WHO: Los Angeles Kings (17-12-5) vs Anaheim Ducks (9-20-3)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Tuesday, December 20 @ 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: Following a rare stretch with two days in between games, the Kings are back at it this evening against the Anaheim Ducks, the first Freeway Faceoff of the season.
HEAD TO HEAD: Forward Anze Kopitar led the Kings a season ago with seven points (1-6-7) from four games versus Anaheim. Kopitar is three career points shy of tying Mike Modano for the most points in NHL history against Anaheim. Forward Adrian Kempe had four goals from four games played last year, while Alex Iafallo scored three times.
KING’S VITALITY: The Kings hit the ice for an optional morning skate today, following yesterday’s full-team practice.
Goaltender Pheonix Copley was first off the ice this morning, signaling that he will be tonight’s projected starter against Anaheim. Copley has yet to face Anaheim in his NHL career and is in line to make his fourth consecutive start. On the season, Copley is 4-1-0, with a .904 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average.
Considering the optional skate, the Kings did not take full line rushes this morning at Toyota Sports Performance Center. For reference, here’s how the team appeared to line up yesterday –
Ground current – Lemieux
That lineup above is the same way the Kings looked against San Jose on Saturday evening. Should the team opt to make a change, forward Carl Grundstrom and defenseman Sean Walker are options to check back in. Forward Brendan Lemieux was back in a white jersey today, which is a good sign, but remains on injured reserve as of this writing. All three were on late after this morning’s skate.
Duck’s Vitals: Anaheim recently concluded a four-game trip to Canada with wins over Montreal and Edmonton and now returns back to California for the first of 11 games within the state. After tonight’s game, the Ducks will play ten straight at home through January 13.
Goaltender Lukas Dostal has started his team’s last two games, with John Gibson unavailable, and is expected to get the nod again tonight versus the Kings. Dostal has yet to face LA in his young NHL career. On the season, Dostal is 2-1-0, with a .898 save percentage and a 3.73 goals-against average.
Per Anaheim’s team account, here’s how the visitors lined up last time out –
Here’s who we fly with today. pic.twitter.com/OiqKrZdwHM
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) December 17, 2022
Anaheim went with an 11-7 alignment on Saturday but assigned defenseman Colton White to the AHL on a conditioning loan yesterday, so they will be in line for at least one lineup change. Over the last four seasons, just one defenseman in the NHL has more goals against the Kings than Cam Fowler’s four. Fowler has more career points versus the Kings than any other opponent.
Third Line Throwdown
“That third line needs to get solidified, that’s what it needs to do, whether we discover who that third-line center is, whether we get consistent wingers. We feel that one, two and four will probably shake out the way they need to be, but a lot of times in the playoffs and down the stretch, you win based on what the third line can do, that’s where you get your mismatch from . It needs to get solidified at some point.”
That was Todd McLellan this morning on his third line, which has been subject to lots of personnel movement, different pieces in different places and several combinations tried. It began the season with Quinton Byfield between Alex Iafalo and Gabe Vilardi, until Iafallo’s injury during game four in Detroit. Since then, we’ve seen 11 different players on that line at one point or another, including six of the team’s nine highest-scoring forwards.
On Saturday versus San Jose, the combination was Viktor Arvidsson on the left, with Blake Lizotte at center and Arthur Kaliyev on the right. Arvidsson was returning from two games out of the lineup, while Lizotte and Kaliyev were moved from other lines, one up and one down. It was a combination of three players who had never really played together before, but it presents an interesting mix of skillsets.
“We’re trying to figure them out,” McLellan added. “Arthur is a big body that can shoot, Arvy and Lizzo are puck hounds, they have the ability to turn pucks over and keep plays alive with speed and tenacity. That’s our train of thought there, so they need some time to figure each other out, but we’re hoping that it leads to something.”
Lizotte and Kaliyev were regular linemates a season ago, typically on the fourth line, but Arvidsson has never been the third member of that unit. Other than maybe a game or a shift here or there, I can’t recall Arvidsson really playing with either player during his time here with the Kings, but it’s not hard to see how it could work.
Arvidsson said this morning that he doesn’t change his own style of play on a different line, though he admitted it is a bit different to play with new linemates after seeing so much time with Phil Danault and Trevor Moore over the 2022 calendar year. When you play with one line for an extended stretch, you learn tendencies of your linemates like they’re your own. It’ll take some time, as McLellan alluded to, to hopefully find that here as well.
“I don’t change my game at any point, I just try to play it and do the best I can with my abilities,” Arvidsson added. “Of course they’re different players, different attributes and the first game playing with them last game, I was just trying to make plays and see what they’re doing. A little different, but it’ll just take some time to find some chemistry.”
We’ve heard it before from Todd McLellan, but defenseman Alex Edler has proven to be a reliable defensive partner for several younger players coming into the team. We saw it earlier this year with Brandt Clarke, we’ve seen it with Sean Durzi and we’ve seen it most recently with Jordan Spence, who partnered Edler in the win over San Jose on Saturday, Spence’s season debut.
Edler saw a smart player to his right and someone who is unafraid to enter into battles and be effective.
“I think we saw how he played last year, he’s a smart player,” Edler said this morning. “He’s not big, but he still goes into battles and wins them. He’s proving to be a really good defenseman up here.”
Something that Spence has seemingly been able to do it to make plays effectively, even without the flash that others bring, while also not sacrificing a ton the other way. It’s typically an area that highly-skilled offensive defensemen can struggle with, but Spence has seemingly done a decent job of picking up on that.
“I don’t think you can play any other way,” Edler added. “You’re always trying to create offense, whether that’s for yourself or for your teammates, but you can’t be you can’t be giving up things to do it.”
Spence appears set to feature again tonight versus Anaheim, retaining his place for the second straight game. His metrics were solid, trending above 50 percent in all puck possession categories, including heavily on the right side of high-danger chances. Spence also apparently executed the simply plays well and effectively, rarely standing out for a misfire.
McLellan was happy with his young defenseman’s game.
“I thought he was fine, he did exactly what he needed to do,” he said of Spence. “He moved pucks, he shot it when he had the opportunity, he defended well. As Trent Yawney would say, he wasn’t at the scene of the crime very often defensively. He played a good game.”
Many of the same things we heard about Spence when he was recalled a season ago. Here’s to hoping it continues.
The records the Kings and Ducks bring into tonight’s game are readily available, they’re even posted above. The Kings have eight more wins and 18 more points coming into tonight’s matchup, but in a cross-town game like this, often times the standings go out the window.
The Kings do not change their preparation at all by where a team is in the standings, or whether or not the matchup is a rivalry game. It’s status quo in that area and it needs to be in a game that will provide a test.
“Same preparation for our staff and it should be the same preparation for the players,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “There’s no need to look at the standings and increase or decrease your preparation. If you have a routine, standings should not affect it and they’re our rival, this is not going to be an easy game. If anybody expects it to be, shame on them, because it will show up tonight.”
That’s not to say it’s a “throw out the gameplan and play” type of game though, riding the emotions to a result. They Kings know that each team has both positive and negative areas and each team will look to exploit the other side’s lesser areas. That starts with a comprehensive pre-scout and independent of potential emotions that could exist.
“The pre-scout is important – teams have tendencies, teams change over time, there are strengths and weaknesses occurring for both teams right now that we need to take advantage of,” McLellan added. “I think that we have to give our players that information to try and help them succeed.”
Now, with information in hand, it’s time to execute on the ice, as the Kings look to make it three straight games played the right way.
Kings and Ducks, tonight at 7:30 PM from Crypto.com Arena! Just two games left at home here before the holiday break. We’ll see you there!