QUIEN: Los Angeles Kings (38-25-10) @ Minnesota Wild (43-21-6)
QUE: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Sunday, April 10 @ 2:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center – St. Paul, MN
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: My KCOP-13 – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are back on the road for their last three-game trip of the season, beginning this evening in Minnesota.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings and Wild have split the first two matchups of the season, with LA winning on home ice in December and Minnesota winning on the road in October. Tonight is the first and only time the teams will play at Xcel Energy Center this season. Forward Anze Kopitar is the only player on the trip with multiple points (1-1-2) against Minnesota this season, building on his eight points (1-7-8) from eight games played last season.
KINGS VITALS: The Kings are back in action with single-digit games remaining, beginning today against the Wild. From here on out, the team will play six on the road and three at home, with this three-game trip the longest remaining on the schedule.
With no morning skate today, today’s goaltender will remain up in the air until warmups. Should the Kings rotate to Cal Petersen, the Iowan is 2-1-1 against Minnesota, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average. Should the team go back with Jonathan Quick for the second straight game, Quick is 16-11-7 all-time versus the Wild, with a .902 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average.
Following yesterday’s full-team practice and considering the early puck drop, the Kings did not hold a morning skate today, as expected. There’s no indication to suggest that Matt Roy and Brendan Lemieux would not remain in the lineup, with decisions regarding health still to be made regarding forwards Dustin Brown and Blake Lizotte, along with defenseman Alex Edler, all of whom are potentials on this trip.
Without formal rushes yesterday, and no skate today, it’s hard to tell for sure how the Kings will align tonight, but should they make no changes, here’s how the team aligned on Thursday versus the Oilers.
Quick / Petersen
WILD VITALS: Minnesota is 2-1-2 over its last five games, though that spell followed a seven-game winning streak. Five of its last nine games have gone to overtime, with the Wild in a contested battle for home ice in the first round against St. Louis.
Over the last eight games, the Wild have rotated goaltenders between Cam Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury. The rotation points back to Fleury today in Minnesota. Assuming Fleury gets the nod this evening, he brings with him an 11-8-4 record against the Kings, with a .918 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average. Should Talbot go again today, he is 12-9-0 all-time versus LA, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.65 goals-against average.
Per Sarah McLellan of the Star Tribune, here’s how the Wild lined up last time out against St. Louis –
Kirill Kaprizov-Ryan Hartman-Mats Zuccarello
Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek-Marcus Foligno
Tyson Jost-Frederick Gaudreau-Kevin Fiala
Nic Deslauriers-Nick Bjugstad-Brandon Duhaime
Jake Middleton-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Dmitry Kulikov
Jordie Benn-Alex Goligoski
Forward Matthew Boldy and defenseman Jon Merrill missed last game with upper-body injuries, but could be options for this afternoon against the Kings.
Back In Black
“When you’re playing catchup at any point in the year it’s hard, when you’re playing catchup in the home stretch, it’s very hard.”
The Kings welcomed back defenseman Matt Roy and forward Brendan Lemieux to the lineup on Thursday against Edmonton. Two players who have been important for the Kings this season and two players the team is excited to have back. Two players, though, that are reintegrating into the lineup after nearly a month out at a challenging time of the year.
Todd McLellan was fair when assessing both players, talking about the value they both bring to the fold, while also understanding that he wasn’t getting the first and second stars of the game back on Thursday. With now another practice under their belts, and now 60 minutes in the bank, expectation would be growth and closer to a return to normal later on today.
TM on Roy – Better as the game went on, which is understandable, I think he’s going to get better as time goes on. When you’re out for a month with a lower-body injury, and you don’t get to skate as much, you don’t get the practice time that you need and can’t replicate the intensity of the games right now, it will take you forever. [Roy] does have a lot to bring to the table and we’re happy to have him back.
TM on Lemieux – I think each player coming back has different challenges. Some it’s going to be physical – legs, timing, lungs. I think Brendan has those things, it’s reestablishing the structure, the mental part of the game and right off the bat, less is more. He knows how valuable he is to our team and he wanted to display all of that at once. As a result, it wasn’t as good as it should have been. He simplifies things, we’ll be welcoming a new player.”
As the trio of Brown, Lizotte and Edler eventually return to action, the former two at least will face similar issues with reintegration, with Edler already undergoing a similar transition. Having everyone available is a great thing for the Kings, but having that all at full strength will be important. We’ll see if we get anyone into that situation today in Minnesota.
Anze Kopitar spoke on both special teams units yesterday.
The Kings are currently undergoing their best stretch of the season on the penalty kill. Over the last nine games, the Kings are 22-of-23 on the penalty kill and forward Trevor Moore has scored three shorthanded goals in that span. +2 on the penalty kill over the last nine games? That will do!
On the PK- Yeah, I think so. There were a couple of games where he gave up [one], but we’ve been solid, from the crease out, with those two back there, they’re playing really well for us and it shows. Our percentage is up from where it was and I think we’re feeling a little bit more confident than we were early on, which is also a big part of the penalty kill.
Believe it or not, the Kings have scored power-play goals in six of their last nine games, operating at a 25 percent clip in that span. Now, they’ve still had situations where they’ve needed a critical PPG and haven’t gotten it, looking most specifically at the Calgary game on Monday, when the Kings had three power plays in the third period and did not convert on any of them, finishing at 1-of-6 on the evening. While you can spin the man advantage into goals in two-thirds of the last nine games, as I just did, the Kings still know that they have more to offer in those situations.
On the PP – We’ve had quite a few chances and at the very least, we’re getting some momentum off of it. We’re not getting frustrated – it’s frustrating, yes, because we don’t score – but we’re not getting frustrated at the moment, so we’re gaining something out of it. At the end of the day, we’ve got to score goals and we’re working towards that.
The message was pretty clear from Todd McLellan after the one-goal defeat against Edmonton. It’s not okay to be just okay.
McLellan felt that the Kings had too many “okay” performances on Thursday night. Not players who were bad, but players who were just okay. As he put it after the game, those types of performance might have gotten by in October or November, but at this time of the year, they’re magnified. Against one of the top teams in the conference such as Minnesota, McLellan understands that a higher level is needed.
“If you leave Minnesota with points, or [from when] you play them at home, you’ve played your “A” game, because as I said the other night, the ‘just okay’ nights aren’t good enough anymore,” McLellan said yesterday. “You’ve got to have a mark on the game and if we are just okay in Minnesota, we won’t get what we need.”
Looking at Minnesota, they’ve proven themselves amongst the top teams in the conference over the last two seasons. Starting between the pipes, the Wild acquired goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at the deadline to partner Cam Talbot, forming one of the best tandems in the NHL in net.
In terms of the skaters, Minnesota is one of two teams in the NHL with four defenseman over 25 points this season, speaking to a mobile group that can move the puck and contribute offensively. Up front, forward Kirill Kaprizov is one of three players in the league with 40+ goals and 45+ assists, with the other two players being the Edmonton duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Good company, on a very good team.
“They’re right up there with the rest of the contenders,” McLellan said. “It starts in goal, with Fleury and Talbot, you can’t go wrong with either. Their backend is very mobile, they move pucks and their ability to go around defensemen, with their size, makes it difficult on a lot of teams. They play all three zones real well.”
Season series on the line tonight with a 1-1 split coming in. Kings and Wild, this afternoon at 2 PM Pacific, coming up later on today!
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism