2/22 Preview – Blake Lizotte Activated, Expected To Play + 46/80/55 Line, Laferriere’s Versatility

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (26-16-10) vs. Nashville Predators (29-25-2)
WHEN: Thursday, February 22 @ 7:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: ESPN+ / Hulu – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The homestand continues for the Kings, as the Nashville Predators come to town to conclude the season series between the two teams.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Alex Turcotte led the Kings with two points (1-1-2) when these teams met last month in Nashville, including his first career NHL goal, while forward Kevin Fiala has two points this season (1-1-2) against the club that drafted him. Forward Quinton Byfield has six points (3-3-6) from six career games played versus the Predators.

KINGS VITALS: Following a lightly attended practice day on Wednesday, the Kings returned to the ice this morning for a full-team skate.

Following consecutive starts from goaltender Cam Talbot, look for the Kings to go back to goaltender David Rittich tonight against his former club. Rittich was off the ice first this morning and has faced Nashville five times throughout his NHL career, including twice this season, posting a record of 3-1-1, with a .912 save percentage and a 3.17 goals-against average.

While the Kings did not take formal line rushes today, here’s an idea of how the team aligned this morning, based on jersey colors –

Laferriere – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Fiala
Lizotte – Dubois – Byfield
Lewis – Turcotte – Kaliyev

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Clarke

Rittich / Talbot

Forward Blake Lizotte will return to the lineup tonight, per Head Coach Jim Hiller, and is expected to play on the wing, on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Quinton Byfield. Lizotte skated yesterday in a full-contact jersey, though that skate had just four participants, and was in action again this morning. Lizotte still needs to be activated from long-term injured reserve, but that feels like a formality with Hiller’s comments this morning.

Forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan is also an option to check in, should the Kings opt for a lineup change up front. Defenseman Jordan Spence was assigned to the AHL yesterday morning, played last night for the Ontario Reign and is still with the AHL club. Viktor Arvidsson remains out with a lower-body injury. No formal update was provided this morning regarding Arvidsson’s timeline.

PREDATORS VITALS: The Predators are in the midst of a five-game roadtrip, which began with wins against St. Louis and Vegas.

Expect Nashville, playing on the frontend of a 3-in-4, to start goaltender Juuse Saros between the pipes. Saros has an all-time record of 5-2-1 against the Kings, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average.

Per Zach Gilchriest of NashvillePredators.com, here’s how the visitors lined up last time out in Vegas –

Nashville forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist each have a goal and an assist versus the Kings this season, while defenseman Roman Josi has a pair of assists. Former Kings defenseman Luke Schenn is slated to line up on the second pairing against his former club. Nashville enters the evening tied for the last wild card position in the Western Conference.

Notes –
Lizotte Latest

Optimistic update regarding Blake Lizotte!

Excited to see him return to action tonight. He’s a player the Kings have missed and he’s a player the Kings are excited to get back into their lineup here this evening, with Jim Hiller confirming that he will be in tonight’s lineup.

“He’s a similar player to Arvy, he’s that full energy, he’s coming at you, he’s fearless,” Hiller said this morning. “He’s just a player that really helps your culture, because you never have to question whether he’s going to be ready to play, or if he’s going to give you 100 percent. He’ll certainly try to do all the right things that the coaches want him to do. He’s a player that every coach loves to have and we’re certainly excited to have him back in.”

Lizotte is expected to play on the wing tonight, one of the first times we’ve seen him off the center-ice position in his time with the Kings.

He will start the game on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois at center and Quinton Byfield on the other wing. That’s three natural centers, three players who were initially brought into the organization to play center. That adds versatility when they’re playing together. Hiller said it’s not the reason that line was put together, but it could be a nice benefit, for three players he expects to come together a strong forechecking line with energy all over the ice.

“That’s not why they’re together, but the fact that they are three centers and anybody can play low, but what it should be for me is a really good forechecking line and a tracking line,” Hiller said. “Quick this way and quick this way and through the neutral zone with those three players.”

In terms of getting Lizotte back to this point, he really didn’t get all that much practice time with the team.

It’s tricky at this time of the year to get players what they need, while also giving the team what it needs. The coaching staff opted against an on-ice practice yesterday, instead pushing for an off-ice workout for the group. For Lizotte, he could probably use a nice, intense practice, but was one of just four players to take the ice. Hiller credited assistant coach Derik Johnston for being out there and working those who were on the ice, giving Lizotte what he needed, despite the different circumstances.

“They had a good workout, it was competitive,” Hiller said yesterday. “We tried to recreate as much of our practice, even though they had four guys out there. I think he got what he needed and he’s getting close.”

Really, he didn’t get a single, full practice day. He didn’t make the trip East and the Kings have only had morning skates since as a group.

Still, we all know what Lizotte brings to the Kings when he’s healthy. He’s energetic, he drags others into the game when needed, he’s responsible defensively, good in the faceoff circle and he plays his role with pride. Not to mention, he’s got the ability to chip in offensively, which he’s done throughout his time here, with double-digit goals over the last two seasons. That’s a player the Kings are excited to get back.

Adjusting On The Go
The extremely unfortunate injury to Viktor Arvidsson has forced the Kings into adjustments throughout the lineup. In fact, each of the top three lines looks different than line rushes on Tuesday.

Arvidsson left Tuesday’s game versus Columbus with a lower-body injury and did not return. It was just his fourth game back from injury and after a strong start upon his return, you feel for a person who worked so hard to get back to that point.

As a result, the in-game adjustments impacted all four lines, as the Kings played with 11 forwards for pretty much the entire night. One of the most consistent moves made, however, was forward Alex Laferriere bumping onto a line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. The Kings also regularly used a line of Phillip Danault between Kevin Fiala and Trevor Moore, while Pierre-Luc Dubois and Quinton Byfield saw a revolving door of wingers join their line, with Trevor Lewis the most regular third member throughout the night. Tonight, it’ll be Blake Lizotte, as noted above.

Laferriere previously skated with Kopitar and Kempe twice this season – in Colorado and St. Louis – when Byfield missed time due to illness. The on-ice statlines in those games, despite a pair of defeats for the Kings, was pretty promising.

Shot Attempts – 22 For, 10 Against
Shots On Goal – 9 For, 7 Against
Scoring Chances – 13 For, 6 Against
High-Danger Chances – 6 For, 2 Against

Against Columbus on Tuesday, that line did not control the bulk of the shot attempts or shots on goal but finished on the positive side of the higher danger looks, controlling scoring chances and high-danger chances. The trio was on the ice for the lone Blue Jackets goal against, a bad-luck bounce from behind the goal line, but generally had a solid night. Laferriere proved to be an effective fit with those two players and looks likely to stick in that spot here tonight.

Head Coach Jim Hiller called that an asset of Laferriere’s game. No matter who he’s next to on the ice, he’s a guy who can fit in and find a way to contribute.

“I think, even though he’s young, he can play on any line, he’s a complementary player to anybody,” Jim Hiller said. “That’s a real compliment to him, that he can go from the top line to the fourth line and still contribute in a good way. He can make plays offensively, but he’s a very reliable defensive player, he’s starting to add some more physicality to his game. He’s just one of those utility players who fits in nicely anywhere.”

It’s a sentiment I feel like we used to hear about Trevor Moore or Alex Iafallo until they found a steady home on a line. Guys you might move around to compliment others, guys who would still be effective even if moved away from a place they were most comfortable. Those are players you always want in your lineup.

Laferriere has played solidly throughout his rookie season on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois, though with the budding chemistry between Dubois and Byfield, it affords Hiller and the Kings the opportunity to move a utility guy like Laferriere around to perhaps fit on another line. Hiller has shown a willingness to try new combinations and move players around as he feels is needed. Having individuals like Laferriere, who can work in different spots, is a nice piece to the puzzle.

“The main thing is just working hard and being trustworthy, I think those two things, if you have that, then the coach feels comfortable putting you out there in any situation,” Laferriere said. “I think that’s something that I’ve focused on a lot this year, working hard and being trusted on the ice and I think that’s showed.”

Regardless of where he winds up tonight or moving forward, he’s a player who will find ways to impact games. A good one to have around for the LA Kings.

Kings and Predators, in a battle between teams currently in or tied for a Wild Card position in the Western Conference. Big night ahead, with two more points on the line here at home.

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