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12/17 Preview - Full Team Morning Skate + Roster & Lineup Moves, Spence's development, an interesting look

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WHO: Los Angeles Kings (16-12-5) vs. San Jose Sharks (10-16-5)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Saturday, December 17 at 7:30 pm Pacific
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK 🇧🇷 @LAKings

TODAY’S GAME: The LA Kings are finally back in California, albeit without much rest, as they take on the San Jose Sharks tonight at Crypto.com Arena.

HEAD TO HEAD: Three Kings players – Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Viktor Arvidsson and Sean Durzi – had multi-point nights when the Kings defeated the Sharks in San Jose last month, with Anderson-Dolan also posting a +2 rating in that game. Kevin Fiala, who assisted in that game, has a five-point streak against San Jose with ten points (3-7-10) total during that span.

VITAL KINGS: The Kings had a day off scheduled yesterday after their flight home from Boston and hit the ice for a team-wide morning skating this morning in El Segundo.

Goaltender Pheonix Copley was the first off the ice this morning, making him the projected starter for tonight against the Sharks. Copley is on the cusp of making his third consecutive start after games in Buffalo and Boston. The Alaska native has never faced San Jose in his NHL career, but brings a 3-1-0 record this season along with a .901 save percentage and a 2.94 goals-against average.

See how the Kings lined up for rushes this morning at the Toyota Sports Performance Center –

Fiala – Kopitar – Kempe
Iafallo – Danault – Moore
Kaliyev – Lizotte – Arvidsson
Anderson-Dolan-Kupari-Vilardi
Grundstrom

Anderson-Doughty
Durzi Roy
Edler-Spence
walker

copley
Fast

Naturally, several changes appear to be in that lineup from what we saw in Boston, impacting three of the four forward lines, as well as the third defensive pair. More on all of that below.

SHARK VITALS: San Jose is in the midst of seven consecutive California games, with five at home and one each in Los Angeles and Anaheim. They won points in their first three games over that stretch, with a 2-0-1 record to date.

According to Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group, James Reimer is the Sharks starter tonight. Reimer suffered defeat when these teams met in November and carries a 5-4-1 record, with a . 934 save percentage and a 2.19 lifetime average against the Kings.

Per Pashelka, here’s how the Sharks lined up in practice on Thursday –

Forward Alexander Barabanov is expected to return tonight after an injury that cost him his team’s victory over Arizona on Tuesday. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is set to skate in his 81st career game against the Kings, the most by any player since Vlasic entered the league. No player has scored more goals against the Kings over the past four years than Timo Meier, who scored 11 times in 16 games played.

Grades –
Making moves, around
Certainly a different lineup in many ways, Insiders.

Starting at the end, Adrian Kempe finished Boston’s game on the front row and looks set to remain there tonight. Kempe scored twice in the third period against the Bruins and has now scored four goals in his last five games after a spell in which he scored just one goal in 11 games and two goals in 19 games. After the Bruins game, McLellan pointed to the time on the clock and the need for two goals as justification for a play, and the line responded with the necessary production. During Kempe’s dry spell, he still contributed in other ways and will be back on the wing and moving up the line-up tonight.

“We enjoyed some of the things he was doing, we said that about Iafallo last year, we still appreciate some of the things he was doing on the ice,” McLellan said this morning. “The puck wasn’t going to the net for him, but now he’s scoring. Let’s not overestimate it, we certainly won’t underestimate it. We’ve shuffled him around the lines a bit, maybe we’ll take advantage of that, but other than that there won’t be any dramatic changes to his time distribution.”

Alex Iafallo was drafted at second line against the Bruins and that line responded with strong play, with today’s morning skate indicating it might stick together tonight. In just 11 minutes in the 5-on-5, Iafallo’s line had 17 shot attempts and controlled more than 63 percent of the scoring chances. It’s a game together, but they were visibly tough to play in the forecheck, and while their offensive output was more about volume and less about A-level looks, it was a step up for sure.

Viktor Arvidsson and Rasmus Kupari were both activated this morning and both ran with the Kings, indicating they should be available tonight. Arvidsson rode an intriguing third row, alongside Blake Lizotte and Arthur Kaliyev, while newcomer Rasmus Kupari skated with Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Gabe Vilardi.

On the backend, the only change seems to be Jordan Spence in place of Sean Walker, with more below. At net, Pheonix Copley looks ready to run back for a third straight start. McLellan said that Copley “feels confident and makes us feel confident”. Copley will play tonight and then the Kings will go from there for the next few games, as they always have under McLellan’s leadership. There is no defined plan or structure for goalkeepers at this time.

Pass to Paper
The Kings are expected to make, as mentioned above, a change at the back end with defenseman Jordan Spence in line to make his season debut tonight against the Sharks.

Spence played a big role last year when he worked 24 NHL games in the second half of the season as the Kings’ blue line was ravaged by injuries. Spence proved that he could not only play at NHL level, but also impact games with his style of play, which revolves around puck movement and skating ability. He knew strength and play in the defensive zone were the areas he needed to work on and reports from Ontario say yes.

“His strengths are puck movement, vision, he executes well, he has some offensive instincts,” McLellan said this morning. “What he needed to work, well, size and strength. He won’t grow much more, but he can get stronger and he did that over the summer and part of that was evident in his ability to defend in and out of the net at American League level, which has improved. That was an area we asked him to address and he did.”

Spence echoed similar thoughts about where he’s grown this season and where his play has gone at the AHL level.

Last season, the points production was off the charts. Spence was the best power play quarterback in AHL history and he was a 5-on-5 play driver. He wasn’t a regular on the spot and this year he was. He wasn’t always the guy to rely on at the last minute of a one-goal lead, whereas this year he was. He hasn’t always been used against the other team’s best players with equal strength, but this year he was. And with the growth in these areas, nothing has come at the expense of attack. Spence has 21 points in 22 games, tied for third in the league among defensemen.

“For me, I just need to keep it simple, make the right play, make good passes,” he said. “I think if you keep it simple in the defensive zone, that leads to the offensive zone and that’s where I can make the plays and make things happen. That’s what I’ve been trying to improve with Reign and I hope I can do that here too.”

As McLellan noted, size and strength are the areas Spence was tasked with, and obviously only one of those is really viable.

Spence has made huge strides in that department and is doing better at the AHL level against bigger players in front of the net. This will always be an area of ​​focus for him throughout his career, but with a focus on positioning himself the right way and using his skating ability to defend, he has made huge strides this season.

“Body position is very important, especially for me, just being in the right position, where the sticks are. In front of the net obviously there are bigger guys so for me I just need to keep it simple and be in the right position to finish. [plays]🇧🇷

Partnered with veteran Alex Edler, Spence spoke positively of his experience and constant presence as a partner, something that can help him right off the bat. “I think it’s good to team up with Eds, keep my game simple in the first period, keep my game simple and go from there.”

Game 1 or Game 7?
Lastly, Insiders, sharing something I found interesting from McLellan’s availability this morning, because it was something I wrote almost word for word in the Rivalry Series article earlier today.

“It’s interesting, because we were talking about this this morning, is this game from a homestand or is game seven from a trip? I don’t know how we’re going to do that and we can talk ourselves into the first game at home, rust and all that kind of stuff, we don’t want to go there, so maybe it’s the seventh game of the trip, we just have our fans and our building. We have to play well from the start and maintain or even improve as the night goes on.”

In many ways, this feels like the seventh – and toughest – game from a travel point of view. Lots of opportunities to be slow or non-detailing when you look at how the schedule has changed. Tonight, the Kings will play their 24th game of the season with just one day off, which will tie them for most in the NHL. Tonight’s day off was longer than 18 or 21 hours, depending on whether you use the start or end time zone. Tough task and we’ll see how the group handles it.

Kings and Sharks, tonight at 7:30 pm in Los Angeles. Reverse Retro shirts, Insiders, with a bobbleehad Adrian Kempe giveaway. I’ll see you there!

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