WHO: Los Angeles Kings (0-1-0) vs. Seattle Kraken (0-0-1)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Thursday, October 13 @ 7:30 PM Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings conclude a short, two-game homestand tonight, with the Seattle Kraken in town for the first time this season.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings posted a 3-1-0 record against Seattle a season ago, with the two teams splitting the games played in Los Angeles. Forwards Gabe Vilardi (2-2-4) and Adrian Kempe (1-3-4) each collected four points from last season’s series, while forward Phillip Danault led the Kings with three goals from the four matchups.
KINGS VITALS: Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan previewed changes after yesterday’s practice and the Kings appear to have a couple of them for tonight’s game. Below is a projected lineup, based off of yesterday’s practice and today’s morning skate –
Kevin Fiala – Anze Kopitar – Adrian Kempe
Trevor Moore – Phillip Danault – Carl Grundstrom
Alex Iafallo – Quinton Byfield – Gabe Vilardi
Brendan Lemieux – Blake Lizotte – Arthur Kaliyev
Mikey Anderson – Drew Doughty
Sean Walker – Matt Roy
Alex Edler – Brandt Clarke
Jonathan Quick was the first goaltender off this morning, indicating that he will be between the pipes for his second start in as many games. Quick made just one appearance against the Kraken last season, in late April, as he made 37 saves on 40 shots to earn the victory.
Forward Viktor Arvidsson will not play tonight with an illness and Todd McLellan confirmed his absence is unrelated to his offseason back injury. Forward Brendan Lemieux looks set to check in on the fourth line, with jersey colors indicating that Carl Grundstrom could slot up into the top six. Looking at this morning’s skate, forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan and defenseman Sean Durzi were late for extra work.
KRAKEN VITALS: Seattle enters tonight’s game coming off of its season debut yesterday evening in Anaheim, a 5-4 overtime defeat against the Ducks.
Goaltender Phillip Grubauer got the start yesterday in Anaheim, which points towards backup goaltender Martin Jones as a potential starter this evening in Los Angeles. Jones has performed exceptionally well throughout his career when playing against his former team, posting a 19-7-3 record, a .925 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against average.
With the back-to-back, not expecting any sort of a morning skate for the visitors today. Per Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, here’s how Seattle lined up last night against the Ducks –
— Geoff Baker (@GeoffBakerTIMES) October 13, 2022
Fourth-overall pick Shane Wright made his NHL debut on the fourth line last night, as he logged 6:14 in time-on-ice from 11 shifts. Forward Matt Beiners (1-1-2) and defenseman Justin Schultz (0-2-2) led the Kraken with two points on Opening Night. Forwards Jordan Eberle (2-1-3) and Ryan Donato (1-2-3) led Seattle in scoring against the Kings last season.
“This is the moment I’ve dreamed of for so long. I’ve been watching the NHL for my entire life and now that I’m officially going to be in it, it’s kind of crazy to think about. This is going to be something I’ll never forget, it’ll be pretty cool.”
That was Brandt Clarke this morning, as he prepares for his first game in the NHL. Practice yesterday put a Clarke debut on our radar and morning skate today turned it into a probability. Clarke himself said he thought it was likely and finally, Todd McLellan confirmed it for real.
The result will be the 19-year-old defenseman taking his first career NHL game this evening against Seattle. While it wasn’t done specifically with Clarke in mind, he was able to take in the routine of Opening Night on Tuesday as a scratched player, something that can potentially help him this evening.
“It wasn’t planned that way, but I think there’s something that can help him in that situation. He’s been around for long enough now, throughout the exhibition season, to see how the daily rhythm occurs, preparing for a game. It does change when it gets to the regular season a little bit, but the general preparation is the same. The quality of the opponent is much higher and that will be the biggest change for him.”
For his part, while he’s expecting nerves, Clarke is hopeful he can just settle in and play his game.
There are a lot of bells and whistles around an NHL debut, such as family in town, possibly no helmet during warmups, the added nerves that come along with it.
McLellan and his staff have been through that routine before, it’s not the first debut they’ve had to manage. For the most part, they plan to let Clarke handle the day on his own, although they’re on hand to provide support if requested.
“Yawns and I were just talking about it, there’s enough that’s going on in their world right now,” McLellan added. “First game, family in town, we don’t want to overburden him with details, we want him to play the game and we want him to enjoy the process. I think the less he has on his mind, the more instinctual hockey, the better chance he has for success. So, we haven’t sat with him and gone through everything, what to expect and what not to expect. If he comes to us, we can certainly help him, but we’ll leave him alone.”
For his part, while he’s expecting nerves, Clarke is hopeful he can just settle in and play his game. At the end of the day, it’s 60 minutes of hockey and Clarke understands that.
“I just want to play my game,” he said. “Just like the rookie tournament, just like preseason, I just want to come in there and play. Yes, it’s going to be a big moment, yes it’s going to be really exciting, but I think after that first shift I’ll just settle in and do what I do, then I’m just playing hockey again, it’s just another game . There’ll be a whirlwind of emotions right off the bat, but I think once I settle in, once the game just starts flowing, I’ll be just fine.”
Iafallo – Byfield – Vilardi Line
One of the better storylines from night one was the performance of the third line for the Kings, with Quinton Byfield centering Gabe Vilardi and Alex Iafallo. In just shy of 10 minutes at 5-on-5, the third line was the only unit for the Kings on the right side of 50 percent in terms of shot attempts controlled, while they hit exactly 50 percent on high-danger chances.
The line also scored the team’s first goal of the season. Vilardi and Byfield used their size and ability down low to work the puck along the boards, which led to the first opportunity, from Vilardi to Byfield. After the save, Byfield retrieved the puck and hit Vilardi at the top of the circle, where he fired home.
“Gabe is a big body and myself, so we’ve got to use that size, wear down their D, get on pucks a little bit quicker, and Al is so good with his stick and he uses his body well,” Byfield said. . “I think we’re a line that can grind down teams and wear them down to get our opportunities like that.”
Due to his experience, Iafallo is the de-facto captain of that line, using his leadership abilities to help two younger players along. Whether it’s been Vilardi or Arthur Kaliyev as the third member of the unit, Iafallo has been vocal with his linemates, initiating conversations on the bench and during practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.
He believes that helps with how that line plays offensively, sorting out the forecheck and forcing turnovers to create additional looks.
“Obviously we wanted to win the game, but looking at our line I feel like there was good support all around the rink for us,” he said. “We talk during the practices we’ve had and during the game, just talking about where we’re going to be depending on the forecheck, where the pieces are in place, so I feel like it was good for us to get that game in. We’ll keep growing.”
A lot of the focus centers around the talented duo of Vilardi and Byfield, and rightfully so. Vilardi was perhaps the team’s most impactful offensive player during the preseason and followed that up with a multi-point effort on opening night. The hype follows Byfield regardless of deployment, as a former second-overall draft pick, and his game has elevated during the preseason and again last night.
Iafallo, though, is an important third piece.
“He can be a little bit of conscience on the line, he’s a veteran player, he’s a calm individual that doesn’t get overly frustrated,” McLellan said. “He can talk them through situations and he takes care of somebody’s defensive assignments so that [Byfield and Vilardi] can roll a little bit more.”
The hope is continued progress from that line, with an effective third line an important thing for this Kings team.
At times last season, the Kings lacked consistency on the third line, with pieces moving in, out, up and down, with no one able to really cement those roles. Should this trio do that, it opens up a lot of opportunities for the group with respect to depth. With three players possessing offensive abilities, they want to play in the offensive zone, as every line does, and get to work. Through 60 minutes, so far so good.
“Once we get in the o-zone, Al is a very hard-working guy, he’s a smart player, an underrated smart player and Q is so gifted with the puck,” Vilardi said. “We’ve just got to get to the o-zone, we’re good when we get to the o-zone and we’ve got to do the things defensively to get there.”
Kings and Kraken, tonight from Crypto.com Arena at 7:30 PM as the Kings look to even their slate to start the season. I’ll leave you with one last quote, on what the Kings are looking for to start tonight’s game. McLellan used the word “second” to describe much of night one and that’s something he knows needs to be turned around here against Seattle.
“We would like to see that early. It’s one thing to be positionally sound, but if you’re second all the time, it doesn’t matter. You just play in that situation. We can be aggressive, we can be first in a lot of situations that we weren’t in game one. Would we like to see early? Yeah, we’d like to see it early, we’d like to see it often, we’d like to see it in Minnesota and then on the rest of the road trip. That has to become part of who we are.”