For the first time all season, the Kings have everyone available……..and that’s pretty exciting heading into Game 1

The LA Kings set out with a roster and a plan back in September.

There was a vision in place for how the team was expected to look. As we approach Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs we’ve yet to see that vision realized. The Kings have played exactly zero games with every single player available, every option at their disposal. With Carl Grundstrom expected to be “ready” to play in Game 1, per Jim Hiller, the final piece to the puzzle has just about arrived. Everyone is available and that’s a pretty exciting thought.

“It’s amazing, I think when we came in and looked at the lineup, you look at it and you’re like, ‘wow, that’s a good team,’” forward Trevor Moore said. “We really believe that, so we’re excited.”

The Kings have never had this in either of the last two trips to Edmonton.

In 2022, the Kings played the entire series without Drew Doughty, Viktor Arvidsson and Sean Walker. Last season, Kevin Fiala missed Games 1-3, Gabe Vilardi missed Game 1 and Blake Lizotte missed Games 3-5. Now, injuries like Lizotte’s happened mid-series, so things can obviously come up along the way. But in each of the past two Game 1’s, the Kings were without multiple key pieces.

So, for the first time this season, and for the first time in the playoffs since the rebuild, the outlook is different.

“[Edmonton] is a team that plays those top guys a lot, and we need our depth to try and combat that,” Moore added. “It’s huge [to have everyone to start a series].”

There’s two schools of thought here.

The first is naturally excitement. I don’t think that too many guys in this room were really thinking of it like that, because it hasn’t been like guys have missed all 82 games, but the injuries were staggered as such that not one single time did everyone play together.

Naturally, the biggest absence has been that of Viktor Arvidsson, who missed the first 50 games with a back injury. The game before Arvidsson ultimately returned, forward Carl Grundstrom suffered a lower-body injury in Buffalo, adding him to an injured list that already included Blake Lizotte. Over the last two months, players missing time have included Phillip Danault, Mikey Anderson and Adrian Kempe, with Grundstrom out for the entire duration and Vladislav Gavrikov missing a stretch earlier in the season.

“I didn’t even think of it like that, but yeah, guys have just been filtering in and out, so we’ll see what we’ve got for Game 1,” goaltender Cam Talbot added. “It’s going to be exciting to have everyone back in the lineup and have us at full strength, because obviously come playoff time, you need everyone going at 100 percent. It’s going to be nice to have that finally in this room.”

With everyone available, we’re seeing the depth that it brings for this group.

The Kings have four lines up front that they trust against any matchup. A pretty regular distribution of minutes could be expected in 5-on-5 situations, should things go according to plan. Even if they don’t go according to plan, full availability prodives the Kings with plenty of options to make changes, should they be needed. If we’ve learned one thing about the Kings in the second half of the season, it’s that just about everybody is comfortable playing with just about everybody.

Not sure that’s why Jim Hiller has shuffled things as regularly as he has, but he’s excited to have everybody together, with the goal of raising the level now, as a complete group.

“We’re just excited to go,” Hiller added. “We feel strong. We feel like we’ve got everybody together, we feel strong. We want to raise our emotional level and let’s go.”

Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The other side of it, though, is that we’re here in spite of not having a full lineup at any stage throughout the season.

And look, it’s not as if the Kings have been ravaged by injuries the way that they were back in 2022, when the team saw all six of its opening night defensemen miss time in the second half of the season with various injuries. This year, they’ve been right in the middle of the pack, ranking 18th in terms of most games lost due to injury and eighth amongst teams that qualified for the postseason, per NHL Injury Viz. That’s pretty much middle of the pack.

For reference, though, Edmonton had just 60 man games lost all season long, compared to 214 for the Kings. Just one team in the league had a healthier season than the Oilers did, with no team posting a lower cap hit of injured players than Edmonton. They had their own share of adversity in the early months but it’s been a pretty clean slate this season. In their projected Game 1 lineup, just two players have missed more than five games this season due to injury or illness. The Kings have had seven.

In order to be a playoff team, without having your full lineup at any point in the season, it requires others to pick up the slack along the way. It’s something Hiller believes his team has done.

“It’s been a long road, there’s no question,” Hiller said. “Credit to the guys who picked up the slack when we had injuries.”

For Drew Doughty, who carries more than his weight regardless of who is in action, he’s looking at it more for what the group has delivered, in spite of the injuries.

I mean, would we have a player like Alex Laferriere at the level he’s at without injuries along the way? Probably not. Would we know that 11/7 is a viable option for the Kings, with the team winning some games in that alignment? I’m not sure that we would. Would players like Quinton Byfield or Kevin Fiala have multiple homes in the lineup where they’ve found success without injuries impacting how this team has looked?

I suppose you’ll never know, but Doughty was quick to point towards a team that’s overcome to get to where it’s at now.

“We have a lot of guys that can step in and play well for us, so I mean yeah, it’s a bonus for us, but at the same time, we’ve always had guys that have stepped up,” Doughty said. “I don’t think it’s anything anyone has really focused on.”

As one of the guys who missed a bit of time along the way, Danault echoed the notion that with players out of the lineup, others have been forced to step up and fill the void.

Now, though, the goal becomes two-fold. Those who have elevated their roles and their minutes need to continue to do so, even if others are back. And those who are back need to do the same, bringing what was missing, alongside the players who have filled in. If the Kings can do that, they’ve got a real shot and everyone is excited about that possibility.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Danault added. “All year, we’ve been grinding without a few players, but I think it happens to a lot of teams. Whether you’re hurt or not, in playoffs, you play. Definitely happy to be with everybody right now.”

When the Kings take the ice for Game 1 tomorrow evening, we’ve got a good sense of who we might see and where. There are still a couple of t’s to cross and i’s to dot, but what we know for certain is that the Kings will have everybody to choose from and that’s a pretty exciting way to head into a playoff series.

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