Kevin Fiala “playing as well as I’ve seen him”, in the eyes of teammates and coaches

Coming out of the All-Star break, Kevin Fiala was doing a lot of the right things. He just wasn’t getting rewarded for them offensively.

Fiala did not score in the first game out of the break, the 4-0 victory over Edmonton, and he didn’t score in any of the four games on the team’s final East Coast swing of the season. Still, you left those games feeling like Fiala made an impact on the game. Hard to watch the comeback win over Boston and not feel like Fiala made a difference. Hard to look up in Pittsburgh and not see number 22 flying back defensively to break up a play by tracking.

That one specific element of Fiala’s game that was at a high level was his tracking defensively and his backchecking. With his length and the way he skates, Fiala’s impact in those areas has the potential to be immense. Despite a five-game drought without a point, Fiala was impacting games by delivering in those areas.

“The tracking is so important, because the D can stay in it more, they can trust us coming back and it’s not just one guy tracking, but all of us coming back, all of us tracking back,” Fiala said.

In speaking with a couple of defensemen around the Kings locker room, there were kudos distributed out to the forwards as a whole coming off that trip for how well the tracked back.

When the forwards are doing that, it makes the lives of the defensemen that much easier.

“I applaud the forwards because how well they’re tracking is making such a difference in our game,” Drew Doughty said after that trip. “It makes it easier on the D to have good gaps, to play the puck, to get turnovers and it’s hard to play against guys that track you.”

In those five games, no Kings player had more defensive touches in the offensive zone than Fiala. Only Anze Kopitar had more amongst Kings forwards in the neutral zone than Fiala did. He was using his gifts to impact games defensively and although he did not record a point, he was an important player as the Kings won four of five games to get things back on track.

Then, the Kings returned home and Fiala scored against Columbus. He scored again the following game against Nashville and followed it up with another goal in the win over Anaheim. All three goals came on the power play, with Fiala a difference maker throughout the homestand.

“Goalscorers, they like to feel it and once you get one, all of a sudden you have more confidence,” Head Coach Jim Hiller said of Fiala. “Instead of thinking pass, shot you’re just thinking shot and I think that’s what we’re seeing with Kevin.”

After a night in Edmonton, when Fiala was held off the scoresheet, he responded with a multi-point game against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Right from the start of the game, the Kings lacked the energy and pace they had the night before, but Fiala was a player who seemed to have a bit to his game. With the game still 0-0, Fiala moved through the neutral zone and fed linemate Phillip Danault on a clean zone entry. Danault wired it home for the game-opening goal.

“Playing really good obviously, he’s played well the last couple of games,” Danault said of Fiala. “It doesn’t always go in easy, but he’s been playing well and he’s playing well defensively as well. That’s where his offense comes from, he plays well defensively and it carries through the offense.”

With the Kings trailing 2-1 later in the period, Fiala stuck with a play off the rush and swatted home a rebound for the game-tying goal.

On his goal, Fiala was on the ice for a shift with Anze Kopitar and Quinton Byfield. Under Jim Hiller’s leadership, we’ve seen forwards moved around throughout the game as the Kings look to make the most of rested players, hot players and situations that could be controlled with certain personnel combinations.

In that instance, it was Fiala bumping onto that line and coming through by not only finishing the play, but starting it as well. Along the left-wing boards, Fiala won a battle and fed Byfield streaking through the middle of the ice. A pass to Kopitar and a rebound later, Fiala drove the slot, collected the rebound and slotted it home on the backhand.

“He’s playing great right now,” Byfield said of Fiala. “He’s scored in [four of the last five games] and his offensive side of the game is there and he’s playing good defensively as well. He’s helping us right now and we need him. He’s playing really good it’s easy to play with him, get to spots and try to get open.”

Though the Kings ultimately came up short in the third period, the driving force of Fiala was a big reason they found themselves in a tie game, on a night when they admittedly did not have their best stuff.

What has impressed Hiller and the coaching staff the most is how Fiala is contributing in a variety of different areas. The offensive production is there right now, with six points from his last five games played, but Hiller feels that Fiala would be impacting games regardless of whether or not he’s scoring. When he’s delivering in those areas, as well as on the scoresheet, it’s a really good sign for both player and team.

“Kev’s got a good game right now,” Hiller added. “He’s tracking, he’s doing all of the things that we’ve asked him to do without the puck and of course, he’s a dangerous player with it. We really like his game. Both sides of the puck, he’s playing as well as I’ve seen him.”

With Adrian Kempe and Viktor Arvidsson currently sidelined, it’s up to the collective to fill the void.

That goes for a number of different individuals. It’s easy to point towards younger players like Arthur Kaliyev, Alex Laferriere or Alex Turcotte, guys who could see their roles increase with someone like Kempe out for however long it winds up being. It really starts, though, with the top-end guys like Fiala, who are capable of logging high-end minutes and producing at a high-end rate. On night one without Kempe, it was a game when Fiala took over as best he could, helping to drag a Kings team that didn’t have its best into a position to get something out of the game. He even had two looks late on the power play, trailing 3-2, that would have beat Calgary netminder Jacob Markstrom had they not narrowly missed the net.

Whether it be Phillip Danault and Trevor Moore, who both got off the schneid on this trip, Pierre-Luc Dubois, who brought that level out of the break but had a couple of tough nights in Canada or getting even more from Quinton Byfield or Anze Kopitar, the Kings need contributions from everyone. Younger guys, veterans, defensemen. Everyone has to deliver, with one of the team’s most impactful players in all situations out of action at the moment.

Team off day today, following the back-to-back. Tall task tomorrow, against the Pacific Division leaders, but they Kings will need a result to get something from the trip. Big day ahead.

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