Practice 4/18 – Lines & Anderson Update + Third Line Thoughts, “Batting Order” on D, Moverare’s Game

The Kings were back on the ice today at Toyota Sports Performance Center, in preparation for the final visit of the season across the freeways to Anaheim.

The team had a full off day yesterday, pre-scheduled, considering the two days in between games. With five games remaining, a balance between rest and energy along with making adjustments and improvements is a fine line, with the Kings opting for one day on the ice and one day off of it following a 2-1 win over Columbus.

The team skated for around 40 minutes today, working on a few different things to prepare for Anaheim, with special teams included as it always is.

With that in mind, here’s how the Kings lined up this morning in El Segundo –

Athanasiou–Kopitar–Kempe
Moore–Danault–Arvidsson
Iafallo–Lizotte–Brown
Lemieux–Kupari–Kaliyev
Grundstrom–Vilardi–Byfield–Andersson

Edler–Roy
Moverare – Durzi
Maatta–Spence
Bjornfot–Stecher
Anderson–Strand

Quick / Petersen

The Kings appear likely to have the same group at their disposal as the win over Columbus on Saturday. Three lineup changes were made from the loss in Colorado to the return home, with forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Brendan Lemieux checking in, in addition to defenseman Jacob Moverare. All three appeared to remain in playing positions today.

For the second straight skate, defenseman Mikey Anderson was a participant in practice, though he took the entire practice today in a regular, black jersey, as opposed to the red, non-contact jersey he sported the other day. Anderson will not be an option for the Kings tomorrow, but he is expected to be available later in the season, per Todd McLellan this morning.

“He will be available, but not tomorrow, it will take him some time, it’s been eight weeks since he’s been involved in any type of team play situations,” McLellan said today. “It will take him a little bit of time, but we do anticipate at some point that we will have him back.”

While the Kings were crestfallen to lose Drew Doughty for the season, the possibility of Anderson returning is certainly a potential beam of light for another re-addition to the lineup.

Notes –

Third Line Consistency
It’s been three games, so any sweeping declaration here would be justtttttttt a bit premature.

However, it’s starting to feel like the Kings have found something on the third line, with the combination of Alex Iafallo, Blake Lizotte and Dustin Brown. Again, it’s been three games, but early returns have been positive. The Kings are controlling the puck with that line on the ice. They’re generating chances – both quantity and quality – with that line on the ice. And they’ve scored more goals than they’ve allowed with that line on the ice.

It’s a unique combination of individuals, with three different styles of play. But, in a short sample size, Todd McLellan has liked how that group has come together, both individually and as a larger unit.

“They’ve only been together for three games, so the games that they’ve played, I really think that Lizzo drags people into the play. We’ve seen an uptick in Al, in Al’s production and play, and Brownie has done a really good job since he’s come back from injury,” McLellan said today. “The three of them, they enjoy playing with each other, they spend a lot of time discussing how they want to play and that helps them a lot. So far so good.”

Brown has touched on how, when both players were injured, he and Lizotte spoke from time to time about potentially playing together when they returned from injury. From McLellan’s above quote, that conversation has continued into their time as a line here over the last week or so.

The interesting part about the bottom six this season for the Kings is that it’s been the fourth line, not the third line, that has had consistency in terms of personnel. Lizotte has centered the duo of Brendan Lemieux and Arthur Kaliyev for an extended stretch, really only broken up due to injury, suspension, COVID Protocols, or what you have. That trio has the third most minutes together amongst all forward units, behind the currently assembled second line and Anze Kopitar with Iafallo and Adrian Kempe.

Now, some of that consistency is being brought to the third line, with Lizotte the common ingredient. He has noticed a difference in overall playing styles of the Iafallo/Brown pairing versus the Lemieux/Kaliyev pairing, with the latter a bit simpler than the former, in a good way, and the former bringing more of a playmaking approach. For Lizotte though, his game is unchanged.

“Wherever they plug me in, I’m going to do my best to play my game and not change my game based on the players around me, per say,” he said. “The coaches see the makeup of the other players and they have me there for a reason, for what I bring to the table. I haven’t changed my game to play there.”

As it was on the fourth line, Lizotte knows his role is energy, it’s hounding the puck and it’s being difficult to play against in all situations.

Regardless of who he’s with, he’s trying to bring those traits and get the puck to his linemates, who now happen to be Brown and Iafallo. Good playmakers, good players, and so far, good output.

“My game, it’s nasty, forechecking, hounding guys,” Lizotte added. “The more often than not I can get pucks into their hands the better our line does, they’re great playmakers and great NHL’ers. I think for myself, my game complements them with the dirty work.”

Batting Order On The Blue
McLellan has frequently used the term “batting order” to describe his lineup, whether it be at forward or on the backend.

The meaning is a look at having everyone in the right spot in the pecking order, to best utilize everyone’s abilities and skillsets to their fullest. Over the last few games, with Matt Roy back and close to full strength, we’ve seen a much wider dispersal of minutes amongst the defensemen, which is a more preferred breakdown minus Drew Doughty.

On Saturday against Columbus, four defensemen played between 20:21 and 21:08. That’s pretty damn even. With more regulars returning to action, Roy in particular, the burden is able to be shared a lot more than it was in the past, with perhaps some of the pressure lifted off of rookie defensemen Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence, and split amongst the group .

“The other night, we had Matt Roy back in the lineup playing the right side, where he’s much more comfortable I believe, and that helps everybody,” McLellan said. “It takes the pressure off of Spence, off of Durzi, to produce for 26, 27 minutes a night. Not that they can’t, we’ve seen that they can, but it sorts it out a little bit more. He is, arguably, one of our biggest defensemen too, which helps.”

Against Chicago last week, the Kings had three defensemen over 20 minutes and against Minnesota the game prior, it was four, as it was versus Columbus on Saturday. No defenseman in any of those three games have surpassed the 23-minute mark. Seven of the eight games prior to that, the Kings had at least one defensemen at 23 minutes or greater.

Part of Roy’s game includes a defensive responsibility that sees him have the ability to square off against the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis, should the coaching staff choose to deploy him that way. Earlier this year, with Drew Doughty out of action, Roy was paired with Alex Edler on one of the NHL’s best analytical duos leaguewide.

Among pairings with at least 200 minutes playing together, Edler – Roy is the third-best pairing in the league in terms of percentage of controlled shot attempts, sitting just under 60 percent. They’re also in the top five in terms of both scoring chances and high-danger chances controlled.

Having them together once again gives the Kings a veteran duo, one that won’t be phased in any situation, while simultaneously helping to limit the pressure and expectations on players experiencing this league for the first time.

Speaking Of Defensemen……
We saw defenseman Jacob Moverare for the first time this month in the win over Columbus on Saturday. Today’s skate gives us the indication that we might see Moverare again tomorrow evening in Anaheim.

Moverare isn’t one to impress with his flashiness, but rather one to impress with his simple, consistent, overall game. If you look at the player at first glance, you might look away. But, if you watch over an extended stretch and get a feel for his style of hockey, you’ll likely walk away more impressed.

“If you just evaluate Jacob on the cover of the book, you might write him off too quickly, but if you dive into the book, you realize that he doesn’t hurt himself or the team very much,” McLellan said. “He positions himself well and he can make a great outlet pass. His production of him, his impact of him on the game the other night was a real positive one. ”

The day after the loss in Minnesota, McLellan said that he wants to see six, reliable defensemen in their own end. I asked him if there were similarities to the beginning of the year, when a group of defense-first defensemen banded together to play effectively after Doughty and Sean Walker went down, and McLellan felt there was some truth to that.

He also agreed today that Moverare’s game fits into that concept. Terrific hockey sense, excellent positioning and a quick, accurate first pass to get out of trouble. All qualities that help him to be effective in the lineup.

“What Jacob does is make simple plays, consistently,” McLellan added. “What should keep him out of the game does not hurt him, people talk about his skating, but he’s there all the time, he’s there when he needs to be there and he makes simple plays. I can’t recall a moment when he really hurt the club, and I can think of many where he helped, so good for him.”

It appears as though Moverare will see his number called again tomorrow in Anaheim, as he skated alongside Durzi on a pairing during today’s practice. To be confirmed in the morning.

On to Anaheim, Insiders! A slightly earlier than usual morning skate tomorrow, with a bus ride to Anaheim to follow for the players. More to come tomorrow, following the first Freeway Faceoff of the week, and the penultimate edition of the season.

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