Playoff Practice 4/20 – “Energetic” Skate + Today’s Lines, Reasoning Behind Them, Back To Edmonton

Practice Day, Playoff Edition!

The LA Kings hit the ice for practice here this morning as they prepare for Game 1 in Edmonton on Monday evening.

Today’s skate was a longer one. Day off yesterday, no game tomorrow, Kings got after it as intensity filled Toyota Sports Performance Center.

On the ice, the Kings practiced for just shy of an hour, focusing on a few different areas of their game to prepare for Edmonton. Head Coach Jim Hiller has been phasing in playoff preparations over the last week or so, noting that the team’s final practice of the regular season had certain specifics tailored towards Round 1. Before the regular-season finale against Chicago, while he didn’t offer up specifics, Hiller indicated that parts of practice were specifically designed around preparing for Monday’s game.

Today’s preparations, however, came with a bit of a different atmosphere surrounding practice.

The Kings held an off-ice Fan Fest to create buzz heading into the playoffs, with fans filling the building for a packed house for practice today. Energy was incredible and the guys even fed off of it a little bit.

“It was pretty cool,” forward Phillip Danault said. “I wish it could be like that for every practice, that was awesome.”

Jim Hiller admitted he was so dialed in today that he didn’t even necessarily pick on the fans being the reason behind the energy, but he certainly noticed a high-energy skate. He spoke with Anze Kopitar during practice and it was the captain who noted the atmosphere as a driving reason behind it.

“We had a really good practice, I actually talked to Kopi about this, ‘man it was an energetic practice’, and he pointed out that the stands were full, I didn’t even think about it,” Hiller said. “Maybe that was the reason, I was hoping it was because we were just excited to get out there, but there were people in the stands, cheers when a couple of nice goals went in.”

Hiller added that he believes, or at least hopes, the team would have had that approach regardless.

He talked about the focus of the group and the “business-like approach” that everyone seemed to have during today’s practice. A squad that is excited and ready to go, moving around the ice pretty well in doing so.

Tis the time of the year for ramping things up. Comes with the territory of postseason hockey. Energy is high, levels are hopefully being raised and everyone’s got the focus and intensity that comes along with it.

“I think it comes naturally,” Hiller said. “You don’t make it to the NHL, compete for 82 games and be a good enough, strong enough team to make the playoffs and not know what that feels like, have that level and have that burning desire inside of you. We’re comfortable with that.”

Now, if you’re looking for detailed, specifics on the team’s practice approach, you might be disappointed. It’s the playoffs and teams are particularly tight-lipped when it comes to offering up information publicly that could reveal or create a disadvantage. You might not buy it, but the game is the game, as they say.

We did, however, get a lot to talk about pertaining to the alignment. Here’s what we saw from the Kings during practice today –

Laferriere – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Fiala – Lizotte – Lewis
Byfield – Dubois – Grundstrom

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence

Talbot / Rittich / Dell

As noted this morning, a pair of additions for the Kings today, along with one subtraction.

Forward Carl Grundstrom was recalled from his conditioning loan with the AHL’s Ontario Reign earlier this morning. He practiced today in a white jersey, skating alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois and Quinton Byfield, but has not yet been activated from long-term injured reserve. Goaltender Aaron Dell was also on the ice today, working as the third goaltender alongside Cam Talbot and David Rittich.

Hiller said that he expected Grundstrom to be “ready” for Game 1, but did not commit to him being in the Game 1 lineup.

Not with the team was forward Alex Turcotte, who was assigned to the Ontario Reign yesterday afternoon. Turcotte will likely play with the Reign in Colorado this weekend, as they conclude their regular-season slate with two games against the Eagles, tonight and tomorrow.

Lineup Musings
As far as how the team looked, Jim Hiller isn’t concerned with the numbers or labels that get attached to lines.

“You’re [the media] sitting there going, this is your first, this is your second, this is your third, this is your fourth, but if you look at the icetime, especially at even strength, you’re not really sure which is which,” Hiller said. “That’s the way we like it. We feel like we’re four lines deep and they can play at different times, with different people.”

Hiller has referenced the icetime thing several times.

Over the last four games, the clinch against Calgary and the three games following, four different players have led the forwards in icetime in 5-on-5 situations. Just once – Game 82 versus Chicago, with the Kings going 11/7 – has a forward exceeded 16 minutes TOI at 5-on-5 and that was Kevin Fiala, who was the most regularly moved around player with the extra spot open.

If you go back a bit further, it’s been Fiala who has most regularly led the team in 5-on-5 icetime over the last handful of games and he’s the player who is consistently brought up as it pertains to his placement on the lines. Hiller went into some detail today about where Fiala is lined up and why, with how he fits into the larger picture with regards to the team’s lines.

“Two lines that have stayed relatively consistent over the last two or three weeks are Phil’s line and Liz’s line,” Hiller said this morning. “What Liz’s line does really well is they forecheck, they put the puck in and they get it and they cause chaos. That’s where Kevin is at his finest, when he gets the puck and gets touches in the o-zone. We find he gets more puck touches for himself to create opportunities in the o-zone when he’s been with those guys lately. It’s line that works for us, it’s hard to contain. Now, you see Laf playing with Kopi and Juice, so you’ve got Dubie and Q together and that presents a little bit of a problem for somebody too.”

The Danault line is obvious, right?

All three guys have spoken about their connection and all three guys feel comfortable.

“I think we’re really familiar with each other and whoever’s out of the lineup, we can come back and just keep playing how we want to play,” forward Trevor Moore said. “We just want to play hard in this series. It’s going to be one where you don’t want to necessarily be too cute against their big guys, so we’ve got to focus on the forecheck, like Phil did on [my goal on Thursday].”

For Fiala’s part, he certainly doesn’t seem to mind where he’s at. It’s certainly not as if he hasn’t been productive, with 16 points from his last 16 games played.

To Hiller’s point, Fiala has the puck on his stick regularly in the offensive zone, with the ability to make plays and be the alpha on the line offensively. Lizotte and Lewis work hard and provide coverage defensively, as well as a bulldog approach offensively to get pucks back and onto Fiala’s stick. While some might question the optics, it’s been effective.

“They’re very hard-working, straight-line players and I’m a little bit more all over, creating and that’s why it’s a good match,” Fiala said. “We have everything in our line and we get to the net also. We’re hungry for pucks, we forecheck, we backcheck, so right now it’s been fitting well so we’ve got to continue to do that.”

It also allows for consistency elsewhere in the lineup, with a top-to-bottom approach that makes this team as deep as any when everyone is playing and producing.

“We feel like our strength in the series is our depth and that’s going to have to be something in a long series that wins us games,” Hiller added. “People get hung up on first line, second line, third line, fourth line, but when you look at the minutes, they don’t always say first line, second line, third line, fourth line, especially at even strength. I just think, as a group, that’s our strength. Our strength is the pack.”

Looking back to last year’s series, while it’s understandable to point towards the higher-profile storylines, but it’s inarguable that depth scoring was a big part of what really powered Edmonton to their series victory.

Forward Klim Kostin scored three goals at even strength playing in the bottom six, while Nick Bjugstad scored two goals 5-on-5. It was Kailer Yamamoto who scored the series-winning goal in Game 6. Leon Draisaitl was on the ice for three Edmonton goals with Kostin as his linemate, as he cycled onto the fourth line for shifts when the Oilers went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Having four lines that can play, and that you trust out there in most situations, is important. The Kings believe they have that with the above alignment.

Preparing For Edmonton
Not a heck of a lot of learning to do, is there?

The Kings and Oilers have played 12 regular-season games and 13 playoff games versus the Oilers over the last 24 months, so there are certainly not very many unknowns here at this point in the season.

“You know what it’s like, you know the feelings that are going to go into it and we know them really well, because we’re going back to the same building again,” Moore said. “It’s something that you’re experienced with and you can lean on.”

Look, we all know who the Kings are playing and we all know it won’t be easy.

That’s not to say it can’t be done, because the Kings are confident in what they’re bringing into this series. They also know they’ll have to go through two of the NHL’s best players in order to get the job done, as a part of an opponent that’s had their number this season, winning three of four games. They’ve won consecutive playoff series in six and seven games respectively. The Kings know what they’re up against and they’re excited to meet that challenge.

“It’s a good challenge for us,” Danault added. “It’s never easy. They have two of the best players in the league, in the world, so it’s never an easy challenge against them, but we know that and we’ve faced it the last two years. They’ve got the best of it, but hopefully the third time’s the charm.”

Jim Hiller spoke about the games between the Kings and Oilers are being “pretty even” from a statistical perspective, from the Kings point of view.

Though the Oilers have certainly won more than the Kings have, especially in the postseason, Hiller has felt that from a Kings perspective, they’ve been in those games fairly consistently. One loss this season was in the shootout and the other was a 2-2 game in the third period. Three games in last year’s playoff series went to overtime. Competitive hockey.

With regards to defending against the high-level opposition Edmonton brings to the table, the Kings have to go out and play their game. There’s no simple stopping a Connor McDavid, but you’ve got to do your best to try.

“He’s a great player, he’s hard guy to shut down,” Hiller said. “If we do what we have to do, we can limit him and that’s just what we have to do. We know what he does and we know what he does well, so understand it and then just do what we do well to counterbalance. That’s all [we can do]. He makes it hard on you, there’s no question but we have to do our job against him and and the others, he’s not alone on that team as we know.”

That’s nothing new, though.

When the Kings and Oilers meet, there won’t be many surprises.

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