GAME OF THE NIGHT: The Kings are riding a four-game winning streak away from home, as they visit the Vegas Golden Knights in a divisional battle.
KINGS NEWS: The Kings held an optional morning skate today in Vegas, following a full day of practice yesterday at home before the trip to Nevada.
All signs point to goaltender Cam Talbot starting tonight against Vegas, making his fifth straight start. Talbot made 27 saves on 30 shots against the Golden Knights last week, as the Kings lost in overtime. All season, Talbot posted a 7-7-3 record, with a .899 save percentage and a 3.24 goals-against average.
Today’s morning skate showed no changes to the Kings lineup this evening, as the same team that played Saturday in Philadelphia is expected to play tonight. That list, for reference –
At night @LAKings Line Rushes –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Kaliyev
Fiala – Dubois – Laferriere
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Lewis
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence
— Zach Dooley (@DooleyLAK) November 2, 2023
Assuming everything goes according to plan, this will be the ninth game in a row for Amakhosi to draw. If there is a change, forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan and defenseman Tobias Bjornfot are eligible to see action if needed.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS VITAL: Vegas saw its season opener, 12-point streak come to an end on Sunday, with a 4-2 loss against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center.
Goalie Adin Hill made his first start this morning for the hosts, making him the starter against the Kings this evening. Hill has faced the Kings eight times throughout his NHL career and comes with a 4-2-1 record, along with a .923 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average.
Per Sin Bin Vegas, here’s how the hosts are expected to line up tonight against the Kings –
VGK have recalled Jonas Rondbjerg, who looks set to play for Stephenson tonight.
Whitecloud is wearing a regular jersey but is not participating in the race for those expected to play tonight.
Here is a suggested schedule based on the practice rush…
-SinBin.vegas (@SinBinVegas) November 8, 2023
The Golden Knights were without forwards Chandler Stephenson and Nicolas Roy, as well as defensemen Alec Martinez and Nic Hague at practice yesterday, and defenseman Zach Whitecloud skated in a red, non-contact jersey. Stephenson is out tonight with a hamstring injury, although reports have suggested Martinez is likely to play tonight.
The first and third seeded teams in the Pacific Division square off tonight in Las Vegas. The NHL’s best home team versus the NHL’s best road team.
Vegas is the top dog in the league right now, not just because of their success last season in winning the title, but the way they came out of the gates this year as well. The Golden Knights are 11-1-1 overall and boast a 7-0-1 record on home ice so far this season, taking 15 of 16 points.
The Kings come to T-Mobile Arena with a perfect 6-0-0 record away from home and will look to turn that six into seven tonight. The Kings became the 14th team in NHL history to win their first six road games to start a season, doing so for the first time in franchise history.
When these teams met in late October, it was undoubtedly the most watched game of the season so far, for both teams. The ice was hard to come by and both teams capitalized on rare mistakes by the opposition. It was a game that deserved overtime and it got it, and Vegas ended up getting the extra point in a shootout. It was a game that everyone seemed to enjoy, stylistically, even if there was some disappointment in not getting a second point at the time.
“When I look at that game, I think of 40 players who played tough, tough hockey and were on both teams,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “Sometimes your opponent drags you into a really good game, I think that will happen again here tonight. The ability to lead this team is important, obviously we couldn’t hold it, but it’s something we would like to do.”
So what did the Kings like about the way they played in the first game against Vegas, would they like to see it continue here in tonight’s game?
First things first, they feel like they’re playing fast. The Kings’ strength so far this season has been their depth throughout the lineup and on that night, the speed of the team and the team was there on all four lines.
“I think our energy was there and I think we played fast and tried to get pucks, which was good,” defenseman Matt Roy said this morning. “I think if we can shoot and break them down, it helps us and playing fast, playing as a team helps.”
The Kings are also happy with their commitment and defensive work in that game, as they strengthened the screens in two games against Arizona going into that game. Since then, the defensive game has stagnated, as Amakhosi scored a highlight last week. In many ways, it started more than a full 60 minutes in that first game against Vegas.
“It was a good game and we fought hard, I think we did a better job of not giving up too many Grade A’s and when we did, Talbs was there to close the door,” forward Trevor Lewis added. “It was a good effort, we just wish we had both points.”
Tonight, the Kings know they will need their best in 60 minutes. Roy and defenseman Mike Anderson point to “long chances” and how good Vegas is at converting them. That requires the effort of five players to maintain focus at all times. McLellan and the players appreciate the importance of every shift tonight and the Kings expect that to be seen again, as it happened last time against this opponent.
“I think understanding how the game is played for them is very important,” added McLellan. “Every change, every moment is important and it can be something 150 feet away from your net, but it is important. You can’t take anything for granted and I thought that night we were pretty good about that a lot.”
The Kings have put in a lot of work on the power play early this season.
Overall, we are seeing signs of growth after a slow start. In some ways, it mirrors last season’s Kings team, which finished the year as a Top 5 unit in the NHL. Phillip Danault’s unit was the stronger of the two at the start of last season and was the most productive unit at the start of the season.
Of the nine goals the Kings have scored in 11 games, Danault’s team has scored five, compared to the three scored by Anze Kopitar and one by Carl Grundstrom at the end of the game against Boston. We touched on why Danault’s unit started to click in Saturday’s preview, which came before that unit scored another goal, through striker Arthur Kaliyev, to make it a goal in every game on the road.
On the other hand, those who often start power plays and often get more ice time, believe that they are taking some steps forward, even if the goals are not yet followed.
Last season, from the beginning of the year until December 31, Danault’s unit outscored Kopitar 19-13. It was clear that the top unit needed more time to assemble and it took them longer than expected. From January 1 onwards? Kopitar’s unit has scored 21 goals in 42 games, in addition to six power play goals in six postseason games, carrying their weight, and then some.
With similar starts here this fall, it’s clear there’s still work to be done. That work is put in though, working to convert chances into goals.
“If you get one scoring opportunity every four strong games, even if you score a goal, statistically it’s good, but in this 82-game season, you’re not going to do very well,” said forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. his unit. “We get opportunities, we move the puck. I’m new to the net, so I brought something different than Arvy said last year, so it’s a little different, but as long as we get scoring opportunities, the goals will come.”
Dubois is the different piece from last year’s unit so far. In terms of hand play, there has been a change, Amakhosi are without their two right wing players who played last season, Viktor Arvidsson and Gabe Vilardi. There is also development and learning as we saw last season Kevin Fiala was integrated into the team. The surge in goals in the second half was in part because that unit was comfortable with those tendencies, roles and systems. That was part of the process this year as well.
“Juice, Kopi, Kev, Dewy, they all have tendencies that you try to learn,” said Dubois. “Where they like, places they like to go and shoot at.” Being the new guy, I try to learn and know where they are. You want to play fast but to play fast, you have to not think sometimes, you have to know, so I try to get there. It will happen. It won’t happen overnight, but we talk, we make a video, we talk on the bench and it helps a lot.”
Speaking to Todd McLellan, he agreed that for all the work the Kings put in during practice – and there’s been a great deal of it, whether it’s on the whole team or individual players working on specific parts of the power play – nothing can replicate the intensity of the game. The Kings pride themselves on their level of practice, but it is still the King against the Kings and some things have not been replicated in practice.
For now, the Kings are sticking to the personnel in each division as they currently have it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tweaks and adjustments being made. Expect to see the same players on the ice, but Amakhosi will be playing with different players in different areas, due to players being assigned to both teams.
“We’re looking to do some of those things, you may have seen some of those games already, they’re changing in different ways, but it’s a work in progress and a lot of it is based on the hands of our players,” McLellan said. “I think good power plays use situations with righties and lefties and we’re still trying to work that out.”
We’ve seen players move around in different areas on the ice and we can continue to see that as we progress. Something to keep an eye on tonight, as the Kings continue to progress towards achieving personal success.
Big tonight, Insiders! It’s a national game, so who knows when it will actually start, but the Kings and Golden Knights in a fun game on the line!