3/25 Preview – No Morning Skate Today + The Trip Ahead, Offense From The Defense, Tie At The Top

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (37-22-11) @ Vancouver Canucks (45-18-8)
WHEN: Monday, March 25 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Rogers Arena – Vancouver, BC
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The LA Kings are back on the road, as they being a key four-game trip tonight in Vancouver.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: A trio of Kings lead the way with three points against the Canucks this season, with Drew Doughty, Kevin Fiala and Trevor Moore each tallying a goal and two assists versus Vancouver from two games played. Moore is the only player to score in both matchups so far this season.

KINGS VITALS: With tonight’s game starting a bit earlier than usual, a 6 PM puck drop in Vancouver, the Kings opted for an off-ice workout this morning as opposed to a morning skate.

Without a skate for direction, unclear exactly who the Kings will choose in net. Should they turn back to Cam Talbot, who started Saturday’s win over the Lightning, he brings with him a lifetime record of 12-3-5 versus the Canucks, with a .930 save percentage and a 1.99 goals against average. Should David Rittich get the nod, he’s faced the Canucks 11 times throughout his career, with a record of 5-3-2, a .899 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average.

For reference, here’s how the Kings lined up last time out versus Tampa Bay –

The Kings really don’t have a ton of options for tonight’s game, so for now, we can project the same lineup as we saw two days prior. Should the team opt for any changes, forward Arthur Kaliyev is available to check in up front. Were that to happen, it would likely swing the alignment to a 12F / 6D look, as opposed the 11/7 approach that has been favored as of late.

Regarding forwards Carl Grundstrom and Alex Turcotte, neither are expected to be available tonight. Grundstrom remains on LTIR, though he has resumed skating, which is a good step forward. Turcotte remains out, day-to-day, and has not re-joined the group since Tuesday against Chicago.

CANUCKS VITALS: Since the 5-1 Kings victory in British Columbia last month, Vancouver has rattled off a record of 7-1-1, including wins in three straight entering tonight’s game.

With regular starting goaltender Thatcher Demko currently out of action with an injury, look for Vancouver to turn to Casey DeSmith in tonight’s game. DeSmith has faced the Kings just three times throughout his career, posting a record of 1-2-0, with a .882 save percentage and a 3.42 goals-against average.

Per Brendan Batchelor of Sportsnet 650, here’s how the Canucks lined up in Saturday’s win over Calgary –

No team has more points or a better goal differential than the Canucks this season. Vancouver is tied with the New York Rangers on 98 points, while their +60 differential sits alone on top of the NHL. Canucks forward Brock Boeser has 15 career goals from 18 games played against the Kings throughout his career, including his team’s lone goal in this building in February.

Notes –
Big Trip Ahead
“I don’t get too far ahead. I know we’ve got to play Vancouver, we’ve had two great games with Vancouver this year. Played very well in their barn and they got us [in Los Angeles]. I thought they played better than us in our building, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s going to be a real good game.”

That was Head Coach Jim Hiller, speaking in advance of the trip the Kings are set to begin tonight. I suppose it began yesterday, when the team traveled to Vancouver in the early afternoon.

Tonight’s game though begins a pretty important roadtrip for the Kings.

Whether the Kings go 4-0, 0-4 or somewhere in between, they’ll be in a playoff race when they return home. As mentioned yesterday, it’s just a matter of which race they’ll be in. A really strong trip will have them contending for home ice in round one, as the Kings currently sit three points out of second with a head-to-head matchup in Edmonton on Thursday. A rough trip will see them fighting for their playoff lives, with just a six-point cushion separating them from St. Louis, currently the last team out of a playoff berth. Somewhere in between, will keep them where they are – on the line between a Pacific Division berth and a wild-card spot.

Approaching this stretch, it’s good for the Kings to be playing in these types of games. They’re feeling confident heading in, on the back of three wins at home, which is a good sign.

“I think it’s good to be a part of it, to feel it and find a way to come out on top,” defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “This road trip is going to be a huge one, so it helps having a few wins going into it and feeling good about our game.”

When faced with the prospect of a difficult trip, it’s nice to be playing some of your best hockey of the season and as such, feeling good about your game.

The Kings are in that spot and are now looking to start the trip on the high note as a result.

“I think we’re right where we need to be right now,” goaltender Cam Talbot added. “Our game looks good. There’s obviously things we need to tweak here and there, from game to game, but we’ve tightened up defensively, put the puck in the net a lot more recently Everything just seems to be clicking right now, we’re going in the right direction, but we have to keep building.”

Offense From The Defense
Two of the biggest goals in recent memory for the LA Kings came via defensemen in Saturday’s win over Tampa Bay.

First, Mikey Anderson led a 2-on-1 rush and buried his second goal of the year, clean past Andrei Vasilevskiy, to put the team up 3-1. After the Lightning tied the game late in regulation, defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov won it in overtime, as he surged forward at 3-on-3 to score on a breakaway. His yearly quota for sick, breakaway goals.

In one of those rare regular season games that seemed to feel more like a playoff game, the Kings got production from a pair of unlikely heroes in Anderson and Gavrikov. They’re not necessarily guys who are known for that in their game, but when you can get those types of goals, without sacrificing what they do best, it’s ideal.

“We always want offense from our defenseman, but that should never be at the expense of defense,” Jim Hiller said. “You need your defenseman to score, whether it’s goals or making good plays and putting the forwards in good spots offensively, that’s all important stuff. Need the offense from your d-men, but there just has to be a balance.”

As the Kings won three consecutive home games last week, they saw a surge in scoring from their defensive corps.

In addition to his goal on Saturday, Gavrikov also scored in Tuesday’s win over Chicago, while Matt Roy and Jordan Spence both scored in Wednesday’s win over Minnesota. For Spence, it was his second goal in four games, after he went the entire season without finding the back of the net. The goal for Roy was his fourth of the season, while his partner, Gavrikov, now has six. Five in total for the Kings over three games, for a group that also added six assists in total during that span.

What’s great, too, is that the offensive production came from three games in which the Kings allowed just a total of five goals too. Of those five, three were power-play goals against and one came with the goaltender pulled for a 6-on-5 advantage. The fifth was a consolation goal by the Blackhawks, with the Kings already leading 5-1. For this group, getting the offense is good, but doing it without sacrificing anything defensively is great.

“It’s been our goal all season long, but it’s nice that they’re going in now,” Roy said. “Hopefully it’s taken a little pressure off the forwards, they can relax and hopefully pucks are going for them as well.”

When you factor in recent production from everybody, alongside what the Kings have gotten from Drew Doughty, who ranks seventh in the league in goals by a defenseman, and you’ve got a group that can potentially do what Roy talked about – take some of the pressure off the forwards offensively. The Kings now have 32 goals from their defensemen, tied for 14th in the NHL. Not a bad place to be.

The Kings are hitting their stride up front, seemingly finally finding a consistent set of lines within what has now been the preferred 11/7 look. If you can also get goals from your backend though, as has been the case lately, it creates another layer of depth, essentially another forward line to rely on. That’s big and that’s what this team needs to be successful.

Tied At The Top
Lastly, Insiders, how about this stat.

Entering tonight’s action, forwards Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe and Kevin Fiala are locked in a three-way tie for the team’s scoring lead on the season. Their numbers are astonishingly similar too. Kopitar and Fiala have identical statlines – 23 goals, 39 assists, 62 points from 70 games played. Kempe has played in five fewer games and has one fewer goal, coming in with 22 goals and 40 assists from 65 games played.

All three players have been hot too.

Kopitar and Kempe each have multiple points in four of their last five games, including Saturday’s win over Tampa Bay. Fiala has five points from his last four games and surged towards the top of the scoring charts with a similar stretch to Kopitar and Kempe, with four multi-point games out of five just a couple weeks back.

In the bigger picture, this isn’t all that important, especially as the Kings begin the aforementioned trip. However, with 12 games remaining, it feels pretty rare to have your three leading scores all tied with almost the exact same stat line. Kopitar has led the team in scoring in all but two of his first 17 seasons in the NHL and he’s right in the mix to do so again. Speaks to the seasons Kempe and Fiala are having too, that they’re right up there tied, especially when you look at Kempe missing a few games due to injury.

Should be an exciting conclusion on that front.

As for the Kings, they’ve got 12 games remaining in the regular season, so an exciting conclusion there as well. As noted, it starts with this pivotal four-game trip. Should be a good one, starting tonight in Vancouver.

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