4/1 Preview – Danault “50/50” + Akil Thomas joins team, Kings focus on limiting stick infractions tonight in Winnipeg

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (38-24-11) @ Winnipeg Jets (44-24-6)
WHEN: Monday, April 1 @ 6:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Canada Life Centre – Winnipeg, MB
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The final multi-game roadtrip of the season comes to an end tonight, as the Kings look to finish with a .500 record, as they visit the Winnipeg Jets.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Trevor Moore leads the Kings with three points (2-1-3) this season against the Jets. Forward Pierre-Luc Dubois will face his former team for the second time here in Winnipeg, after scoring in his first visit here back in October.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings stayed over in Calgary after Saturday’s game, traveling to Winnipeg yesterday. The team returned to the ice this morning for a full-team skate.

Look for goaltender Cam Talbot to get the nod between the pipes tonight, as he was the first netminder off the ice after today’s morning skate. Talbot has faced the Jets 17 times throughout his NHL career and brings a lifetime record of 9-7-1, with a .902 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average.

Here is how the Kings aligned during today’s morning skate –

Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Dubois – Arvidsson
Fiala – Lizotte – Lewis
Kaliyev – Thomas / Danault – Laferriere

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence


Regarding today’s skate, the Kings welcomed forward Akil Thomas to the group. Thomas skated today on the fourth line with Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Laferriere. The feel from today’s skate is that Thomas will make his NHL debut tonight against the Jets, as he was off this morning with the other lineup regulars.

Regarding forward Phillip Danault, he took a couple of rushes, trading off with Thomas, but was with Carl Grundstrom for extra work away from the team during later drills. Jim Hiller gave Danault a “50/50” chance of playing tonight, based on conversations to follow with Danault and the training staff. We’ll keep an eye out tonight, on whether or not Danault could be available, but the designation of 50/50 is a positive step forward.

JETS VITALS: Winnipeg has lost six consecutive games entering tonight’s action, dating back to March 19.

Look for goaltender Laurent Brossoit to get the start tonight for the Jets on home ice. Brossoit has faced the Kings seven times throughout his NHL career, posting a record of 3-2-1, with a .894 save percentage and a 3.16 goals-against average.

Per John Lu of TSN, here’s how the Jets lined up during this morning’s skate –

Former Kings forward Tyler Toffoli was not on the ice this morning and is a “game-time decision” due to an illness. Former Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi and Alex Iafallo are expected to play, while Rasmus Kupari was on late, indicating he could be out tonight.

Notes –
The Real Deal Akil
Look for a potential NHL debut tonight in Winnipeg, with forward Akil Thomas set to play his first NHL game tonight against the Jets.

Thomas was recalled yesterday by the Kings and was on the ice for the first time here this morning at Canada Life Centre, skating in a white jersey during today’s morning skate. Thomas took line rushes with Trevor Lewis and Arthur Kaliyev on the team’s fourth forward line. For Thomas, he’s a versatile player who can play both center and wing, making him an ideal player to bring up with others out of action.

“I had a chance to coach him in last year’s preseason and I thought he played really well, I know he scored one night, so we know what he is,” Hiller said. “He’s a solid player, dependable both ways, so that’s the kind of player we’re looking for right now. He’ll fit in nicely.”

Hiller’s description fits in pretty well with the type of player Thomas described himself as and the type of player Ontario Head Coach Marco Sturm has called him. It’s April 1 and there are nine regular-season games remaining. This isn’t the time for mindless risks and Thomas isn’t the kind of player who is going to make them. He has solid offensive totals in the AHL and we’ve seen a couple of dazzling goals, but they’ve never come at the expense of playing the game the right way.

In a bottom-six role, that’s what the Kings will be counting upon to start and it’s the style of game Thomas knows he can play.

“I like to bring a playoff-type of brand of hockey, I play hard,” Thomas said of his own game. “I don’t think I skate the fastest or I’m the biggest guy, but I just try to help my team win, whether it’s faceoffs, blocked shots or whatever it is, I just try to do it. I can play different positions and I just try to help the team, no matter what the circumstances are.”

In coming up now, it’s a playoff push for the Kings so there’s really no time to wade into games.

We saw in Calgary, regardless of the opposition, the Kings have to bring their best early to find the results they want at this point in the season. For Thomas, he’s played in AHL playoff games and he’s helped the Reign this season to lock in a playoff berth, with home-ice advantage in Round 1 a real possibility for Ontario. He’s played for a gold medal at the World Juniors and in big games in the OHL. He knows that the hockey at this time of the season, regardless of league, is elevated and being in the NHL, it’s that much more so. That makes it an even more exciting time to debut.

“It’s the best time for hockey, right before playoffs, with teams clinching and big games, every game, every period matters,” he said. “It’s been an exciting year and obviously been playing for a little bit more than just trying to help my team win in Ontario, so it’s been a really exciting time. Being here is something I’m super excited about and thankful.”

Thomas noted he is equally comfortable at both center and wing, which increases both his versatility and his value to the team.

He took rushes down the middle today, which is where he’s played in Ontario for the most part since Alex Turcotte was recalled back in January. When both players were in the Reign lineup, Thomas moved to Turcotte’s wing, forming a really effective pair up front.

Regardless of position, tonight is an exciting night for Thomas and his family. His parents, Khalil and Akliah, are both expected to be in Winnipeg tonight, while he noted several other friends and family should be in attendance as well. He even said that a couple people drove in from Toronto, with flights being crazy on Easter weekend.

Special moment ahead for all involved, assuming Thomas does play tonight.

Cut Down The Penalties
Regardless of who is playing tonight, there are two important points on the line tonight for the Kings. The key to start with has to be staying out of the box.

In Calgary on Saturday, the Kings took six minor penalties and overburdened a penalty-killing unit that’s been their crutch all season long. Three of the six wound up in the back of the net, the first time the Kings have had a night like that while shorthanded all season long. Certain penalties are ones you’re okay with. Aggressive, physical calls are okay. It’s the stick infractions the Kings know they need to cutdown on and that’s a focal point tonight.

“For me, it’s the stick penalties,” Hiller said. Stick penalties are 50/50, do you have to lay the stick on the guy or do you just keep the stick off and then close with your body. To me, those are the types of penalties – and we’ve taken four of those over the last two games – those are the ones that have got to go away. We had a couple of penalties where you hit a guy, maybe hit him too hard, it’s a 50/50 call, a physical battle, you can accept those, but too many stick penalties. That’s something the player can control.”

It’s a notion that the Kings players know as well.

After the Calgary game, both Adrian Kempe and Anze Kopitar lamented the number of stick infractions the Kings had in that game. Kopitar called six far too many, indicating that when it’s 2 or 3, it’s manageable. Six becomes a massive burden on the team’s penalty killers and when you’re going shorthanded that regularly, eventually something is going to give, even for an elite PK unit like the Kings have had all season.

“Too many penalties,” defenseman Matt Roy said this morning. “I took one in Edmonton, a stupid one, and I think it carried over a little bit to [the Calgary] game. We addressed it here for tonight, so hopefully moving forward we won’t be taking as many.”

Not just one culprit, though it speaks to who Roy is that he took responsibility himself.

As Roy added, the Kings have addressed the stick infractions collectively as a group and heading into tonight’s game, it’s clearly a point of emphasis to reduce those. Against a Winnipeg team that can certainly be dangerous, the Kings want to keep the game played at 5-on-5. Cutting down on those controllable penalties is step one towards doing so.

“We’ve had quite a few stick penalties, whether it’s cross-checking or slashing,” forward Blake Lizotte added. “That’s been kind of a theme around the league, trying to crack down before playoffs, keeping control of games and there have been some individual plays that have happened that just can’t happen. You take a penalty and the kill needs to be ready to kill it, in that scenario we can do better.”

Stay out of the box, have that jump right off the opening puck drop and the Kings will give themselves a chance to close out the roadtrip on a high note. 6 PM puck drop on Pacific time, 8 PM here locally in Winnipeg.

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