WHO: Los Angeles Kings (41-27-10) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (26-41-11)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAME
WHEN: Thursday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m. Pacific
OR: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – SOUND – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings have just four games left here in the regular season, with that streak beginning tonight with the second-to-last home game on the schedule.
FACE-TO-FACE: The Kings enter tonight’s game 1-0-1 against the Blackhawks so far this season, including a 5-2 win at Chicago earlier this month. Chicago draft pick Phillip Danault leads the team with four points (3-1-4) against the Blackhawks so far this season, while the duo of Viktor Arvidsson and Sean Durzi each have three assists. A total of seven skaters expected to dress tonight have multiple points in the season series.
VITAL KINGS: On a four-game streak in Southern California, the Kings won the first two, each by 2-1 margins, and will play the third tonight against Chicago.
According to Todd McLellan this morning, goaltender Jonathan Quick will make his fifth straight start tonight. Quick wasn’t on the ice for morning practice and will continue in goal after a stellar performance in Anaheim, more details below. Quick is 14-16-2 against the Blackhawks with a .911 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average.
The Kings held an optional morning practice today, but it hinted at some potential roster changes tonight. The six defensemen looked to stay the same, depending on who was late and who came out early, but the Kings could be ready to make a pair of moves tonight. McLellan indicated the team could make a pair of roster moves up front and forwards Quinton Byfield and Carl Grundstrom were out with the regulars, while Rasmus Kupari and Brendan Lemieux were later for extra work with d others who have been scratched.
“Different ingredients, different opponents,” McLellan said this morning. “We lost a lot of players in the Anaheim game, to penalties, three in the second, one early in the third and all of a sudden your bench is short. We tried to scout a few of these fourth row players if you want to call them that, on different lines just to get them going again, but even then Brownie didn’t play much. The guys we needed to start were sitting there and sitting there, it’s different if it happens late in the game and you’re almost done, but it happened the whole second period. It’s just different ingredients tonight.
No rush today to confirm, but if these moves are correct or made as straight trades, here’s how things could go.
Iafallo – Lizotte – Brown
Moverare – Durzi
In addition to Kupari and Lemieux, the Kings also have forwards Lias Andersson and Gabe Vilardi available tonight. On defense, defenders Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Troy Stecher and Austin Strand are not expected to play tonight. Anderson is “still skating and working his way back” and won’t play tonight, according to McLellan.
BLACKHAWKS VITALS: Chicago enters tonight’s game with 10 losses in their last 12 games played with a 2-8-2 record in those contests. The Blackhawks have scored more than three goals in just 3 of their last 10 games, despite picking up a 4-3 win at Arizona last night.
Goaltender Kevin Lankinen got the nod in Arizona last night and was the record goaltender in eight of his team’s last nine games. No word on who will get the start today, with the back to back, but if Chicago returns to Colin Delia, he played the first two one-on-one games with the Kings. Delia is 1-1-0 in those games and has stopped 74 of 81 shots he has faced, good for a .914 save percentage.
According to Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun Times, here’s how the Blackhawks lined up in Arizona yesterday –
Blackhawks lines in warmup against the Coyotes:
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 21, 2022
Defenseman Connor Murphy is still out of action with a concussion and is not expected to play in Los Angeles tonight.
Fast play and performance
I’ve seen a lot of these “vintage Jonathan Quick” posts over the past 48 hours, haven’t I?
After his 29 saves against Anaheim on Tuesday, several of which were very dangerous chances against, Quick is expected to start again tonight against the Blackhawks, with the Kings hoping to see more of that level of play, just with fewer of those types of chances against.
Has anyone seen this level more than Anze Kopitar? Kopitar noted that he’s definitely seen him more than once or twice over the years.
“Yeah, more than once or twice,” he said. “What can I really say, but he was outstanding [against Anaheim]that second half alone could have been a lot heavier than it was, but he kept us in it and then we found a way to score in the third and hold on.
Quick’s play certainly helped bail the Kings out in the second period, when the Ducks’ power plays and ensuing puck possession tipped the momentum in Anaheim’s favor. The Ducks scored a power-play goal in the run, but were limited by Quick’s acrobatics throughout that particular 20 minutes.
His teammates certainly noticed and appreciated this level of play.
“He was so good in that game, just an all-time performance from him,” forward Trevor Moore said. “Sometimes you look and you’re like ‘it’s a goal against’ and he kind of gets a pad on it or makes one of these ridiculous saves and it’s such a huge momentum [boost] for our team, when you think they’re going to score for sure and he makes a huge save. It’s like, now here we go. Hopefully here we won’t have to make too many saves from him, but it’s good that he can.
Quick’s performance on Tuesday earned him another start today, Thursday.
The Kings viewed their rotation in net as a day-to-day approach, with Quick earning the starting green light by maintaining five straight games, including one-goal wins over Columbus and Anaheim.
Todd McLellan said a few days ago that he would like to see a goalie get hot this time of year and claim the net, take control of the net. He was asked today if he felt Quick had gotten hot in the last two games?
“He was definitely against Anaheim, I don’t think anyone can argue with that,” McLellan said. “He’s been throwing some really good games for us lately.”
No starting anointing yet for the last three games, but Quick with another opportunity tonight to continue their impressive run of late.
The team starts
The Kings have scored the opening goal in each of the last two games and have generally had strong starts in those games. They scored two first-half goals in Chicago on the previous road trip. Three in Minnesota the game before.
Now, that’s not necessarily a trend of the season here. The Kings have scored just 53 first-period goals this season and only three NHL teams have scored fewer, all non-playoff teams. Against Columbus, however, the first period was enough. The goal in Anaheim came 28 seconds after the end of the first period, but it was still a first goal. With 118 total first-period goals, both for and against, only Carolina and the New York Rangers have played lower first periods than the Kings this season.
Todd McLellan pointed out that you can’t just walk into the room and tell your team to get out, play well and score early. Great on paper, but you only win that bet 50% of the time, like he said. Now, he’s indicated he feels the Kings are starting games the same way, although goals are starting to follow.
“I don’t think our starts are significantly better than maybe they were when we weren’t scoring first, just that 50% bet has been our way,” McLellan said this morning. “If we look at Anaheim the other night, we built momentum, got the power play early and looked great, lots of shots on that power play, but after that it kinda dried up. We were a little sloppy and that probably led to the penalties. The start was not as good as we would have liked, but we scored first. I think it’s hard to tie goals to that. Sometimes it’s really obvious, but it’s hard to tie it into the bigger picture.
Trevor Moore put the responsibility on making good shifts and involving the whole team.
The speedy winger believes it takes the whole group to start a game well and usually that’s how momentum is built. You saw it in the second period in Anaheim going the other way, as the momentum shifted, and you can see if for the Kings too, late in the start of games.
“I think it’s enough to have a good shift, if we can put in four lines, four, good transfers, you change in the o zone, tire the other team,” he explained. . “Not getting trapped or leaving a guy out there tired and then the lines are all messed up. I think when we all get in there and tip the ice towards the other goalie, that’s a good start.
McLellan said the messaging comes with a few key pointers for starts, sometimes team dependent, and then they take it from there. From there, if the Kings execute the way they want and know they can, it should go from there.
“We talk about some things that we think we need to do early in the game and often in the game and then hopefully the game picks up and the momentum builds and we score. That would be our approach.
Finally, Insiders, enjoy this look at the development of goaltender Matthew Villalta, who took over the starting net with Ontario Reign of the AHL this season. He’s been a mainstay on a Reign team that sits second in the Pacific Division, with their playoffs starting in early May.
Two more home games! Kings and Blackhawks tonight, with an opportunity to move closer to two playoff points!