4/13 Preview – Kopitar status update, Grundstrom conditioning loan + Playoff Rest & Rhythm, What The Numbers Say

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (42-26-11) vs. Anaheim Ducks (26-49-5)
WHEN: Saturday, April 13 @ 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 final homestand of the regular season continues for the LA Kings, as they host the Anaheim Ducks in a Saturday-night showdown.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forwards Kevin Fiala (3-1-4) and Adrian Kempe (0-4-4) and defenseman Drew Doughty (1-3-4) led the Kings with four points versus the Ducks so far this season. Forward Akil Thomas scored in his Freeway Faceoff debut on Tuesday at Honda Center. Forward Trevor Lewis tallied the assist on the Thomas goal, the 14th of his career against the Ducks, tying his personal high against any one opponent.

KINGS VITALS: Following yesterday’s team day off, the Kings held a full team morning skate this morning at Toyota Sports Performance Center.

Goaltender David Rittich looks to be the starting goaltender here this evening against the Ducks, after he was off first from today’s morning skate. Rittich has faced Anaheim four times throughout his professional career, posting a record of 1-1-0, with a .903 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average.

Here’s how the Kings lined up during this morning’s twirl –

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

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence

Rittich / Talbot

Anze Kopitar was not on the ice this morning. Consider him somewhat of a game-time decision to play tonight.

“I wouldn’t say officially [out], I would be careful on that, but we’ll see,” Jim Hiller said, of his captain’s status.

For tonight, it looks like we’ll see a full lineup for the Kings against Anaheim, potentially minus Kopitar. Today’s skate came with the same look that we saw on Thursday versus the Flames, but with Pierre-Luc Dubois in Kopitar’s usual place between Adrian Kempe and Quinton Byfield. Should Kopitar not play, the Kings could opt for an 11F / 7D alignment, with Jacob Moverare getting another look.

Additionally, the Kings were without forward Carl Grundstrom today, with the Swede assigned to AHL-Ontario on a conditioning loan. Grundstrom has been out of action now for over two months with a lower-body injury. The Reign play tonight in Henderson and Wednesday in Bakersfield before the regular season ends. Assuming he’ll get into at least one of those games before returning to the Kings for the playoffs.

DUCKS VITALS: Anaheim has lost 15 of its last 18 games, though one of the three wins came over the Kings on Tuesday on home ice.

Goaltender John Gibson started yesterday’s game versus Calgary, so look for Lukas Dostal to be back between the pipes here this evening for Anaheim. Dostal made 36 saves on 37 shots in Tuesday’s win over the Kings, as he improved his lifetime record to 1-1-0 against LA.

Per Derek Lee of the Sporting Tribune, here’s how Anaheim lined up versus Calgary yesterday –

Anaheim forward Jakob Silfverberg announced earlier this week that he would be retiring from the NHL after this season, though not retiring from hockey. Silfverberg has 20 points (8-12-20) from 42 career games against the Kings throughout his NHL career. If you count playoff games, tonight would be Silfverberg’s 50th game played against LA, his second-most against any opponent.

Notes –
Talking Maintenance
Jim Hiller said after Thursday’s win over Calgary that the Kings will play the final three games to win. He added the context that the organization will respect “bumps and bruises” when determining a lineup each night over the last three games.

“We’ll be very cognizant of bumps and bruises, that will be the only thing that would probably take someone’s minutes down, if they’re not 100-percent healthy,” Hiller said. “We’ll want to manage that a little bit, but otherwise, we’re playing to win.”

As we approach these final three games of the regular season, lineups are more worth monitoring for who is in and who is out, for potential rest purposes more than how the lines are configured. With two games remaining after tonight, it’ll be interesting to see how the minutes and assignments shake out for guys like Kopitar, Doughty, Danault, etc, who have played all season in heavy-minute roles over the course of the year.

For Kopitar, tonight could be the first opportunity where we see him get a little time off, though that it certainly feels like a game-time decision or at least a decision the Kings aren’t looking to share as of now. Kopitar has missed a few practices here and there down the stretch with maintenance days. If tonight was Game 1, I don’t think there’s a question he would be in the lineup. It’s not, though. It’s Game 80 and the Kings have their place in the postseason. So, if there are “bumps and bruises” it makes sense to manage Kopitar wisely, whether that be in the lineup tonight or not.

“We’ll come up with a plan,” Kopitar said. “I’d like to get some rest, but I also don’t want to just lay down and not be in the rhythm going into the first game of the playoffs.”

As he lays out, there are pros and cons, for sure. You want to make sure the body gets the time it needs, but does the rest outweigh the rhythm to be gained by staying in routine and ideally winning three games to get on a bit of a roll?

I suppose that’s a player-to-player decision.

For Drew Doughty, who is not just the highest-minute player on the Kings, but the highest-minute player in the NHL, he’s not necessarily looking to sit out any games.

“No conversations with the coaches [yet],” Doughty said this morning. “I was telling the guys today, even if they offered it to me, I kind of want to beat my career high in goals, so I think I’d want to play anyways.”

Might as well just score twice tonight and then have the conversation tomorrow.

Doughty pointed to how important he feels these games are for the team, even if there’s no way of knowing exactly how they impact the ultimate fate of the Kings in the standings. Speaks to the rhythm that Kopitar mentioned. These are important games for the team to hit the playoffs playing the right way.

“In the past, I realized how important the last games of the season are, you can’t go into the playoffs flat,” Doughty said. “It always sucks going one or two down to start a playoff run. We have to win these three games. I know they’re not as important in the standings for us, but they’re so important for us going into the playoffs.”

From the perspective of managing the entire team, Jim Hiller wants to make sure the Kings are where they need to be collectively, but that starts with individuals getting and doing what they need to do.

If everyone, individually, is preparing the right way and setting themselves up the right way, then the team game follows. That’s the approach here heading into tonight and the nexts week.

“You want to be feeling good when you hit the playoffs, certainly as a team, but as an individual player,” Hiller added. “If you try doing something that you don’t normally do, that’s out of your skillset, out of your structure as a player, now you have to take some time getting back to that. We don’t want to get away from that as individuals. If we do it together, our team structure is in place. It really does come down to individuals.”

What’s On The Line
I don’t know how much weight to put into these charts, but I do find them interesting.

Courtesy of MoneyPuck, they show the implications that specific results would have on the overall standings, from the perspective of simply playing the numbers. With a win of any kind, the Kings would have – by the numbers – a greater than 80 percent chance of finishing third in the Pacific Division. A Kings win, combined with a Vancouver win over Edmonton, and Kings/Oilers Part 3 starts to look very, very likely in the 2/3 matchup once again. As you can see, though, a Kings loss swings some of the percentage points towards potentially being a wild-card team, likely WC2, which would mean crossing into the Central Division.

The math is just the math, and you have to play the games on the ice. That’s what the Kings will do tonight, Monday and Thursday to conclude the regular season.

“It’s hard to say ‘seeding’ especially with where we’re at,” Hiller said. “It’s up the air for all teams, so I don’t think anybody is looking at that. Let’s get there and let’s get there playing well.”

That’s the perspective the players and coaches are taking. More on that tomorrow, with a look at some thoughts and reactions to the notion of “seeding”.

For us we can afford to look a bit more at the larger picture. The game tonight between the Oilers and Canucks will go a long way towards ultimately determining the playoff picture. Edmonton is currently three points back of Vancouver with one game in hand. An Edmonton win in regulation swings control to the Oilers for the Pacific Division title. A Canucks win means they’re in firm control for the division title heading into their final two games. An overtime game makes it that much murkier. The same MoneyPuck charts call it a coinflip for the top seed if Edmonton wins in regulation. It’s nearly a 100-percent chance Vancouver takes the division if it wins in regulation.

Exciting times to watch some hockey games.

Kings and Ducks in the final Freeway Faceoff of the regular season. 7:30 PM start for Game 80.

Rules for Blog Commenting

  • No profanity, slurs or other offensive language. Replacing letters with symbols does not turn expletives into non-expletives.
  • Personal attacks against other blog commenters, and/or blatant attempts to antagonize other comments, are not tolerated. Respectful disagreement is encouraged. Posts that continually express the same singular opinion will be deleted.
  • Comments that incite political, religious or similar debates will be deleted.
  • Please do not discuss, or post links to websites that illegally stream NHL games.
  • Posting under multiple user names is not allowed. Do not type in all caps. All violations are subject to comment deletion and/or banning of commenters, per the discretion of the blog administrator.

Repeated violations of the blog rules will result in site bans, commensurate with the nature and number of offenses.

Please flag any comments that violate the site rules for moderation. For immediate problems regarding problematic posts, please email zdooley@lakings.com.