2/10 Preview – Refreshed, Recharged & Ready To Go as Kings focus on energy, subtle changes vs. EDM

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (23-15-10) vs. Edmonton Oilers (30-16-1)
WHEN: Saturday, February 10 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West (Local) / NHL Network (National) – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: We’re back in action out of the All-Star break, as the Kings host the Edmonton Oilers for the final time this season here in Los Angeles.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Adrian Kempe led the Kings with two points (1-1-2) when these teams met back in December. Kempe has five goals and seven points over the last three seasons versus Edmonton during the regular season, while his 14 points (7-7-14) in the postseason lead all players against the Oilers.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings have held longer, full-team practices over the last two days and returned to an optional morning skate in advance of today’s game.

Goaltender David Rittich was off the ice first this morning in El Segundo, making him tonight’s projected starter versus the Oilers. Rittich has faced Edmonton 11 times throughout his NHL career, posting a record of 4-4-1 with a .899 save percentage and a 2.88 goals-against average.

Line rushes from yesterday’s practice shown below –

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

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence


Should the Kings opt for any changes, forward Arthur Kaliyev is available up front, while defenseman Brandt Clarke is an option on the backend. Forward Viktor Arvidsson skated again today in a full-contact jersey but will not play tonight against Edmonton.

Additionally, forward Blake Lizotte has resumed skating on his own, per Head Coach Jim Hiller. He has not yet re-joined the full group, but a good update nonetheless.

OILERS VITALS: Edmonton recently saw a 16-game winning streak come to an end, one shy of tying an NHL record. The Oilers rebounded last night in Anaheim, with a 5-3 win over the Ducks, to make it 17 wins from their last 18 games.

With backup goaltender Calvin Pickard getting the start yesterday against the Ducks, look for regular starter Stuart Skinner to be in net tonight in LA. Skinner has faced the Kings five times during the regular season, posting a record of 3-1-0, with a .946 save percentage and a 1.80 goals-against average.

Per Tony Brar of Oilers TV, here’s how the visitors lined up yesterday in Anaheim –

Since December 21 – the start of Edmonton’s winning streak – no team has allowed fewer goals per-game than the Oilers (1.67), who also lead the league with a +37 goal differential in that span. Edmonton also leads the league in PK% during that stretch (90.2%).

Notes –
Recharged, Refreshed, Ready To Go

The time off was good for the Kings, both physically and mentally.

Take this into account. No team in the NHL played more games than the Kings during the month of January. No team in the NHL played more games on the road than the Kings during the month of January.

Even with a record of 15-0-0 in total, or 9-0-0 on the road, that’s a grueling month for any team. When you also factor in that no team in the NHL lost more games than the Kings last month, between regulation and overtime, it was that much more draining on the group as a whole.

“January was hard, lots of travel, lots of games,” captain Anze Kopitar said. “Not a whole lot of practice time, which does give you energy during the year. It’s always welcome to have a few days and we’ve come back here refreshed and ready to work.”

That made the All-Star break valuable on two fronts.

Physically, it was a chance to recharge the batteries. Mentally, though, it was a chance to get away and get minds off things. Considering the team’s current form, the latter was perhaps even more important than the former. The result over the last two days has been a ton of energy from a team that’s raring to go with a game tonight.

“A couple days into the break is one of the first times I wasn’t thinking about hockey,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “As we were losing all those games, no matter where you went, no matter where it was, I was always thinking about what can we do different, what’s the problem here, why aren’t we winning, things like that. It was finally good to get hockey off my mind for a few days. I’m sure you guys were watching practice, but we had an unbelievable energy in practice, like that was a really, really good practice and everyone’s excited to be back here. I’m looking forward to [the game].”

Teammates shared similar sentiments, both about the opportunity to get a little bit of time away, as well as the energy the team came back to town with.

“I think the big thing is that everyone was able to get away for a little bit and reset mentally,” defenseman Mikey Anderson added. “I feel like we’ve had really good energy the last couple of days, guys are excited to be here and excited to play hockey. I don’t want to call it a fresh start, but it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go and it’s on us in the room. I think the break was nice to reset, guys are feeling good and excited to play a game.”

Now, it’s about taking these things and seeing them show up in tonight’s game versus Edmonton.

We all know where this team is at. It’s about wins and losses moving forward. It’s been really exciting to see the team as energized as they have been over the last two days. Two good practice days was the report from a variety of different opinions. Today is the first true test, though. With the Edmonton Oilers in town, even on the second half of a back-to-back, the test is a difficult one. It’s not unsurmountable, though. Time to take the last two days and translate it into tonight’s game, on the ice.

“I anticipate [the energy] is going to be high, I don’t think there can be any other answer to that,” Head Coach Jim Hiller added. “They’re excited, they’ve got a break and they’ve got a lot to prove. They’re a really good team, they’re proud players, they’re good players and all of a sudden, people are doubting us. I don’t think anybody likes to be doubted around here. Sometimes, when you get doubted a little bit, that might just give you a little extra to come out swinging and prove that, you know what, we like what we have here and I think that’s the case.”

Change is important. And it’s coming. But don’t expect to see drastic differences in Game 1.

That would, frankly, be impossible.

“When you talk about change, in hockey, there’s probably 100 things you could change, because it’s a very detailed game,” Hiller said. “I think when when some people talk about change, they want something very visible that you can see, those sorts of changes are really hard this time of the year.”

Were the Kings to make a ton of “visible changes” in one single day, you might not be happy with the results, as it pertains to wins and losses.

To simply throw the playbook out and start from scratch, in two days of meetings and practices, would likely not lend to the outcome you’d hope it would.

“You can’t just go in and change everything, because then we’ll probably drop a few games as we’re learning to do new things,” Doughty said.

The changes the Kings have in mind, first and foremost, come down to mindset. It’s a point that Hiller pounded home during his first media availability on Thursday and has reinforced in each time he’s spoken since. This isn’t a situation where the Kings are expecting to make drastic changes overnight. They have practiced differently. They’ve re-enforced different things.

At the end of the day, though, the changes we could expect tonight are on the subtle side.

“It’s stuff that in the locker room, guys understand,” Hiller added. “Nobody might talk about it, see it, understand it, but after a while you might go like, you know what, I think they’re doing something different, but that’s going to take some watching and some perceptiveness to pick up, because it’s nothing we’re going to broadcast. As I mentioned, the head is the most important and we want to tighten a few areas up and that’s the change that we’re talking about. Just tightening areas that we’ve already discussed up and re-emphasizing them and prioritizing them again. That would be internal change, but not the change that anybody else is talking about.”

Beyond that, as Hiller has said, the changes we could expect to see aren’t ones that will be visible in tonight’s 60 minutes alone. Over time, that shouldn’t be the case, but when the mandate is wins and losses, can you afford to drop those games Doughty referenced to overhaul things? The Kings certainly cannot.

For tonight, there are specific things that Hiller believes the Kings need to do to have a chance to win. If they do those things, they’ll be in the game.

“There’s things that we have to do, no matter who we’re playing, if we don’t do those, we’re going to have a tough time,” Hiller added. “If we get back to those, then even [against] the hottest team in the NHL, will give us our best chance.”

7 PM puck drop here on a Saturday night in Los Angeles. Night one under Jim Hiller, night one of 34 games remaining in the regular season. Time to go.

Rules for Blog Commenting

  • No profanity, slurs or other offensive language. Replacing letters with symbols does not turn expletives into non-expletives.
  • Personal attacks against other blog commenters, and/or blatant attempts to antagonize other comments, are not tolerated. Respectful disagreement is encouraged. Posts that continually express the same singular opinion will be deleted.
  • Comments that incite political, religious or similar debates will be deleted.
  • Please do not discuss, or post links to websites that illegally stream NHL games.
  • Posting under multiple user names is not allowed. Do not type in all caps. All violations are subject to comment deletion and/or banning of commenters, per the discretion of the blog administrator.

Repeated violations of the blog rules will result in site bans, commensurate with the nature and number of offenses.

Please flag any comments that violate the site rules for moderation. For immediate problems regarding problematic posts, please email zdooley@lakings.com.