Practice 12/14 – Breaking Down “Playing In Pieces” + Today’s Skate, Bjornfot Recalled, Gene Carr

The LA Kings got back on the ice for practice today, as they look to put a three-game losing streak to bed.

Today’s skate was a quick, yet hard, practice.

The Kings were on the ice for around 25-30 minutes, working on a couple of pointed areas in their game, as they look to get things back on track after yesterday’s loss against the Winnipeg Jets. For reference, here’s how the Kings lined up today, similarly to last night’s game –

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

Anderson – Doughty
Moverare – Bjornfot – Roy
Englund – Spence

Talbot / Copley

More on the roster configuration below, but defenseman Tobias Bjornfot re-joined the group today off his AHL conditioning loan, while Arthur Kaliyev skated for the second straight day after missing Tuesday’s practice due to flu-like symptoms.

Playing In Pieces
Playing in pieces was a phrase Todd McLellan used a couple of times last night, used when referring to last night’s loss against the Jets.

It’s not a phrase I had ever heard of before, so I asked for more clarity on what he meant this morning.

“Sometimes when I use that term, I’ll say Kopi’s line is up, Kopi jumps out, Q jumps out and I’ll use granny as an example, just for argument’s sake. Grunny is out there now, he’s played his 45-second shift, can’t get off and we’re playing in pieces. We’ve got two fresh guys and a tired guy, it just doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to get ahead in the shift, you’ve got to hand off a good shift and take that shift over again by being fresh. We went through, we gave up three goals in 10 minutes in the second period and inevitably, almost every shift we had broken lines.”

The first goal against last night came with a broken line and McLellan’s observations are correct when you analyze last night’s game with the data that is publicly available. Throughout the second period specifically, the Kings had a lot of long shifts that caused their forward lines to get out of whack.

Since McLellan used Grundstrom as the hypothetical, let’s look at his icetime specifically as the example. here. Keep in mind, this isn’t an instance of Grundstrom being the culprit, but we’ve got to use an example, so we’ll choose the one the coach chose. Grundstrom played a total of 10:36 at 5-on-5 last night, with 8:10 of that coming with his linemates, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alex Laferriere. That means he spent 23 percent of his total time at 5-on-5 playing off his line.

That feels like a lot, doesn’t it? But is it actually?

Looking at his last four games as a reference point (excluding the Rangers game because Phil Danault left with an injury, which meant more line jumbling than usual), Grundstrom’s time apart from his linemates at 5-on-5 was much lower, coming in right around 15 percent. That isn’t necessarily all that staggering of a difference on paper, but that’s a couple of shifts per game and keep in mind, the sample size shown here is just Grundstrom. If last night’s game saw a couple of shifts more than usual spent “playing in pieces”, when you put think about it across 12 forwards, it adds up.

The Kings, when at their best, are a team that is very connected in its changes. Shift lengths was shorter across the board. Looking at last night’s game, 14 of 17 skaters (excluding Jacob Moverare, who made his season debut) saw their average shift length exceed their season average. Again, we’re talking about relatively small percentages here, but when it’s almost universal across the board, it adds up to a disconnected performance. Four of the five goals against last night had at least one player out for a shift of more than a minute, including all three goals against during the second period. Most had multiple players at over a minute. One of those nights when the stats do tell a lot of the story.

Obviously the easy thing to do here is to identify the problem. The harder thing is to go about solving it.

It’s easy to talk about keeping shifts shorter. It’s easy to say that you want to be ahead in shifts, as opposed to behind. Every team wants to be doing those things. The Kings now have to focus on correcting it.

Regularly following a performance that the Kings weren’t pleased with, the term game management comes up. It’s been an area early this season that hasn’t come up all that often, considering the 16-6-4 start. Long shifts, and out of rotation shifts fall into that bucket. Game management issues are usually ones you can’t practice. You have to see and repair and you have to do it with consistency.

Heading back onto the road for the next couple of games, that’s what the Kings will look to do. Certainly something that was addressed today and will likely be addressed again tomorrow. With Seattle on the horizon – a team that plays the Kings tight – limiting those situations will be key in establishing the way the Kings want to play.

Blueline Breakdown
Here’s where we’re at on the blueline.

The Kings are without defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov due to a lower-body injury. Gavrikov is out week-to-week, so at the least, there’s no reason to expect him in the lineup here over the next couple of road games. From there, we’ll look for an update into next week, which coincides with the timetable provided.

Defenseman Jacob Moverare replaced Gavrikov last night, in a 1-for-1 swap, with Moverare slotting in alongside Matt Roy on the team’s second defensive pairing. Moverare logged a total of 14:02 in time-on-ice, as he played his first NHL game in nearly 13 months. Included in that time was just over a minute on the penalty kill, as Moverare played the fourth-most shorthanded minutes amongst Kings defensemen.

All in all, Todd McLellan felt Moverare “may have been one of our better defensemen” last night, so a solid enough debut from a player who you generally know what you’re going to get from.

Adding into the mix this morning was defenseman Tobias Bjornfot, who was recalled from his conditioning loan with the Ontario Reign and practiced with the group today.

Bjornfot played a total of nine AHL games with Ontario, spanning nearly a month of time, with an injury spliced right in between. Bjornfot played on opening night with the Kings but did not play a game from October 12 through his AHL season debut on November 17. Bjornfot now returns to the Kings for the first time since, with a lineup spot available for either him or Moverare, as Gavrikov remains out.

After yesterday’s game, McLellan indicated that Bjornfot would re-join the Kings, as he needs to coming off his conditioning loan, but could not commit who would play in that role come Saturday against the Kraken. He spoke about both Moverare and Bjornfot, while also indicating there are others in the AHL who have had strong starts to the season.

I’m not sure that today’s practice revealed the plan going forward, minus the fact that the Kings appear likely to carry seven healthy defensemen here in the interim, with Bjornfot and Moverare being the final two pieces to the puzzle with Gavrikov out. Perhaps as much due to circumstance as anything else, Moverare drew the first opportunity and he impressed with it. Not a ton of issues or notes with his performance. Bjornfot has a lot of strong tools in his arsenal, but hasn’t always imposed them on the game at the NHL level when he’s been in the lineup. He’s a great skater who can move pucks and defend with his legs. When he’s asserting himself on the game, we’ve seen a terrific defensemen. We just don’t always that assertive style of play every night.

Both players have probably earned another look and both have a comfort level playing alongside Matt Roy. There’s also Brandt Clarke playing down in Ontario – and producing at over a point-per-game level – but that would put the Kings in a spot similar to last season, with four right-shot defensemen, meaning someone on his off side. I think all three players are in the mix as options, but it’ll be the Swedes who get the first crack at it and we’ll go from there.

Remembering Gene Carr
Lastly Insiders, a bit of somber news here today regarding the passing of forward Kings forward Gene Carr, who played for the club 1973-78.

From the team’s release, Carr played in 212 games with the Kings and recorded 104 points including 66 assists. With the Kings for parts of five seasons, he set numerous personal milestones. He played in all 80 games during the 1974-75 season, and his 32 assists and 39 points were the most he ever recorded with the club as the Kings earned 105 points that year. Two years later Carr netted 15 goals, another personal-high with the franchise. He also played in 17 postseason games with Los Angeles.

Statements below from the organization and from Bob Miller –

LA Kings
Gene Carr was a beloved member of the Kings and the hockey community. He was a valuable member of our team in the mid-1970s, and many of the Kings teams Carr played for enjoyed outstanding seasons. He was a charismatic player on the ice, featuring his trademark blonde hair along with being a fast and flashy skater. Off the ice the native of Canada took to the Southern California lifestyle where he enjoyed the music scene and was close friends with accomplished bands. The Kings extend their deepest condolences to the entire Carr Family at this very difficult time.

Bob Miller
Gene joined the Kings during my first year with the Kings. At that time, you were really impressed with how strong a skater he was. In those days players did not wear helmets. One of the big reasons I feel Gene became such a fan favorite was how his golden blonde locks would flow as he skated up and down the ice. Beyond being very recognizable, his personality was outgoing and friendly. From a family perspective, I was happy he connected with a daughter many years later, something he did not hide. Rather he embraced that newfound relationship, even bringing her to a Kings game. I believe it was a role he relished and something special later in life.

Condolences go out to Gene’s family.

Will dive a bit deeper into the recent run of form tomorrow. It’s three consecutive losses and we haven’t seen that so far this season. A few different players within the room have weighed in and I’ll compile that into a story tomorrow afternoon, with a look at how the Kings are trying to climb out of their current predicament.

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