4/22 Preview – Kings Know What Level Is Needed + Optional Game 1 Skate, Grundstrom Activated, Special Teams

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (0-0) @ Edmonton Oilers (0-0)
WHAT: Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1, Game 1
WHEN: Monday, April 22 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton, AB
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports So-Cal / ESPN2 – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: Playoffs Baby, Playoffs. The Kings get the 2024 postseason underway this evening as they visit the Edmonton Oilers for Game 1.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Edmonton won three of the four games during the regular-season series, with the Kings posting a record of 1-2-1. Forward Quinton Byfield led the Kings with six points (2-4-6) from the four games versus the Oilers this season, while forwards Adrian Kempe (1-2-3) and Anze Kopitar (0-3-3) each had three. Kempe has led the Kings with 14 points (7-7-14) over the last two postseason matchups.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings held full-team practices over the last two days and in keeping with their approach during the regular season, held an optional morning skate today in Edmonton.

All signs point towards goaltender Cam Talbot getting the nod tonight, after not skating this morning. In his playoff career, Talbot has posted a record of 15-16, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against average. Talbot has played in six playoff games in Edmonton, back when he played for the Oilers in 2017, posting a record of 3-3.

With the morning skate today, the Kings naturally did not take line rushes. Here’s how the group lined up over the last two days –

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

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence

Talbot / Rittich / Dell

After practice yesterday, Jim Hiller gave it a “knock on wood”, but said that everyone was expected to be available for Game 1. That marks 13 forwards, seven defenseman and two goaltenders here in Edmonton as options at his disposal.

The main question for tonight initially came down to forward Carl Grundstrom, who Jim Hiller felt would be “ready” for Game 1, though his status was not confirmed. Hiller confirmed Grundstrom’s status for tonight in this morning’s availability. More on Grundstrom below. Grundstrom has practiced with the team over the last couple of days after two AHL games played with the Reign. Look for him to be activated from LTIR in advance of tonight’s game against Edmonton.

Should Grundstrom not go, defenseman Jacob Moverare and forward Arthur Kailyev are here as options to check in, with both 11/7 and 12/6 looks a possibility.

OILERS VITALS: Edmonton has a 1-8 record in their last nine Game 1’s, with the lone victory coming over Anaheim in the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Look for regular starter Stuart Skinner to be between the pipes for tonight’s Game 1. Skinner made his postseason debut in last year’s first-round series against the Kings, as he made 12 starts in total throughout the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Skinner posted an overall record of 5-6, with a .883 save percentage and a 3.68 goals-against average.

Per Tony Brar of Oilers TV, here’s how Edmonton lined up during their final practice before Game 1 –

Forwards Evander Kane and Mattias Janmark missed Saturday’s practice due to injury, but both players were back on the ice yesterday and are expected to play in tonight’s game for the hosts. Former Kings defenseman Troy Stecher is on Edmonton’s playoff roster but is not expected to play in tonight’s Game 1. Edmonton forwards Leon Draisaitl (1.57) and Connor McDavid (1.53) enter tonight’s game ranking third and fourth all-time in points-per-game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (minimum 10 games), trailing only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

Notes –
Playoff Ready – Teams’ HIGHEST Level
Look, I don’t think it’s a secret that the Kings have been an inconsistent team this season.

We have seen the highs and man are they high. We’ve also seen the lows, though, and it hasn’t always been pretty. We’ve seen plenty of the middle, too.

When the Kings are at their best, they’re an extremely difficult team to beat. They’re as stingy as any team in the NHL defensively with a number of highly skilled offensive players who can put the puck in the net. When you put those two things together, combined with goaltending that has consistently ranked in the NHL’s Top-10 in save percentage this season, it’s a group that is capable of great things.

“I think you’ve heard us say it all year, we really believe in this group,” forward Trevor Moore said. “Our highs are really high, we see what we can do and we can play with anybody. It’s just about bringing that every game and it shouldn’t be hard to bring your A-Game in playoffs every night.”

I think we can point to the games throughout the second half of the season when we saw a really good version of this team, against quality opposition. Road wins over Vancouver and Boston, home wins over these Oilers and Tampa Bay. We’ve seen the Kings stick it to teams lower in the standings as well, but there are no more games like that on the schedule. It’s Edmonton for a minimum of four straight.

Starting with Game 1 tonight, the focus has to be on bringing that best game against Edmonton.

“When we’re on our game, there’s a good chance that the other team is frustrated,” Anze Kopitar said this morning. “Just do our thing, try to play our style and worry about us more than we do about them. You’ve got to give them a lot of respect and everything, do all the right stuff, but it’s about us. We’ve got to go in this series, like that.”

So tonight is one thing, and that’s the focus.

To win this series, though, the Kings will need to not only find their game and bring their game, but do so consistently over the course of the seven games. There’s a focus on consistency moving forward and that starts tonight in Game 1.

Drew Doughty – We know we have to get our best and we need our best to be consistent, especially at this time of year. We can’t have dips in our play. We know that they’re going to bring their best too, so it’s going to be a war. We just need to stay consistent. Even if we’re not playing our best, just trying to do the simple things to try to get back to our best.

Cam Talbot – This year, we saw flashes during the second half of the season. When we’re at our best, we know we can beat anyone and that’s what it’s going to take, night in and night out, in the playoffs. We’re going to have to ramp up that consistency and that energy, have everyone going, because there’s no easy nights, no off nights.

Time for Kings hockey.

First crack at consistency starts in a few hours.

Quick Hitters –
– Carl! Good To See You!

Forward Carl Grundstrom will play tonight in Game 1, per Jim Hiller this morning.

Grundstrom was activated from LTIR just a few minutes ago, paving the way for him to play tonight. Hiller is excited to get Grundstrom back in the lineup, calling him the team’s most “physical player on the forecheck.”

“He’s probably our most physical player on the forecheck and we’ve missed that a little bit since he’s been gone,” Hiller said this morning. “He plays the North/South game and again, if you talk about the playoffs, and I’m sure everybody watched last night, puck goes in, people get banged, and it’s real part of the game that’s really magnified the playoffs. He’s that type of player so we can use that in the lineup.”

Grundstrom hasn’t played an NHL game since mid-February but did play in two AHL games with the Reign over the last couple of weeks. He had two points (1-1-2) in those games. The Kings feel that he’s prepared and ready to go.

The Swede has skated with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Quinton Byfield over the last couple of days, with everything pointing towards that line staying together here tonight. No reason right now to suggest other wise. It’s a line capable of a ton of physicality if they’re all on their game. Excited to see how those guys come together.

– There’s nothing that’s easier to say than saying “stay out of the box”, but it’s only a statement until we see it.

The Kings will take penalties in this series. There’s no doubt about it. They’ll also get opportunities to change games on the power play.

Special teams will be important, but the Kings also understand that penalties are a part of the game.

“I mean, it’s every team’s message, but I’m sure we’re going to take penalties,” Hiller said. “It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be physical, there’s going to be penalties for both sides. This year, I think the evidence will show that our penalty kill is much improved, so that’s a difference for us this year, if we’re just talking about this year over last year’s playoffs. We don’t want to put them on the power play, but when they do get on the power play, and they will, we want to make sure we just continue to do a good job on the kill.”

The Kings have certainly improved their penalty kill. On the season as a whole, the Kings ranked second in the NHL at 84.6 percent while a man down, trailing only the Carolina Hurricanes. The Kings had the benefit of Vladislav Gavrikov with the group for the full season, along with the addition of Trevor Lewis. That bolstered the personnel. The Kings also reinvented their system, putting an emphasis on best managing having one fewer player on the ice and trying to funnel opposing power plays into certain looks.

Edmonton’s power play hasn’t yet hit the heights of last season, but we certainly know how dangerous it can be. Even this year, it ranked fourth in the NHL at over 26 percent. We also know from last year that regular-season success doesn’t necessarily translate into the playoffs. The Kings didn’t allow a single power-play goal from four games played against the Oilers last regular season, but they allowed more than a goal-per-night in the playoffs. It’s a different game.

“Last year, there was a struggle for us throughout the year and obviously into the playoffs,” defenseman Mikey Anderson said this morning. “We talked about it, wanting to improve and we changed some structure a little bit, added in Gavy this whole year, we bring Lewie in, who has been big on the penalty kill with Lizzo, we add those guys in which helps and we’ve found some success with what we’ve wanted to do, so far at least in the regular season. We want to try and keep working to improve and keep building.”

One of a few storylines to watch for heading into Game 1.

Kings and Oilers, a 7 PM puck drop Pacific time that probably feels more like 7:20 when all is said and done. Tis the season for misleading start times. See you then!

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