Good Afternoon, Insiders!
After an off day yesterday to recharge the batteries, the Kings held a full-team skate this morning, in advance of the upcoming trip to Minnesota. The team is set to arrive in the Gopher State later on today, with a 2 PM Pacific, 4 PM local showdown against the Wild awaiting them tomorrow afternoon.
Considering the off day, today’s skate carried with it a bit of intensity to it, with 14 forwards, nine defensemen and two goaltenders on the ice. We saw some work on even-strength situations as well as some power-play practice in preparation for Minnesota.
In terms of alignment, the top six looked the same, though the bottom six was tougher to get a read on, considering eight players in white jerseys. Here’s how those who were on the ice lined up –
Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Arvidsson
White: Andersson, Byfield, Brown, Grundstrom, Kaliyev, Kupari, Lemieux, Vilardi
Red: Athanasiou, Lizotte
Bjornfot – Durzi
Maatta – Spence
Roy – Stecher
Edler – Moverare – Strand
Quick / Petersen
As we learned on Thursday, defenseman Alex Edler is “banged up” and missed that evening’s game versus the Oilers. Edler did practice today, with Todd McLellan noting that he could be an option at some point on this trip, as could forwards Dustin Brown and Blake Lizotte, though we’ll wait and see until tomorrow to see if that means the Minnesota game or later on. Lizotte did not skate today, though that absence was not injury-related, per McLellan, and as noted, the energetic center could be an option on this trip, potentially as soon as tomorrow. Andreas Athanasiou also skated today, but is still a bit further away from his own return to action.
Lizotte’s eventual return, along the the returns in due time for Brown and Edler, would give the Kings 15 forwards, nine defensemen and two goaltenders to choose from on a nightly basis, potentially somewhere on this three-game trek.
For the first time since the 2018-19 campaign, the Kings will play a full 82 games this season.
While veteran players have done this for their entire careers, they recall and understand what the longer slate looks like, there still are some adjustment periods to getting back to the full grind. Of the 18 skaters on Thursday, just the top line of Kopitar, Iafallo and Kempe were on that 2018-19 Kings team for the entirety of the season and while others have played the full 82 before around the league, it has been some time since we’ve seen it anywhere.
“It’s just something you have to get back, getting used to,” Anze Kopitar said. “The [2019-20] season got cut off at 71 games and then the 56 games last year, so it’s a little adjustment, but me personally, I’ve played a few 82-game seasons, so you kind of know what to expect, refresh the mind a little bit.”
That brings the importance of balancing days off with practice days, in between a congested schedule that became that much tighter due to the Olympic break that kind of was. The Kings have had to work with tighter gaps, especially over the last 5-6 weeks, with a reprieve finally hitting here in early-to-mid April. This past week, the Kings had two stretches of two days off in between games, the first time that’s been a part of the schedule since that aforementioned break back in February.
Todd McLellan has touched on the importance of both rest and practice time down the stretch, understanding the need on both fronts. Speaking with Kopitar this morning, he noted that leaders on the team such as himself are involved in the conversation when it comes to scheduling, though the decision ultimately lies with the coaches, who “usually have a pretty good gauge of what we need.”
Yesterday was a day off in a stretch when earlier in the season it might not have been. For Kopitar specifically, yesterday’s day gave him the mental refresher he needed as much as anything.
“It varies, sometimes you go and study the film a little bit, sometimes you go away, to the beach and turn your mind off, get refreshed that way,” he said. “It’s a combination of a lot of things. For me, my kids are on spring break so I was on dad duty this week, but that’s also refreshing. It’s not sitting still, but it takes you somewhere else where you can turn it off for a little bit.”
Last season, mental refreshment was challenging because of the restrictions imposed around the league, even on players and staff members away from the rink. With those restrictions lifted and nine important games remaining, a balance struck like what we saw over the last two days could be important, depending on response. We’ll see what that response is tomorrow in Minnesota.
Strides, Skating and Speed
There’s fast and there’s quick.
Todd McLellan believes that both Adrian Kempe and Trevor Moore have the ability to be both. Their skating strides are what catch your eye off the bat, suggesting maybe vaster differences.
Kempe has long, powerful strides that are extremely noticeable as he transitions from zone-to-zone, building up speed through the neutral zone and using it to attack defenders on larger areas of the ice. Moore has shorter, choppier strides that catch you more in his first three steps, using an impressive burst to separate in smaller spaces. McLellan was quick to warn though not to sell either short when it comes to their ability to do the other as well, describing both players as “fast and quick”, which isn’t the case for everyone.
“There is a contrast to them, but I wouldn’t cut Mooresy short on the long stuff either, or Juice on the tighter stuff, he can turn on a dime and escape right away,” McLellan said. “There’s differences, there’s similarities, the visual is what I think catches most people’s eyes, but the production of speed and quickness, there’s a reason why both of them are good, trusting players for us right now.”
The Edmonton game, visually, pointed out the differences in how both players skate. Take Moore’s shorthanded goal – Watch the short, powerful strides taken to create separation between himself and Leon Draisaitl, creating that bit of space needed to convert the goal. While that play is not necessarily a scrum, McLellan called Moore’s ability to escape from those “scrums and piles” the best on the team, with Kempe not far behind.
Kempe’s skating is certainly more noticeable when he’s in open ice, but he’s also able to use his legs in tighter, shorter situations as well. He has that escapability to his game, as well as the first step needed to create space for himself in the offensive zone, as we saw on a couple of his goals last month from inside the blueline.
“Both use their legs to get them time, and to escape,” McLellan said. “We talk about escape skills, Trevor Moore is probably the best we have on our team at escaping scrums, piles with the puck or even just free body and Kempe would be right there with him. Those are valuable skills in today’s game.”
Both players also have the skating skills to play with long speed as well. Kempe’s is prevalent to the eye, when he gets a head of steam, how he uses his legs through the neutral zone to beat a defenseman to the outside and turn that situation into a scoring chance. When the players on each side are reduced in overtime, Kempe’s long strides become very noticeable in end-to-end action. Moore’s isn’t quite as visable, game-to-game, but he has the ability to use his skating on the longer side as well. Several breakaway goals this season would point to that side of his game.
Both players, in McLellan’s eyes, have been big-time contributors with their skating, at both ends of the ice.
“When people talk about skating, we talk about how fast Connor McDavid can go, how fast Kempe or Mooresy is, but there’s way more to it,” McLellan added. “They know how and when to use their speed and that’s a really good quality, they’re well-rounded with their legs.”
Considering tomorrow’s afternoon puck drop, I’m spacing out today’s interviews into two stories. Today’s notes were wider-reaching and tomorrow’s will include a few more specific notes for the game against the Wild. The Kings are not scheduled to skate tomorrow in Minnesota, with a 4 PM puck drop.
In the AM, we’ll have a look at McLellan’s assessment of the Wild and the importance of not being “just okay” in this matchup, as he felt some players were on Thursday. Kopitar gave us his look at special teams, with the trends provided to support, and the process / challenges for various players in returning to action at a challenging time of the year.
Happy Saturday, Insiders! Talk soon.
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