With two games under his belt, Blake Lizotte is re-adjusting, and still buzzing, in the Kings lineup

Blake Lizotte has returned from injuries before. He’s used to the routine of the questions that come with a first game back. After this first game, however, he got a new one. A question he’s never received as an NHL player.

When’s the last time he played wing?

With a laugh, “it’s been about 10 years, probably.”

Lizotte played his first two periods back with the Kings on the wing, alongside fellow natural centermen Pierre-Luc Dubois and Quinton Byfield. He also took shifts on the wing with Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault throughout the first 40 minutes. On a night when not much was going well for the Kings offensively, he moved back to center for the third period as the Kings shuffled their forward lines and he lined up in his familiar position last night against Anaheim, where he figures to remain going forward.

While he had never played wing in the NHL, he didn’t feel it was all that foreign to him. Considering how the Kings play in the defensive zone as a team, he’s comfortable playing along the wall, which is a big component when playing as a winger.

“As a centerman, especially in our systems now, you’re playing on the wall so much as it is, so it really isn’t that big a difference,” Lizotte said. “I think more so it’s just maybe a little less responsibility in the d-zone, which isn’t always a bad thing.”

While comfortable positionally, Lizotte certainly felt a bit of that first-game back rust on night one.

He typically handles pucks a lot smoother than he felt he did on Thursday and he didn’t think he had the sharpness to his game that we’ve seen from him over the years. Conditioning wise and legs wise, Lizotte felt he was pretty close to where he wanted to be. Those are the easiest things to get back, because when you’re rehabbing your way back from an injury, all you’re doing is skating and skating hard. The timing wasn’t quite there though, which comes when you’re out of the lineup for over a month, as Lizotte was. Usually the last thing to come back for a player.

“For the most part, after not playing for five weeks, I was fairly happy with how I felt but the timing of making plays, crisp passing, it just wasn’t there,” Lizotte said of his first night back. “Physically, my conditioning felt okay so I was happy with that, but it definitely takes some time for the timing and everything to get back, but overall, I was fairly happy with where I’m at.”

One of the toughest things for Lizotte in this instance was the lack of practice time. Between travel days, road trips and team days off, there wasn’t the opportunity for Lizotte to get into a full-contact practice with the entire team. When you get to this point in the season, it seldomly lines up where what a player returning from injury needs, and what the full team needs, are the same thing.

He skated the day at Toyota Sports Performance Center before the Nashville game with a small group, as the Kings tried to simulate the intensity and contact of a full skate as best they could, with the players they have on the ice.

Still, there’s nothing that replicates a full practice or a game like being involved in the actual thing.

“You look at our schedule and there hasn’t really been a practice day [at home] for a couple of weeks, so if I were to wait for the ideal return, with multiple practices, it would take a month for me to get back. It wasn’t ideal, but our staff got me ready as best they could and I think, for the most part, I was ready for that, for the extra bodies out there. It definitely will take some time.”

From the standpoint of the coaching staff, Head Coach Jim Hiller was excited coming in, both to have Lizotte back in action and seeing how he might fit alongside Dubois and Byfield. It was a line that Hiller was hopeful would be a forechecking monster, though it was a night when the Kings lacked a ton of energy as a group, lagging in the 4-1 defeat against the Predators.

“I thought he played his game,” Hiller said of Lizotte’s first night. “I thought he was rusty as far as the passing and all that stuff, to be expected, but he was a hound and did a really nice job on the penalty kill. First game [back], we’re happy with him.”

As one of the team’s leaders on the penalty kill all season long, Lizotte averages 1:49 of shorthanded time on ice per game, third highest amongst Kings forwards. In 4-on-5 situations specifically, Lizotte is tied for second, just three seconds per game shy of Phillip Danault. It’s an area he’s always taken pride in and his emergence as an effective penalty killer allows the Kings to perhaps spare others some difficult minutes, in an effort to keep players fresh throughout games.

While I think it made some sense to line him up where he was on Thursday, the Kings likely see Lizotte as a center going forward and he was effective in that spot yesterday against the Ducks.

Hiller wasn’t asked specifically about Lizotte’s line but went out of his way with his final remark of the evening to compliment the game they delivered.

“I thought our line of Lizotte, Lewis and Anderson-Dolan played very well, I thought that was a real spark for us every time they were out there,” Hiller said. “Liz drew the penalty, they were in the offensive zone, I thought that line really provided a good game for us.”

As the Kings go forward, expect to see Lizotte right where he was on Saturday.

Buzzing around the ice with energy down the middle, likely drawing a few penalties along the way and making life difficult on the opposition in doing so. He’s one of the Kings’ best at denying clean zone entries at the defensive blueline and he’s drawn 1.36 penalties per/60, the third-highest metric on the team this season. All-in-all, good to have 46 back in the lineup.

Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Off to Edmonton, Insiders!

The Kings are currently in the sky, as they prepare for three challenging divisional games on the road. The Kings and Oilers are tied for the third and final playoff position in the Pacific Division, with tomorrow’s game set to break it. Defenseman Jacob Moverare is expected to join the team on the Edmonton trip, as Jim Hiller alluded to last night. A deeper look to follow on Moverare’s contributions when that move is made official.

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