Practice 12/19 – Good To Be Back! Injury Updates, Penalty Kill Timing, Connors To Team USA

Practice Day, Insiders!

And it’s good to be back. A longer skate today for the Kings for sure, as the team took back to the ice at Toyota Sports Performance Center in Los Angeles. As noted this morning, the Kings are embarking on a stretch of time with 11 home games from the next 14 total games and the groups seems to have recovered from their recent, six-game trip. An important day off yesterday and an important skate here this morning, as the group got back on the ice together and had the opportunity to work on several areas of the game they’re looking for.

“I thought we were a little ragged to start with, I thought there was some decent energy, there wasn’t a shortage of jump or pop, but the polish wasn’t real good early and sometimes that happens after an off day, but we got to work on some things that we needed to work on,” Todd McLellan said today. “It’s nothing new, it’s just refreshing, reminders, execution in certain situations, things we needed to address. We could use more of it, but we take what we can get.”

Here’s how the Kings lined up today, with no apparent changes from how the group was aligned in the game against San Jose on Saturday evening –

Vial – Kopitar – Kempe
Iafallo-Danault-Moore
Arvidsson-Lizotte-Kaliyev
Anderson-Dolan-Kupari-Vilardi-Grundstrom
(Lemieux–Red)

Anderson-Doughty
Durzi-Roy
Edler-Spence-Walker

Quick / Copley

We’ll likely have a better sense in the morning regarding any potential changes for tomorrow’s showdown with Anaheim, as well as who will start in goal. The Kings had Rasmus Kupari and Jordan Spence back after a 24-hour loan to Ontario, while Brendan Lemieux was on the ice for the second straight skate. Lemieux is still a bit away from joining the team permanently, with McLellan providing an update on his status today. He was hopeful Lemieux might be a bit further along in the process, but when it comes to making sure he is 100 percent, there’s no rushing the process, either.

“He’s in a red jersey, I thought he would be in a different color jersey by now but he’s in a red one, so that tells us that he’s not ready yet.”

Naturally not expecting to see Lemieux in the lineup tomorrow and we’ll follow his status – and the color of his jersey – in the coming days with regards to back-to-back games against Calgary and Arizona before the Christmas break.

Photo Credit: Taylor Skeie/LAKingsInsider.com

Notes –
Good To Be Home
It really is good to be home.

For really the first time this season, the Kings are set for what is mostly an extended run of time here at home. The longest homestand of the season to date has been four games – back in November – but those four games were sandwiched by three on the road preceding and four on the road coming out of it. The current stretch here won’t even be any greater than that four-game span, but it’s 11 home games out of 14, with two stretches of three straight at home and one of four to close it off.

“We had one stretch that one stretch where we played [four] games in a row at home, but that’s been it,” forward Phillip Danault said this morning. “That was the tough part of the schedule but it’s good for sure to have a routine here, to get all together. It’s good to be back home.”

The practice side of the schedule at home is something that is encouraging to several individuals, starting with players like Danault and defenseman Sean Durzi, who are higher-minute players.

“It’s nice to kind of get a day just to practice, we were working hard out there, it feels good,” Durzi said. “It feels good just getting reps and things like that.”

Durzi spoke for what I am sure many in the room were thinking and that’s the difficulty that Saturday’s game presented with coming off the road and having to play right away versus San Jose. That game was difficult from a scheduling standpoint and it says a lot about the group that they were able to come away with two points.

Now, being back at home, having an extra day to recover and reset when it comes to things like nutrition, rest and mindset are important.

“It’s nice to get two days in between games, which is awesome,” he said. “With the road trip and coming back, playing the next day, that’s a lot of games and that’s a lot of travel. To keep your body in good shape, your mindset right, your health and nutrition, all that was pretty tough on that stretch.”

For lower-minute players, such as Rasmus Kupari, having more practice time is important to staying sharp and engaged.

Kupari and his line played the least in terms of overall minutes against San Jose and for players like him, who are used to playing 18-20 minutes a night at the AHL level, having the opportunity to go hard in practice and work on certain parts of the game during those sessions is extremely important.

“There are always things that we need to work on and focus on, these kind of days are good for that in a busy schedule,” he said. “I like to practice. I don’t play as much every game, so I need the extra work and keep my confidence up, keep my standards up, so that’s good for me personally.”

The Kings should have several opportunities over the next few weeks to get on the ice for practice and that seems to be a welcomed sign for those involved.

Penalty Kill Process & Progress
Pressure.

There are several areas of the penalty kill that the Kings are focused on improving, but a big buzzword as of late has been pressured. Applying pressure, taking away time and space of the opposition and doing it more quickly and effectively. Matt Roy detailed it as one of his three keys to a successful penalty kill. Trevor Moore, Phil Danault, Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi – all members of the team’s penalty killing unit – used that word as well when asked about areas of improvement.

“Going back to whenever we’ve been good, it’s making sure that we get clears and trying to put on more pressure if we have an opportunity to go after a loose puck or off a rebound,” Anderson said this morning. “Those are the two areas. Making sure we’re bearing down when we have the chance to get it out and making sure we’re quick to pressure when we have the chance.”

On the season, the Kings are 28th in the NHL on the penalty kill. This month, the Kings rank 28th in the penalty kill, with similar percentages. The Kings have conceded a power-play goal in four straight games, but in wins over Boston and San Jose, the unit rose to the challenge at the most important moment in the game.

In both games, the Kings were shorthanded in overtime and in both games, the Kings were able to get a timely kill when they needed it most. The Kings went on to get the win in a shootout both times, but they don’t get to that point without the kill.

“Our number isn’t getting better, because we give up goals, but that’s okay,” Todd McLellan said. “The important thing about our penalty kill is that two nights in a row, against pretty good power plays late in the game or in overtime, it got the job done. So, the timing of penalty kill or powerplay is important.”

Timeliness of the kill isn’t necessarily more important than the overall total, but it certainly does play a role. It goes the other way too – Adrian Kempe’s power-play goal in Boston, which came after nearly five straight games without a PPG, comes to mind as well. Over their last two wins, the Kings have gotten the job done in the biggest moments of the game. Special teams, by the overall numbers, weren’t all that great in either game but without timly goals or kills, the Kings likely don’t walk away with all four points.

Danault – We did kill those good ones. Definitely good things to build on. Obviously, you don’t want to take six penalties and obviously the OT penalties, it’s hard when they get a breakaway and you have to do some stuff, but yeah, definitely big kills. It’s been crucial these last two games.

Anderson – The momentum can come into it, especially when you’re taking penalties. In the Boston game, we’re tied at the end of the game and took a penalty with 30 seconds left. When you go through the kill, all of a sudden you get a kill, you don’t give up a lot of Grade-A looks and you take the momentum away from the other team. I think momentum plays a big part in that and that’s part of what special teams does.

Durzi – Momentum is probably the biggest part. Obviously you want to score on the power play and you want to keep the puck out on the penalty kill, but if you kill a penalty at the right time, you have the whole bench up on their feet on every clear, guys are sacrificing, that’s almost better than scoring a goal. You see the guys rallying around that momentum, that passion behind doing it for each other, doing it for the team. That’s that’s kind of the biggest part, building momentum.

As we progress in the season, we’ll need to see the overall number rise on the penalty kill, but the Kings have put in the work towards doing that, including additional practice today. Getting timly kills in important moments, however, is key towards securing wins and the Kings have done that over their last six periods and change.

Ken-ited States
Lastly, Insiders, forward Kenny Connors was announced to Team USA’s roster for the upcoming World Junior Championships over the weekend. Connors was one of 25 players selected to head North of the border to compete in the annual tournament.

Connors is off to a blistering start to the season with the University of Massachusetts and leads all players on the team in scoring with 17 points (7-10-17) on the season. He’s a two-way center, who indicated that Kings veterans Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault are two individuals he tries to model parts of his game after. He’s been an offensive producer this season with the Minutemen, without sacrificing defensively, and worked his way from a summer invitation to selection camp onto the roster. Good on ya, Kenny.

Kings Director of Scouting, Mark Yannetti, on Connors
[Conners] played heavy this past year and his compete level really showed through. Most young players don’t do well defensively in leagues like the USHL. Connors showed a pretty good defensive game. That said, you need to do more than just that to get drafted, there needed to be more offensive production and that’s why we didn’t take him last year. Our scouts went into this year with [Connors] as a guy to watch because we liked some of the things about him……we felt that a lot of the offensive improvement was made from specific skillsets and learning the game.

Connors is one of 25 players going with Team USA and is skating in the team’s first pre-tournament exhibition game today versus Finland in New Brunswick. The US can only register 23 skaters at once, so there are two players who will not begin the tournament on the active roster, but will be with the team and available to participate later in the event. Will update as that information is released.

via USA Hockey

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