1/31 Preview – Byfield & Lewis Updates + Mentality Into The Break, Cutting Down The Penalties

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (22-15-10) @ Nashville Predators (26-22-2)
WHEN: Wednesday, January 31 @ 4:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, TN
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West (Local) / TNT (National) – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: One more game before the NHL All-Star break. The Kings visit Nashville to take on the Predators, in a matchup between two teams tied in the Wild Card standings.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Defenseman Drew Doughty scored his team’s lone goal when the Kings and Predators met earlier this month in Los Angeles, a 2-1 Predators victory. Forward Quinton Byfield leads the Kings in goals (3) and points (5) over the last three seasons versus Nashville.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held an optional morning skate today, following what was a mostly full-team practice yesterday in Nashville.

A former Nashville Predator, goaltender David Rittich was off first this morning and is expected to be tonight’s starter between the pipes. Rittich has a lifetime record of 2-1-1, with a .899 save percentage and a 3.46 goals-against average.

Listing the lines from yesterday’s practice day below. The Kings are expecting, assuming full health, to make at least one lineup change. As we saw in St. Louis, however, that can change –

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

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence – Clarke

Rittich / Talbot

More on the status of Byfield and Lewis below.

In terms of tonight’s lineup, forward Samuel Fagemo and defenseman Brandt Clarke were the scratched players on Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. From the looks of this morning, it appears as if both will be out tonight in Nashville, but both are available should the Kings look for an additional lineup change.

PREDATORS VITALS: Nashville has lost four of its last five games entering tonight’s action and returns home following a three-game roadtrip.

Goaltender Juuse Saros is tonight’s projected starter for the Predators. Saros has faced the Kings seven times throughout his NHL career and brings with him a lifetime record of 5-1-1, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average.

Per Zach Gilchriest of NashvillePredators.com, here’s how the hosts aligned on Monday against Ottawa –

With 26 wins, the Predators have more victories than any team not currently occupying a playoff spot. Nashville defenseman Roman Josi has eight assists over the last three seasons against the Kings, the third most amongst all NHL blueliners.

Notes –
Byfield / Lewis Updates
Sharing the latest here on forward Quinton Byfield and forward Trevor Lewis.

Byfield has missed the last two games due to illness. Byfield was first reported out on Friday evening in Colorado. He traveled with the team to St. Louis and practiced on Saturday, with the expectation that he would be able to play on Sunday afternoon against the Blues. Byfield ultimately did not take warmups and missed that game, but again returned for practice yesterday and took the morning skate today. Obviously we don’t know for sure, but Head Coach Todd McLellan said he expects Byfield to be in the lineup tonight, as he indicated that Byfield “should be good” as far as he knows. Should Byfield play, he will likely skate in his usual spot alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe.

Regarding Lewis, he did not take yesterday’s practice and McLellan was less committal on his status for tonight. “He’s figuring things out this morning, we’ll see.” Lewis did take the morning skate today, which is a good sign towards potential availability. He had a good day in St. Louis on Sunday, as a part of a line with Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev and collected an assist on Jaret Anderson-Dolan’s shorthanded goal. Following tonight, the Kings have nine days between tonight’s game and their first game out of the All-Star break, against Edmonton on February 10. Time to heal and rest for players like Lewis and others that need it.

One Into The Break
One game to go until the All-Star break.

Opponent really doesn’t matter right now for the Kings, who have their own problems. But, the Kings and Predators are tied on 54 points heading into tonight’s game in Nashville, so it’s an important one, as was Sunday’s game in a similar situation versus St. Louis. The problems right now, though, are larger than who they’re facing.

Tonight’s game is the final time the Kings hit the ice for a game until February 10. A break everyone will benefit from, but not a break that anyone is looking at today.

“We’re not even thinking about the break, we’ve got 60 minutes that we have to play and the break will take care of itself, but we’ve got to find a way to win a game, obviously,” McLellan said. And to do that against this team, you have to do some things real well. We’ll point them out prior to and expect our group, we’re rested, we’ve had some time here to fill the gas tanks up, it’s been a while since we’ve had two days off between games. We should be prepared to go.”

The message from the room was nearly identical.

“I think we’re all pretty excited to play this last game too, we’ll leave it all out there,” forward Adrian Kempe said. “Nothing to say before now, we’ve got to go out there, hopefully play as good as we did last game and hopefully we can get a win for once.”

These games can always go one of two ways.

You typically see teams either dialed in and focused, or you see teams that might have eyes on the break to come. The players and coaches are saying the right things to be the former, and they need to be. 14 losses from 16 games means there’s an opportunity here tonight to get two points in the bank heading into the break. Any two points right now are massive. If things go the other way, it’s a poor reflection on everyone.

All we can focus on right now is what’s being said and right now, it feels like a group that’s got the right approach.

“I think this is a pretty important game for us as a group, just bring a little positive into the break,” forward Alex Laferriere added. “The past games we’ve been on right now, you don’t want to sulk into the break and getting a win tonight would definitely help.”

See how it goes when the puck drops a bit later on.

Penalty Parade
If there’s one specific focal point coming out of St. Louis it has to be cutting down on the penalties.

When playing 5-on-5, the Kings largely controlled Sunday’s game against the Blues. Shot attempts (51-31), shots on goal (28-18), scoring chances (24-12) and high-danger chances (9-3) were largely skewed in favor of LA, per Natural Stat Trick. The problem was, there just wasn’t nearly enough 5-on-5 hockey played, as a result of six minor penalties against.

The penalties didn’t even hurt the Kings directly, really, with just one goal against cancelled out by a shorthanded goal for. Still though, it severely disrupted the flow of the game, overburdening certain players with minutes on the PK while gluing others to the bench, who don’t play in those situations.

“It’s something that happened early in the year as well, coach focused on that, it’s something that gets everybody out of rhythm,” Laferriere said. “We’re a deep team and we want to roll four lines on the ice. When we’re taking penalties, it hurts that and our top guys who play PK are getting tired.”

In speaking with forwards Trevor Moore and Jaret Anderson-Dolan shortly after Sunday’s game, both players said basically the same thing.

Moore took ownership of his own penalty, calling it a “stupid penalty” because it came in the offensive zone, a high-sticking minor behind the net. In total, the Kings took three penalties in the offensive zone in St. Louis and hurt twice as much. There’s no threat to be scored on in those areas, so stick infractions are that much more frustrating and unnecessary. Anderson-Dolan, who did kill penalties on Sunday but has been on the other end of games like that as well, talked about how difficult it is to keep the team’s flow going when you’re in the box that regularly.

In speaking with McLellan today, he highlighted the last two games with regards to the penalties in the offensive end, noting multiple minors in Colorado as well.

“Offensive zone ones are the frustrating ones and I think we took two or three of those,” McLellan added. “We took I think eight minutes worth in Colorado in the offensive zone too. Got to be aware of how we check, get our sticks on the ice and use our legs to get body position.”

If the Kings can cut down on the penalties, they were generally happy with the play at 5-on-5, especially their play with the puck. They feel there’s something to build upon in that area.

“We played hard, pretty solid game, a tight hockey game between two good teams,” Kempe added. “I thought, overall, that game was pretty good. Breakouts, passing, forecheck was good, we got a lot of chances, a lot of shots on net……overall, I think we did play a good game, it’s just tough we can’t get the two points.”

Stay out of the box, focus in on the final game before the break and hopefully get a little bit of positive momentum into the time off. In the current situation the Kings are in, there’s no other way to go about it.

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