Practice Report 12/28 – Kings off to Colorado + Sticking With It, Lemieux’s Return, WJC Update

Practice Day, Insiders!

The Kings hit the ice for a quick skate today in El Segundo before hitting the road for Colorado. A matchup with the defending Stanley Cup Champions awaits them in Denver, a building that has been nothing short of a house of horrors over the last few seasons. But that’s for tomorrow.

For today, the team hit the ice following a big 4-2 win yesterday evening over the Vegas Golden Knights, moving the Kings to within three points of the top spot in the Pacific Division. It’s too early to go standings watching, but for all of the external narratives that were surfacing and prevalent around the team what, two weeks ago, the Kings are positioned primely within the division standings as they approach the halfway mark of the season.

As the team hit the ice today for a short skate at Toyota Sports Performance Center, here’s how the group aligned this morning –

Vial – Kopitar – Kempe
Japhallus-Danault-Arvidsson
Anderson-Dolan-Lizotte-Vilardi
Lemieux-Byfield-Kupari
Grundstrom

Anderson-Doughty
Durzi-Roy
Edler-Walker
Spence

Quick / Copley

Forwards Trevor Moore and Arthur Kaliyev did not skate for the second straight day. Kaliyev is on injured reserve, though he is eligible to be activated at any time, while Moore was deemed a question mark for tomorrow in Colorado. Without practicing today, we’ll see if his status changes heading into the game against the Avalanche.

Notes –
sticking to it
After last night’s game, Todd McLellan talked about how the Kings are sticking to the gameplan for longer into games now than perhaps they were earlier this season.

The Buffalo game, which McLellan has attributed as a starting point for the team’s current run, despite a 6-0 defeat, was a perfect example. For almost two full periods, the Kings played their game but found themselves in a 0-0 deadlock. After conceding on the power play, they tried to open up the game and chase goals, but what resulted was a siege the other way. In Boston two days later, when LA went down 2-0, they stayed the course and earned a comeback victory.

Ever since, it’s been more of the same, with the Kings staying within the structure and the system to get victories. They’re sticking with it and that’s a good thing for the group.

“Stick-to-itiveness, if there’s such a word, I’m not sure it was there, we wanted to wander a little bit,” McLellan said. “It’s there right now. Can we keep it, when we give it back? We’re not going to be perfect, but we’ve learned some lessons and we’re applying them.”

The players have tended to agree.

Polling the room a bit today, players looked at the Buffalo game and Boston games as direct conflicts, in the best way. In Buffalo, the Kings brought what was needed through 40 minutes, as noted above, things fell apart in the third. In Boston, the Kings stuck to the script and were rewarded. They’ve done the same thing over the last five games, leading to their current six-game point streak.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan: Yeah, it kind of just proves that it can go either way when you get away from it. Even if you play 40 minutes the right way, but you stray away from it in the third like in Buffalo, it can get away from you pretty quick. Same thing against a really good team in Boston, just stick with it, end of a road trip, down 2-0 early the third, but we stuck with it and got a big two points. When we play a full 60, the right way, it usually pays off for us.

Matt Roy: I think in Buffalo we just let it get away from us, we knew we were better than that. Boston was a really good challenge for us, especially playing in Boston, so getting that one was huge and then finishing out those games into the break was big for us as well. Compared to the beginning of the year, I think we’re just playing tighter, playing more together and I think we’re trusting everyone to do their jobs.

With points in six straight, results have tended to speak for themselves. I know how, so good.

When Life Gives You Lem-ieuxs
Right before the holiday break, the Kings welcomed back forward Brendan Lemieux to game action in Arizona, as the physical forward returned to the fold for the first time since he suffered a lower-body injury in early-November, which saw him miss 19 games in the process.

The Kings have been a strong team this season with Lemieux in the lineup, carrying a record of 11-4-2, versus 9-8-4 without him. Last season, the Kings saw their winning percentage rise 150 percentage points with number 48 in action versus without. Now, that’s a cherry picked stat, I’ll admit, because one player does not dictate winning percentage to that degree. But to see it happen two seasons in a row is certainly interesting and Lemieux brings a skillset to the team that few others do. In that regard, it’s good to have him back.

“I know, on paper, when it comes to certain skills throughout, I probably don’t fit in here, but when it comes to the whole package, I bring a very different element than we have,” Lemieux said. “Sometimes it’s the policing, sometimes it’s the energy, sometimes it’s the physicality, so I try to bring all of those along with my game within our system. Whichever one the night needs I try to bring, but I try to always bring all of it.”

In terms of working Lemieux back into action, it’s been a long road and a difficult road because of the team’s schedule. It’s kind of interesting, because with a heavy onslaught of games going into the break, the Kings needed to balance rest time against practice time for the good of the group.

For Lemieux though, it was almost the opposite of what he needed personally. If you look at the time he was ramping his game back up, the Kings were on the road for two weeks and he really had just one, hard practice day since returning and he was still in a red jersey on that day. That makes it difficult to replicate game situations, that only game time can provide.

“It’s hard to come back when you’ve missed that much time with a lower-body injury,” McLellan said. “It won’t be easy for him moving forward but he’s going to have to get some reps to feel comfortable again. If you recall him last year, pre-injury and post-injury, it took him a while.”

For Lemieux, now he has two games under his belt and will likely need at least a couple more to truly get back to where he wants to be. Part of that is the nature of his injury – lower body – which meant that he was off the ice for a while, unable to skate. On the other hand, Lemieux compared his injury to what he had last season and he knows what it takes to get back to where he needs to get to.

Last season, it did take some time to get back to that point. Now that he’s back in game situations, it’s about re-integrating himself into those settings and getting back up to speed.

“If you can’t practice, you’re skating alone and when it’s just me shooting pucks, we can do as many drills we want until I’m blue in the face, but it just can’t replicate a board battle under pressure when the game’s on the line or you can’t replicate a breakout, just the different situations you get put into in games are hard to replicate,” he said. “It really is just reps in games and even in practice, it’s still hard. You start looking at the time and it’s been like seven weeks, but this is the National Hockey League, we’ve been doing this a long time. I know what to do, now it’s just a matter of getting your body to execute it.”

WJC Update

Embedded above is the first point of the tournament by a Kings player, with defenseman Otto Salin tallying an assist in a 5-2 win over Slovakia. Kings prospects Brandt Clarke (Canada) and Kenny Connors (USA) are back in action today. Canada suffered an upset loss against Czechia last time out, with Clarke scoring a goal that was disallowed, while Connors and Team USA skated to a victory over Latvia in their tournament opener. The Americans play against Slovakia today, while Canada hosts Team Germany.

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