Coming off of another successful weekend away from home, the Kings returned to the ice for practice this morning in El Segundo, following yesterday’s day off.
However, now that the power-play is a goal-per-game unit over the last three, is there even anything left to practice?
I jest. Still special teams work to be done and more on what worked well over the weekend below, concerning the man advantage. The Kings had some battle elements today, working on 1-on-1 situations near the net. One benefit to the current schedule is that the Kings will face Arizona again on Wednesday, meaning they don’t need to change anything in terms of preparation for a specific opponent. More on that to follow tomorrow.
The Coyotes did the Kings a favor yesterday, defeating Dallas, so the Kings will do well to avoid a similar fate against an opponent still playing hard late in the season, despite their positioning in the standings.
With that in mind, the Kings did not make any changes today to their group, minus the subtraction of defenseman Jacob Moverare. Moverare was assigned to AHL-Ontario yesterday, after he was a healthy scratch in both games this weekend, and he logged a prominent role on the backend in yesterday’s 4-3 Reign victory over San Diego.
Here’s how the 14 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders looked today –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
Athanasiou – Byfield – Brown
Lemieux – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Maatta – Roy
Bjornfot – Durzi
Quick / Petersen
3 goals from 3 games, baby.
It had been awhile since the Kings won a game through special teams, but you could call the win in Arizona one of those games. The Kings scored twice on the man advantage, and were perfect on the penalty kill, with those two PPG’s serving as the margin of victory in a 5-3 win over the Coyotes.
We’ve seen breakthrough games from the Kings before, but it hasn’t been sustained over the longer haul yet this season. The team is hopeful that this could be different, due to the small adjustments and changes made to the power play.
“We were talking about it last week, they want us moving the puck faster, cycle it, get things moving and less stagnant,” forward Alex Iafallo said this morning. “I feel like everyone has been doing that, especially last game. We needed the power play to score, we need it to score every night.”
While the Kings did score in Vegas, it was the game against the Coyotes that we really saw those changes in action.
The goal on Friday was a great individual shot by Adrian Kempe, with a great individual screen from Drew Doughty jumping in front, but it was that play that was the defining moment. Both goals in Arizona were off of seam passes through the slot, taking the puck from a guarded area to an open man for a one-timer. Kempe and Doughty were the facilitator and the recipient in that game, one of each, with two goals helping to seal an important win.
“The end result is a seam pass to somebody that’s open, but there was some change in the power play in Arizona,” Todd McLellan said. “We had a little bit more time during the break and a few practices after, to adjust a few things. We saw that, not so much in Vegas, though we attempted to get to some of it, but we saw more of it in Arizona. Hopefully we can continue to build off of it.”
Watch the two goals here –
The first goal saw Iafallo and Kempe cycle, which forced the defenseman at the back post to make a decision, eventually leaving Kempe open. It wasn’t simply pass around the perimeter, it was pass and move. A big sign of improvement from Saturday’s game.
The second goal, it’s Kempe and Brown on the near side, with Doughty finding space on the weak side. Both seam-pass goals, though both goals that saw those passes open up because of the work done beforehand. The common theme on both goals is that the movement without the puck was better from the Kings, with players less glued to their positions and more willing to cycle, moving with and without the puck, as Iafallo alluded to.
Third Line Improvements
A lot was made over the weekend about the team’s third line. On Friday morning, they were challenged to be better and on Friday evening, they were. A very strong effort in a win over the Golden Knights, with Andreas Athanasiou scoring in the first period on one of several chances that line had as a trio.
They were rewarded with more ice time as a result of their play, their highest total since their first night together, a game in which Athanasiou and Quinton Byfield both scored.
“I just think we came out, we were skating pretty well and the puck found us in the right situations,” Athanasiou said of the game in Vegas. “I felt like I was getting the puck with speed, we were carrying some speed and that’s usually a good feeling. We have to build off of that and just keep going.”
While they didn’t have quite that same level on Saturday in Arizona, they were still notably better, in the eyes of their head coach, than the game against the Oilers,
McLellan understands that it’s not going to be perfect every single night, as it isn’t for any of the players on the Kings roster. But, while he knew Saturday wasn’t quite as good as the night before, it was still much better from that line. And that’s important.
“It’s going to be up and down, there’s only one best game and there’s only one worst game,” he said. “As it gets bigger, we can keep adding on. They weren’t quite as effective [as Friday], but much better than the Oilers game.”
In Athanasiou’s words, the three players obviously know the structure, having executed it now on separate lines for the better part of two seasons, including Byfield’s time at the AHL level. Now, it’s about playing within that structure and using their talents individually to play with speed and ideally create offense as a third scoring line, something they are certainly capable of doing effectively.
“We know the structure and it’s just playing with speed and using the qualities our line brings to the game,” he added. “I think if we go out there and work, our skillset will take care of the rest.”
Juice Still Loose
It had been 16 days without a goal for Adrian Kempe. It was also All-Star break, so it really was only one game, but that even feels like a while these days for a player scoring as incredibly as he has so far this season. It had, however, been seven games since Kempe scored a 5-on-5 goal, dating back to the 3-1 win over Seattle in mid-January.
Kempe delivered in a huge way this weekend with four goals across the two games, scoring twice on the power play, once at 3-on-3 and once at 5-on-5, with both tallies in Arizona coming off the one-timer. The one-timer is on right now, as was Kempe’s all-around play in general over the weekend. A good sign to see him back at his best, as he’s been for much of the season.
“He’s just shooting more, getting better scoring chances,” linemate Alex Iafallo said. “I feel like he’s always in the right spot, but his release is quicker and his one-timer is really good right now. It’s fun to watch.”
Kings television analyst Jim Fox picked up on not only Kempe’s offensive play this weekend, but his 200-foot game. Todd McLellan commented this morning that one usually complements the other for Kempe. As his defensive play goes, the puck tends to go the other way for him at the right times, allowing him to use his natural offensive gifts to his advantage.
“He has such great plays and a good engine, he’s committed to doing that” McLellan said. “If you can connect the dots, when he’s really doing that well, it’s going the other way for him. Sometimes, if it falls off or guys get tired for whatever reason, then it often connects the other way too.”
Iafallo and Kempe have now played together for the majority of the middle stage of this season, with Anze Kopitar at center, but they’ve been teammates for nearly the entirety of the other’s careers.
While Kempe’s production is at an all-time high, Iafallo believes that this has been a long-time coming for his linemate. He’s seen the development in his game over the years, and is now seeing that shooting mentality, and matching production, in action.
“He’s just shooting more, getting better scoring chances,” Iafallo added. “I feel…