and in a spot where I’ll be okay out there.”

While there are certainly last-minute precautions, and things can always change, seems like there’s definitely a shot we see #46 in chrome back in tonight’s lineup. Will get the final confirmation come warmups today.

Lastly, Insiders, how about a couple of road streaks we aren’t talking about.

The LA Kings have won 10 consecutive road games to start the season. We know that. But, did you know that Anze Kopitar has a point in all 10 of those games? Did you know that Trevor Moore also has a point in all 10 of those games?

Just seven times prior in franchise history has a player collected a point in 10+ road games to open a season. Those players were Bernie Nicholls (x3), Wayne Gretzky (x2), Marcel Dionne and Rob Blake. Not bad company. It’s the first time since Blake in 1992 that a Kings player has done so.

Just once in NHL history have a pair of teammates had 11+ game point streaks on the road to begin a season. Gretzky and Jari Kurri, with Edmonton, in 1985. The streak we’re not talking about, almost as rare as the streak we are talking about. Cool little note heading into today.

Kings and Canadiens, tonight at 4 PM Pacific from the Centre Bell!

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