10/11 Preview – Projected Lineup + Opening Night Jitters, First Line Coming Together, Blake on Final Moves

WHO: Los Angeles Kings (0-0-0) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (0-0-0)
WHEN: Tuesday, October 11 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: ESPN – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The regular season has arrived! The LA Kings host the Vegas Golden Knights this evening to open up a short, two-game homestand to begin the season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings and Golden Knights split their four matchups last season, with Vegas holding a narrow, 5-4 advantage in points. Anze Kopitar led all Kings skaters with eight points (3-5-8) in the season series, while Drew Doughty had six points (1-5-6) and Adrian Kempe and Phillip Danault each tallied three goals. With 29 career points (11-18-29), no NHL player has more points against Vegas than Kopitar.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings hit the ice for an optional morning skate earlier today, giving us a glimpse into potential personnel for tonight’s game. Here’s what we might expect this evening against the Golden Knights, based on what we saw yesterday and today –

Kevin Fiala – Anze Kopitar – Adrian Kempe
Trevor Moore – Phillip Danault – Viktor Arvidsson
Alex Iafallo – Quinton Byfield – Gabe Vilardi
Carl Grundstrom – Blake Lizotte – Arthur Kaliyev

Mikey Anderson – Drew Doughty
Sean Durzi as Matt Roy
Alex Edler as Sean Walker

Jonathan Quick
Cal Petersen

Jonathan Quick was the first goaltender off this morning, indicating that he will be between the pipes for the first start of the season. Throughout his career, Quick has posted a 5-8-1 record against the Golden Knights, with a .875 save percentage and a 3.99 goals-against average.

Although the team did not take rushes this morning, forwards Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Brendan Lemieux appear to be the scratches this evening, along with defenseman Brandt Clarke. As Todd McLellan has said, the lineup here in Game 1 is not necessarily the lineup we’ll see for Game 2 on Thursday. We’ll see how this group goes and take it from there. As always, nothing’s official until it’s officially official.

GOLDEN KNIGHTS VITALS: Unlike last season, when Vegas had a game under its belt before traveling to Los Angeles, the two teams will square off tonight on even footing, with season debuts for each squad.

Goaltender Logan Thompson is expected to get the start tonight against the Kings, his second career appearance in the head-to-head series. In his lone start against the Kings last season, Thompson made 38 saves on 39 shots in a 5-1 victory at T-Mobile Arena.

Per Ben Gotz of the Las Vegas Review Journal, here’s how the Golden Knights lined up during today’s morning skate –

Defenseman Nicolas Hague, who signed a three-year contract extension yesterday as a restricted free agent, is not expected to play tonight against the Kings. A quartet of former Kings – Michael Amadio, Ben Hutton, Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb – appear set to skate in this evening’s game.

Opening Night Jitters
Even for the most veteran players and coaches, there’s still such a thing as Opening Night jitters.

“I think when those don’t exist, you should probably worry a little bit,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “The palms get sweaty, you get a little bit excited. The staff, and I don’t just mean the coaching staff, the whole organization, should have jitters, they should be excited. We’ve put a month’s worth of work into opening night and we want to perform well. It’s always an interesting night.

Palms get sweaty……wasn’t sure if an Eminem song was about to breakout.

McLellan has been through an Opening Night or two in his day, and he calls them a bit strange. Often times, emotions run high, there are highs and lows, especially when you open at home as the Kings are doing tonight. The same can be said for those in the lineup.

Defenseman Alex Edler spoke about the excitement he always feels heading into a first game. Nerves are a good thing, in his mind.

“I think you just get the excitement of the season starting,” defenseman Alex Edler said. “Sometimes you might feel a bit nervous, but I think that’s good. It means you’re focused, it means you’re ready, it means you’re excited. It’s all good stuff.”

As the Kings prepare for tonight, 19 of the 20 skaters expected to dress tonight have played with the Kings before.

The only player not to have is Kevin Fiala, who expressed similar thoughts to Edler, although from the perspective of someone starting with a new team for the first time.

“There’s always excitement, a little bit nervous in a good way,” Fiala said. “With a new team, there’s even a little bit more excitement and I’m just ready to go. With how the summer’s been, now here we are for a new season. It goes fast and I can’t wait to get started in the new rink, with my new team.”

First Line Fury, First Time Fiala
Speaking of Fiala, a man who certainly knew what the Kings were getting was General Manager Rob Blake, who highlighted Fiala during his season-opening media availability.

Blake highlighted several areas of Fiala’s game that we’ve noticed by watching him in practices and exhibition games, starting with puck protection. Fiala handles the puck in a unique way, with how he uses his feet and positions his body. That’s not even diving into the top-end offensive talent that he brings to the table.

“Puck protection is probably number one, the ability to protect in tight, tight areas, he’s got really good hockey vision there and IQ, making plays,” Blake said. “He battles to protect pucks and he gives us an element that I’m not sure we have a whole bunch in this organization. He’s a natural scorer, a lot of high-end offense and he’s very creative in the types of plays he wants to make.”

Fiala is expected to skate alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe on the first line tonight. We’ve seen the trio in action now for a few preseason contests, but tonight will be our first crack at seeing the line in regular-season action.

Natural Stattrick had the line at 44 minutes and change during the preseason, which is not really enough to either draw judgment from, nor to call the line a finished product. Like every facet of this team, it’s a work in progress, but it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of seeing the three players together.

“It’s coming together,” Kopitar said. “Having a couple of weeks now and few games under our belt, that always helps and I think it’s coming along nicely. Are we fully there yet, probably not, but we’re still learning about each other on the go and just trying to create and go from there.”

Fiala noted during training camp that he has never played with a center of Kopitar’s caliber during his time in the NHL, rarely used in a first-line role even during his breakout season with Minnesota. Kopitar knew what the Kings were getting in Fiala through his time playing against him, and his familiarity with his statistical prowess and by watching video.

He added that he felt the line played its best game on Saturday against Anaheim, as they started to learn the ins and outs of playing with each other.

“I felt on the ice that we took a step closer to where we want to be from Game 1 to the last game on Saturday,” Fiala said. “It was nice. For me to get comfortable with the systems, knowing what to do and with those two guys, learning how they play and just reading the game. I felt very confident on Saturday so I’m hoping for that tonight as well.”

We’ll get our first glimpse when it matters this evening – stay tuned!

Blake Talks Roster Construction
Finally, General Manager Rob Blake spoke with the media for nearly 20 minutes yesterday, covering a wide variety of topics ranging from season expectations to individual players to final roster decisions.

A few of his main takeaways below –

Blake on the final roster composition
I think the way you look at it, if you’re in our 12 [forwards] or our starting six we would project upstairs, regardless of your situation in the CBA we’re making a spot. Now, you have the ability to carry three extra players, whether it’s two forwards or two D, then we have to look a little bit at waivers and understand that we want to protect some of the assets and the players. There’s a few players that didn’t need waivers to go down but we also felt that they can still build their games [in the AHL]. Knock on wood, today is as healthy as we’ve been in a full year, on Sunday I think we saw every player back. We know we’re going to deal with injuries and we’re going to need some added depth down there that can come in and play.

On the thought process surrounding when you place certain individuals on waivers
We go over that constantly. If we’re in a healthy situation, we had players that had to be exposed to waivers and you go over when to put them on and when not to. You put them on early, but then a team could claim them and look at them, you put them on later, it allows teams that have had injuries [a chance]. Most of our situations, we wanted to get through our camp, make sure we were healthy coming into Sunday, then we’d sit down, discuss the lineup and then players that were waiver eligible and those that weren’t and go forward from there . Losing players on waivers, it’s part of the process, I think we have to understand that. When you start getting better and you have more quality players, you’ll be in those situations.

On conversations with the final players assigned to Ontario out of camp
It was [a tough conversation] with those players. I still think those players can learn in the American League. Eventually, if a player is good enough, he’s an everyday NHL player, there will come a point where he’s not going to learn more in the American League, but I still think we can get some things accomplished with these players and that was our message . You did a terrific job, you’ve done everything we’ve asked you to do so far, we still think you can get better and we’re going to need you down the stretch.

Kings and Golden Knights, tonight at 7 PM! LET’S GO!!

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