1/4 Preview – No Changes on Defense + Kings Look For Fixes, Dubois on Line Adjustments, Bjornfot Claimed

Zach Dooley For LAKingsInsider.com

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (20-9-5) vs. Detroit Red Wings (18-16-4)
WHEN: Thursday, January 4 @ 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 Kings look to snap a three-game losing streak this evening as they conclude a stretch of three straight at home, tonight against Detroit.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Phillip Danault led the Kings with four points (2-2-4) from the two games played against Detroit last season. Throughout his time with the Kings, Danault has five goals and seven points from four games versus the Red Wings. Forwards Adrian Kempe and Kevin Fiala each tallied a goal and two assists against Detroit a season ago.

KINGS VITALS: Following a mostly full-team practice day yesterday, the Kings held an optional morning skate this morning in El Segundo.

Goaltender David Rittich was off first this morning, making him tonight’s projected starter in net against Detroit. Rittich has faced the Red Wings three times throughout his professional career, posting a record of 3-0-0, with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.

The Kings shuffled around their lines for yesterday’s practice. While we won’t know for sure if those changes will carry over, they’re listed below, should they remain in place tonight –

Byfield – Kopitar – Moore
Laferriere – Dubois – Kempe
Fiala – Danault – Grundstrom
Lewis – Lizotte – Kaliyev – Anderson-Dolan

Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence


Todd McLellan confirmed that the Kings will not make any changes on the backend tonight and that defenseman Brandt Clarke will not make his season debut, after he was recalled yesterday. Up front, morning skate indicates that forward Arthur Kaliyev will check back into the lineup in place of forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan.

Drew Doughty took a maintenance day yesterday but skated this morning and will play tonight, as expected.

RED WINGS VITALS: Detroit enters tonight’s action with a 4-9-1 record over its last 14 games played, dating back into early-December.

Goaltender Alex Lyon is expected to get the start here this evening against the Kings, coming off victories in two of his last three outings. Lyon has faced the Kings once in his NHL career, coming last season with the Florida Panthers, when he stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced in a 4-3 defeat in late-January.

Per the Detroit team account, here’s how the visitors lined up last time out in San Jose –

Over the last five seasons, just one player in the league has scored more goals against the Kings that Detroit forward David Perron. Expect to see former Kings defenseman Olli Maatta in action tonight on the third defensive pairing. Forward Andrew Copp did not practice yesterday with the Red Wings at Toyota Sports Performance Center.

Notes –
Making Some Changes
The Kings know they need to make some adjustments from the way they played in Toronto on Tuesday.

It is three consecutive defeats for the Kings, yes, but this particular three-game losing streak has felt more like three individual losses than a streak of three. On December 28 in Vegas, McLellan has lamented individual mistakes that cost the Kings on their goals against, specifically the second Golden Knights goal. Against the Oilers, both goals came in special-teams situations, one on the penalty kill and one at 4-on-4. The Toronto game saw a full-team letdown, with the Kings simply not playing at the pace they wanted to.

“You can’t talk about system or team, it’s almost individuals,” McLellan said, when describing the Vegas game. “Those situations are the hardest ones to fix, because they kind of know you’re just talking about one or two guys in those moments and you’re trying to fix them. [The Toronto game] gave us a team fix because we weren’t fast, we didn’t execute, we didn’t do some of the things we needed to do.”

Much of the talk has been about defensive play in that stretch, because there were breakdowns and mistakes made, but the Kings have also scored just four goals over those three defeats. On Tuesday, they were shutout for the first time this season. They’ve only given up seven during the flow of play, if you discount the shootout goal awarded against the Oilers and the empty-net goal versus Toronto. So, while there have been issues, the Kings have really not given up all that much against in those games.

That brings us to the offensive side of things. The Kings were at one point in the season leading the NHL in goals scored per game, but have since regressed towards the mean at tenth, coming in at 3.38 goals-per-game.

“From an offensive perspective, goals came easy for us early in the year and now they’re coming harder,” McLellan added. “We’re a little slow on releases, a lot of shots are getting blocked right now, where we were able to get those through and it’s not just the d-men on the blue line and some guy’s lining up a shin pads, it’s somebody coming down the wing on a 2-on-1 and somebody gets a stick on it. So, just the polish and the pace of even shooting the puck has to get quicker.”

In yesterday’s practice, the Kings couldn’t possibly get to everything in their game that they wanted to, but they highlighted a couple of areas in which to practice.

What they did work on, they worked on with pace. They also extended sequences more than they might usually, with an intention of finishing plays off, which has been an issue over these last three games.

“When we looked at it, there were a lot of areas to pick from, but we picked two and we tried to address them, like we would any other day win or lose,” McLellan added. “We tried to get those areas that we worked on with a lot of pace, because I didn’t think we played with that early in the game, we got better later on. We tried to extend things out a little bit longer, make them finish plays more rather more than just one and done.”

We’ll find out soon enough if the focal points show up in tonight’s game.

Line Adjustments
“Every team, they have line shuffles sometimes. For some teams, it’s every three games and some teams it’s every 30 games. I think at some point, it’s natural, it’s a long season. We show up at the rink every day and it’s the same thing every day, sometimes you can get a little into your habits and used to it. When you switch it up and there’s a little spark, sometimes it can spark something good and sometimes we just go back to what it used to be. There’s a lot of talent in this room, there’s enough intelligent players that this shouldn’t affect us in a negative way.”

That was forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, speaking on the concept of line adjustments and line changes between Tuesday’s game against Toronto and today’s game versus Detroit.

To this point, we really haven’t seen the Kings make many adjustments in that area. Other than the move that brought Kevin Fiala to a line with Phillip Danault and Trevor Moore, which was a notable shift a couple of months back, the Kings had largely kept things status quo over the first 33 games of the season. That was until midway through the game against the Maple Leafs, as the Kings went down 2-0 without much pace in their game. That brought out a version of the blender, though we still saw the Kings keep pairs of players together, just not the pairs we’re used to expecting.

For the first time in awhile, established pairings of Anze Kopitar/Adrian Kempe and Phillip Danault/Trevor Moore were separated. The Kings tried out something we haven’t seen yet, with the above noted lines.

For Kopitar, he’s now between Moore and Quinton Byfield, while Danault is flanked by Fiala and forward Carl Grundstrom. Perhaps the most interesting line, though, is that of Dubois between Kempe and Alex Laferriere.

The hard-working Laferriere has become a staple on Dubois’ wing, forming a nice fit. Adding Kempe to that unit could make a lot of sense too, with the Kings looking to change things up. Kempe buried 41 goals last season and could deliver Dubois the dynamic, yet predictable winger that he could thrive with. Not identical situations, but there do seem to be a few similarities between Kempe and Kyle Connor in Winnipeg, his most regular linemate with the Jets.

Dubois was excited to get an opportunity with Kempe and hopes they can find success together.

“He’s a good player and it’s not just that he’s scoring goals, he can pass or that he’s fast, what I admire the most is that he plays hard and he’s hard to play against,” Dubois said of Kempe. “He establishes himself on the forecheck, he’s good defensively, it’s all the small things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that I like the most in his game.”

Kempe is a dynamic offensive player, with gamebreaking ability, but he does so differently than many around the league. For all of his ability, Kempe is a predictable player to his teammates. It’s one reason he’s meshed so well with Kopitar.

Now in a new situation, his approach and style of play is one that could mesh with Dubois, because both players think the game the same way.

“I think the easiest and most effective way to play fast and without thinking is to have those automatic patterns, that you know that the guy is going to be here and you know what to expect from each other,” Dubois added. “I’m sure some of that will take some time to get used to but I think we see the game the same way. I think it could be really good.”

Our first look at these lines will likely come tonight, with McLellan confirming the Kings will try them against the Red Wings.

Bjornfot To VGK
Lastly, Insiders, defenseman Tobias Bjornfot has been claimed off waivers by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Bjornfot was placed on waivers by the Kings yesterday morning, at the same time they recalled Brandt Clarke from the AHL. The hope was for Bjornfot to pass through and get regular minutes in the AHL, but despite making it most of the way through the league, Bjornfot will head to Vegas. The Golden Knights have three defensemen currently out with injuries, so unclear if this is a move made with long-term intentions in mind. For now, the organization will be without Bjornfot and we’ll see where things progress.

For today, it’s the Kings and Red Wings, concluding a three-game homestand as the Kings look to get back on track before hitting the road tomorrow for six straight away games.

Zach Dooley For LAKingsInsider.com lakingsinsider.com Behind the Scenes

2024-01-04 19:23:52 , LA Kings Insider

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