3/23 Preview – Kopitar good to go + Celebrating 1,200, Home Performance, Grundstrom/Turcotte Updates

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (36-22-11) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (38-25-6)
WHEN: Saturday, March 23 @ 7:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are in search of a perfect homestand, with the Tampa Bay Lightning in town for a Saturday-evening showdown.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings were led by forward Trevor Moore when these teams met back in January, with the Thousand Oaks native collecting two assists in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory. Forward Phillip Danault and defenseman Matt Roy scored in that game, giving Danault four goals from five games played against the Lightning as a member of the Kings organization.

KINGS VITALS: Following a full-team practice yesterday, the Kings held an optional morning skate today at Toyota Sports Performance Center.

Look for Cam Talbot to get the nod between the pipes this evening against the Lightning, after he did not skate this morning in El Segundo. Talbot has posted a lifetime record of 4-1-1 versus Tampa Bay, from seven career appearances, with a .905 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average.

Wednesday’s alignment is shown below for reference, with no changes expected for tonight –

In Wednesday’s win over Minnesota, the Kings welcomed back forward Viktor Arvidsson, who returned from injury with a multi-point game versus the Wild. Arvidsson is likely to retain his spot in tonight’s lineup, with the Kings seemingly likely to continue with the 11F / 7D look we saw against Minnesota.

Expecting captain Anze Kopitar to play tonight, after missing yesterday’s practice with a maintenance day. Nothing in it beyond rest, per Jim Hiller this morning.

“There was nothing really there, just a little bit of rest.”

Forward Alex Turcotte did not skate this morning and is currently day-to-day with an injury suffered against Chicago on Tuesday. Assuming all holds according to plan, forward Arthur Kaliyev would likely be the only scratched player for the Kings, with Turcotte remaining out.

LIGHTNING VITALS: Tampa Bay enters tonight’s game as one of the NHL’s hottest teams, winners of five consecutive games entering tonight’s action.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilivskiy has started nine consecutive games, and 16 of his team’s last 17, and is projected to get the start again tonight. The Russian goaltender has faced the Kings 13 times throughout his NHL career, posting a record of 9-3-0, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average.

Per Chris Krenn of TampaBayLightning.com, here’s how tonight’s opponent lined up last time out –

Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 122 points entering tonight’s action. The winger is on pace for 147 points this season, which would be the fourth-highest total over the last 30 years. Both Kucherov and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid are on track to break 90 assists this season, which would be the first time since Joe Thornton in 2007 a player has had 90+ helpers. The last player to record 100+ assists was Wayne Gretzky in 1991, with Kucherov currently pacing for 97.

Notes –
The 1,200-Point Man

It’s the season of Kopitar, isn’t it?

Just another milestone for number 11, as he scored his 1,200th career point in the NHL last time out, in another multi-point night. Kopitar has five goals and seven points over his last five games and collected his 60th point of the season in Wednesday’s win over Minnesota. This came just a few games after Kopitar hit the 20-goal mark once again, the 13th time he’s done so throughout his professional career, becoming the first LA King to hit that number 13 times.

For all the external talk of it being the year that Kopitar might not lead the team in scoring, here he is, two points shy of the team lead, with 13 games to go. At 36-years-old, Kopitar’s points-per-game pace is pretty much right in line with his career numbers. 0.87 this season compared to 0.89 for his career to date. His scoring numbers haven’t dipped and he’s continued to kill penalties and match up against high-level opposition on a nightly basis.

He’s a coaches dream, someone who Jim Hiller appreciates each and every day.

“He plays a style of game that every coach appreciates, every teammate appreciates and clearly the fans appreciate it,” Hiller said. “In Kopi’s case, he plays the game the right way, maybe his name is mentioned for the Selke, shutdown center and then we honor him for 1,200 points. He’s a Stanley Cup winner, he’s got all the bases covered. You just appreciate how good he is, his leadership there and just let him do his thing. He’s earned that.”

Kopitar is certainly appreciated by his teammates as well.

As a leader, Kopitar’s even-keeled approach, combined with a willingness to say what needs to be said at the appropriate times, has gained him the utmost respect. As a player, he’s still playing at a high level. His teammates have seen that level for years and they continue to see it.

Kevin Fiala – His consistency, he does it every day, even on non game days he shows up and gives 100 percent in practices. He’s been a great leader for a long time, still is. I think consistency is the hardest thing to do and he has that. He does everything very good. We are happy to have him, I’m very happy to play with him.

Trevor Moore – It’s amazing to get to play with him and see him break all these records. It feels like every night we’ve got something new, so to be a small part of that, and for him to be able to have those numbers is pretty cool.

1,200 points is simply the latest number in a season full of them. Kopitar was honored back in January for what has been a season of milestones and he’s reach the aforementioned two over the last couple of weeks. He’s to more to come for number 11.

Quick Hitters
– Just as there was no rhyme or reason to the team’s record on home ice when it wasn’t good, there is equally no real rhyme or reason for why it’s turned for the better.

Since the NHL All-Star break, the LA Kings are 8-2-1 on home ice. That’s eight wins from the last 11 games played here at Crypto.com Arena, compared to eight wins from the first 23. There’s not really a ton to point towards, other than a team that is dialed in right now at home.

“I think it’s just focus and commitment,” defenseman Matt Roy said this morning. “I don’t know what the reason was for having such a poor record before, but we all come to the rink ready to go, ready to face any opponent and I think that will help.”

Roy’s defensive partner, Vladislav Gavrikov, seemed to have similar thoughts.

He pointed to the “little details” in the game as an area he feels the Kings have focused on more over the last six weeks, as opposed to perhaps earlier in the season. It hasn’t been a drastic overhaul, but Gavrikov feels he has seen the Kings do everything just a little bit better as of late.

“The details are important, we’ve just paid attention more with that,” he said. “We didn’t change much, just those details, we try to improve there every single day.”

Heading into tonight’s game, the Kings have an opportunity to complete a perfect 3-0-0 homestand.

Standing in the way are the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the NHL’s hottest clubs at the moment, fighting through their own playoff battle. Certainly won’t be an easy game, but it’s one the Kings are looking forward to playing in.

“Another team that’s hot and they’re in a race too, so it should be a really good hockey game,” Hiller added. “I have a lot of history with Tampa, a lot of respect for their team, their players, I know them pretty well. That’s going to be a good hockey game.”

– Regarding Alex Turcotte and Carl Grundstrom, Hiller had the following update –

“Turc is day-to-day and Grunny is LTIR still. Grunny is skating at least, he’s got that part started, but he’s probably awhile away, while Turc is day-to-day.”

A positive regarding Grundstrom, who has been out since mid-February with a lower-body injury. Grundstrom was out this morning in a red, non-contact jersey, skating on his own. Turcotte did not skate today, either with Grundstrom or in the morning skate, so while his timeline is currently considered shorter, we don’t really know exactly what that timeline looks like.

Hiller said that he is unsure as of this morning whether or not either player will travel with the team on their upcoming roadtrip to Western Canada. The Kings do have two days off between Monday’s game in Vancouver and Thursday’s game in Edmonton, so they could adapt on the fly. If neither player does travel, the Kings would have a pretty bare-bones squad available, with just 19 skaters healthy and available and not much in terms of cap space to add another player without LTIR relief. Lots of factors to consider, including the possibility of emergency recalls. We’ll get a better sense there tomorrow.

– Lastly, how about another look at Akil Thomas’ overtime game-winning goal last night with the Ontario Reign.

A dazzler by any standards, as the Reign secured a pivotal win over Calgary in overtime. With 11 games remaining, Ontario has a one-point lead over Bakersfield for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, a best-of-three series played entirely in the building of the better seeded team. Reign back in action at 3 PM tomorrow on home ice against the Condors in a huge one for playoff seeding.

For tonight, it’s the Kings and Lightning as LA looks for that elusive perfect homestand! Puck drops at 7:30 PM in DTLA.

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