2/29 Preview – “Urgency For Points” + Replacing Kempe’s Contributions, Turcotte w/ 11 and 55, Leap Day!

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (29-19-10) @ Vancouver Canucks (38-16-7)
WHEN: Thursday, February 29 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Rogers Arena– Vancouver, BC
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are still in search of their first victory in Western Canada, as they conclude a three-game trip tonight against the Vancouver Canucks.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Tonight marks the first matchup of the season between these two clubs. Forwards Arthur Kaliyev and Blake Lizotte led the Kings a season ago with four points apiece (2-2-4) versus Vancouver. Defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov added two points in the final two months of last season, after he was acquired at the trade deadline.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings returned to the ice with a full-team morning skate today in Vancouver.

Look for the Kings to go back to goaltender Cam Talbot again tonight, his second consecutive start here on this trip. Talbot has faced the Canucks 20 times throughout his NHL career, with a lifetime record of 11-3-4, alongside a .928 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average.

Line rushes from today’s morning skate shown below –

Turcotte – Kopitar – Byfield
Moore – Danault – Fiala
Laferriere – Dubois – Anderson-Dolan
Lewis – Lizotte – Kaliyev

Moverare – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence


For tonight, the Kings are still without forward Adrian Kempe, who departed the team to return to Los Angeles with an upper-body injury. No further update today regarding Kempe’s status, but he is not an option tonight.

The Kings have just one extra skater on the roster from Tuesday’s lineup in Calgary – defenseman Brandt Clarke. Clarke worked into power-play rushes today, so we could potentially see an 11/7 look tonight, though we won’t know for sure until tonight’s game.

CANUCKS VITALS: Vancouver has dropped five of its last six games entering tonight’s action, most recently a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Vancouver is expected to start goaltender Thatcher Demko this evening against the Kings. Tonight would mark Demko’s sixth career start versus Los Angeles, bringing with him a 4-1-0 record, a .953 save percentage and a 1.56 goals-against average.

Per Brendan Batchelor of Sportsnet, here’s how the Canucks lined up last time out versus Pittsburgh –

Entering today, no team in the NHL has scored more goals this season than Vancouver (221) and no team has more regulation wins (33). Forward Elias Lindholm, acquired from Calgary prior to the All-Star break, has four goals and six points from 12 games played with the Canucks.

Notes –
Filling In For Kempe

“Everybody wants opportunity, every player wants to play more, whether you’re on the first line or the fourth line, everybody wants more. There will be players that get that opportunity to play more.”

That was Jim Hiller, speaking about the process of players filling in for Adrian Kempe, as a collective.

Easier said than done.

Kempe contributes for this team in so many different ways. If there was a 1-for-1 replacement on the roster, the Kings would already be playing him. So, fact of the matter is, the Kings will have to do their best to replace Kempe in the aggregate and there are a number of ways to try and do so.

On night one, Tuesday versus Calgary, we saw a variety of different options tried and a variety of different players see more minutes as a result of Kempe’s absence. Off the puck drop, the Kings opted to try and load up the top six, with Pierre-Luc Dubois moving to the wing alongside Anze Kopitar and Quinton Byfield. After a first period that saw the Kings struggle, they changed things up.

In that game, Alex Turcotte played more than 10 minutes at 5-on-5, his second highest total of the season, as he moved onto the wing with Kopitar and Byfield for the final 40 minutes. Byfield felt that Turcotte gave his line a “spark” and he effectively provided some energy in a higher position in the lineup. Turcotte is one of a few who should see this as an opportunity to assert themselves into a more regular role in the lineup.

“It’s a really good opportunity for me,” Turcotte said this morning. “I thought we played pretty good together in the third period, had a lot of chances, could have scored a couple goals. I’m really looking forward to it, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, working hard, trying to create space for those two guys, they’re obviously great players.”

Turcotte said he’s not trying to replace Kempe, who he called an amazing goalscorer and one of the best players on the team. He’s just trying to be himself and that’s all the Kings can want from him. Hard work, energy and tenacity, with the skill to make plays off of that level of work. If he does that, he’ll find success.

“He’s had a good run since he’s come back up, now obviously elevated with Kopi is a bigger role for him, he had that the Calgary game,” Hiller added. “He got through that once, now he’ll start there and he’s on the power play tonight, you saw that, so he’s earned his way, we haven’t handed him anything. I think Kopi and Q are really excited to play with him.”

On the penalty kill, it was forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan who stepped into the rotation, while Trevor Lewis played 2:55 with the Kings a man down, the most amongst all Kings forwards. Kempe is one of the team’s best in shorthanded situations, with his combination of speed, length and defensive-zone acumen. For players like Lewis and Anderson-Dolan to step up, sparing some higher-minute players in that situation, is important.

Lewis in particular took PK shifts not only in his regular spot with Blake Lizotte but he also stepped up with Anze Kopitar, the role that Kempe usually fills. Having a player like Lewis, who can eat those difficult minutes effectively, is not something Hiller takes for granted.

“You always trust Lewie, he’s a guy that in any situation, you trust him,” Hiller said. “A lot of times when we’re winning late, he plays more, and now he’s gone with Kopi on the penalty kill as his right hand man, riding shotgun where Juice used to, so his minutes will increase there. Just a just a great professional, somebody you always know what you’re getting and great leadership for some of our young players in the room as well.”

It won’t just be one guy who takes over Kempe’s minutes, for however long he’s out of the lineup. It’ll take a collective effort, with Turcotte and Lewis just two individuals who will help in that area.

Playoff Intensity
Phillip Danault put it best after the Calgary game.

“It’s playoff hockey until the end. We put ourselves in that position and we’ve got to live with it.”

The Kings know where they’re at. They’re currently tied with Nashville in the Wild Card standings, with both teams currently on 68 points, occupying the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Predators have won six straight games to get into that position, while the Kings have lost three of their last four. Every game right now is important. The Kings are still within clear striking distance of Vegas and Edmonton in the Pacific Division, entering the day five and four points back specifically. They’re also within striking distance of being caught themselves, with five points separating them and both Calgary and St. Louis, at 63 points apiece.

The Kings still sit firmly in control of their own fate here, but they do not have the margin for error to continue to let games slip away. Entering the third period in both Edmonton and Calgary, the Kings were tied. They left both games without a point to show for it.

“The disappointing part for us, when you talk about urgency, is that we were tied on the road in the third period on both nights and came out with nothing,” Jim Hiller said. “There’s urgency to get points.”

The two games in Alberta went differently from the Kings perspectives. Almost opposite. The Kings started so well in Edmonton but they didn’t come out in the third period the way they needed to in a 2-2 game. In Calgary, they got better as the game went along, following a sluggish start.

The result, however, was the same.

“We didn’t start well against Calgary, it took us a while to get our legs, but we did do a good job of keeping them on the outside and we didn’t give up a lot either night,” Hiller detailed. “The third period was our best period in Calgary and the third period was our worst period in Edmonton. The third period has got to be your best. I like the push against Calgary better than how we played in the third in Edmonton.”

No matter how you spin it, how you shake it, it’s two losses on the road. On a three game trip, that leaves just one more opportunity to collect points and it’s in Vancouver, facing a team that is 20-5-3 in their own building, the fewest home regulation losses in the NHL. A tall task that the Kings need to answer.

“We like our team, we have a good hockey team, we know that, so we’re pushing hard,” Hiller added. “We need some points on the roadtrip, it’s the last crack at it here.”

Leap Day!
Finally, Insiders, the Kings will play for the seventh time in franchise history on February 29.

The all-time record stands at 3-2-1, most recently a 2-1 victory over New Jersey on February 29, 2020. The Kings and Canucks have met on this date once before, a 1-1 tie in 2000 in Los Angeles.

2020 – 2-1 W vs. NJD
2004 – 3-6 L @ ANA
2000 – 1-1 T vs. VAN
1992 – 5-3 W vs. MTL
1976 – 1-5 L @ BUF
1968 – 3-1 W vs. PHI

2024……TBD. Kings and Canucks, 7 PM puck drop at Rogers Arena. Back on Pacific time, with two points the Kings really need.

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