3/28 Preview – Kings expecting another playoff atmosphere + Optional skate, Doughty/Hiller talk systems, identity

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (38-22-11) Edmonton Oilers (43-23-4)
WHEN: Thursday, March 28 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton, AB
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The final trip of the season continues for the LA Kings, as they visit the Edmonton Oilers for the final regular-season meeting between the two teams.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Quinton Byfield leads the Kings this season with five points (2-3-5) from three games played against the Oilers, while his linemate, Anze Kopitar, leads the way with three assists. Forward Viktor Arvidsson is set to play his first game against Edmonton this season and he brings nine points (3-6-9) from eight regular-season games played against the Oilers as a member of the Kings organization.

KINGS VITALS: Following a high-intensity, full-team practice day yesterday in Vancouver, the Kings held an optional morning skate today at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

Based on this morning’s skate, look for goaltender Cam Talbot to get the nod in net tonight against his former club. Talbot has a lifetime mark of 4-1-1 versus the Oilers, with a .946 save percentage and a 1.74 goals-against average.

For reference, here’s how the Kings lined up in Monday’s win over Vancouver –

Based on this morning’s skate, we could potentially see forward Arthur Kaliyev return to the lineup, though that is unconfirmed as of this morning. Forward Carl Grundstrom was on the ice for morning skate in a full-contact jersey for the first time, following up on yesterday’s practice with the team. Grundstrom was on late for extra work. He’s getting “close” but is still on LTIR as of now. Alex Turcotte remains out of the lineup due to injury and is not with the team here in Edmonton.

OILERS VITALS: The Oilers overcame a blown lead in the third period on Tuesday by defeating Winnipeg 4-3 in overtime, restoring their three-point advantage over the Kings in the Pacific Division standings.

Regular starting goaltender Stuart Skinner is expected to get the nod tonight for the hosts. Skinner has a career record of 4-2-0 against the Kings throughout his NHL career, with a .939 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average.

Per Tony Brar of Oilers TV, here’s how the hosts lined up last time out versus the Jets –

Edmonton forward Zach Hyman moved into a tie for second in the NHL with his 51st goal of the season on Tuesday. No team in the NHL averages more shots on goal, per game, than Edmonton’s 33.9 this season. Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard is one of just two blueliners in the league with 15+ goals and 55+ assists, along with Colorado’s Cale Makar.

Notes –
Playoff Atmosphere, Engage
We’ve started to hear it thrown around over the last couple of games.

A regular-season game that felt more like a playoff game. We heard it a bit after the Kings defeated Tampa Bay on Saturday, but the Kings felt that Monday’s win over Vancouver took things to another level.

The Kings have three games remaining on this trip, beginning tonight in Edmonton before trips to Calgary and Winnipeg. While Calgary has faded from the playoff picture, the Oilers and Jets are in the heart of a race for their respective division titles or at the very least home ice advantage in round one.

The Kings know Edmonton well and Edmonton knows them well. When you’ve played a team twice in the playoffs over the last two seasons, with current paths pointing towards a Part 3, there’s always an enhanced level between the teams.

“Yeah, of course, and not only against the Oilers, but I think all the teams left, we’ve got to build our game, focus on our game, keep building as a team,” forward Phillip Danault said. “Obviously the one [today], is a big one, as usual, against Edmonton.”

At this point in the season, though, the Kings are hopeful that every game has that type of an energy, that type of a build up.

Anze Kopitar said after the win on Monday that it was good for the Kings to win that style of a hockey game. Physical, gritty, intense. That’s playoff-type hockey.

Adrian Kempe shared similar thoughts this morning.

“It felt like it was a playoff game, it was a tight game, not a lot of penalties either way and it was a fun game, physical, fast, not a lot of chances either way, it was just kind of a grind game,” he said. “That’s the type of goals I think both teams scored. A couple lucky bounces both ways, but at the end of the night, I thought we played a pretty solid game. Some dirty goals, ugly goals, but that’s what we’ve got to get some nights as well.”

We obviously won’t know exactly what tonight’s game will bring until the puck drops later on tonight here in Edmonton. What we do know, however, is that the Kings are expecting it to be playoff-type hockey for sure. Starts tonight, carries throughout the rest of the trip.

“We’re trying to get into a playoff attitude,” Danault added. “We’ve got to be consistent and bring it every single game. I think that’s probably the biggest difference.”

In Hiller’s eyes, that’s always the goal. We know in reality that certain games just don’t live up to that feel. Frankly, most don’t in the early stages of the season and select contests emerge as the season goes on. Part of that is what makes playoff hockey special.

“As we go down here with the teams in our own division here, we’re saying out West, they’re important games for everybody and that’s the expectation, that it has to be [a playoff feel],” he said. “I think if you expect that and you’re a player and you expect that, you’re going to have a better game.”

Doughty, Hiller Speak on 1-3-1
It’s been an eventful couple of days on the interweb with regards to the LA Kings system.

Jim Hiller put it pretty bluntly. The Kings are going out and trying to win hockey games and certain elements about the way that they play are a part of their game.

“I would just say we’re trying to win hockey games just like everybody else and it’s part of what we do,” Hiller said this morning. “There’s not much more other than that.”

For Drew Doughty, he’s been a part of the systems played for a number of years, since the Kings implemented the way they play currently.

He admitted he wasn’t all that keen on the 1-3-1 neutral zone at the start, but as the Kings began to play it, grow with it and implement it, he found that success came along with it in some ways.

“Originally, when we brought the system in however many years ago, I wasn’t too keen on playing it, to be honest with you, but as we’ve continued to play it and I see how successful it is, and how frustrating it is for other teams, I’m sure at times to the fans when we’re sitting back in it, it doesn’t look great, but at the same time it works for us. I think a lot of these people are saying it out of frustration, because it’s working.”

The whole concept of the systems the Kings play, whether it be the 1-3-1 or something else, seem to only pop up when the Kings defeat a Canadian team. Whether it be Montreal in November or the Canucks on Monday, the comments come out, they dominate the media up North for a couple days and eventually move along. The line of questioning towards both Doughty and Hiller today was almost entirely along those lines.

For Doughty, he believes in the identity that the Kings have built, but does not feel that the 1-3-1 is the identity of the Kings. The Kings are a team that checks, a team that prides itself on sound defensive hockey and aims to make life difficult on the opposition. The team’s neutral-zone system is one of many the Kings play, not the basis of their game.

“I will always believe that defense wins championships, but we don’t want our identity to be a 1-3-1, we want our identity to be a hard-checking, good two-way team,” Doughty said. “I saw a bunch of stuff on the internet yesterday about us not making plays and we have so many good players in here that do make plays, that are great players in this league. Our identity is not the 1-3-1. It’s a big part of our game, it’s something that frustrates other teams, but we bring so much more than that.”

For Hiller, he pointed to something that a mentor of his – Jacques Lemaire – told him.

He believed that teams play defense in the neutral zone when they don’t have the puck. That’s true regardless of what system you go out there and try to execute. If the opposition is attacking through the zone, the team without the puck is trying to get it back. Simple as that.

“There lots of teams that play very well in the neutral zone and I’m not sure if it’s as much about the system they’re playing or as committed their players are to being good in the neutral zone,” Hiller said. “System, this, that, the other thing, it’s all about playing good defense through the neutral zone and you can do that a number of different ways. The important part is that you’re playing defense in the neutral zone when you don’t have the puck.”

Regardless of what is said, the narrative isn’t going to go away, right?

Everyone has their takes and that’s always going to be a part of it. One thing is for sure, though, is that external narratives won’t drive internal change. The Kings will do what the feel gives them the best chance to win games both now and in the postseason.

We play the game hard, we check, systems or style of play, I don’t know, I think everybody plays the game to win and that’s what we do,” Hiller added.

Kings and Oilers, 7 PM puck drop here in Edmonton, 6 PM on Pacific time! Should be another good one between two teams that know each other quite well.

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