WHO: Los Angeles Kings (35-20-8) vs. St. Louis Blues (27-29-5)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR SEASON GAMES
WHEN: Saturday 4 March at 19:30 Pacific Ocean
WHERE: Crypto.com Arena – Los Angeles, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
Tonight’s match: The Kings are back on home ice tonight after yesterday’s practice day as they host the St. Louis Blues for the first time this season.
HEAD TO HEAD: Forward Kevin Fiala led the Kings with three assists when these teams met in St. Louis in October. Fiala has six points (2-4-6) over his last four games against the Blues. Forward Carl Grundstrom scored twice in the November meeting at Missouri, while forward Gabe Vilardi (1-1-2) also had a multi-point night.
KING’S VITALS: The Kings hit the ice for a full-team practice yesterday morning and opted for an optional morning skate here today in El Segundo.
Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was the first off this morning, likely to make his organizational debut tonight with the Kings. Korpisalo has faced the Blues six times in his NHL career, posting a 3-3-0 record, .882 save percentage and 3.99 goals-against average.
Between yesterday’s practice and today’s morning skate, here’s how the Kings could line up tonight –
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Fiala – Danault – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Lizotte – Vilardi
Grundstrom – Kupari – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Noble – Durzi
The Kings are expected to make one change on the back end, with Alex Edler checking in for Sean Walker. Todd McLellan shared that Vladislav Gavrikov will partner with Matt Roy tonight, which leaves Edler with Sean Durzi on the other pairing. Newly acquired forward Zack MacEwen had not yet arrived in Los Angeles at today’s morning skate. Forward Trevor Moore remains out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, though he appears to be developing and could be activated at any time, barring a corresponding transaction.
BLUES VITALS: St. Louis snapped a six-game losing streak Thursday night in San Jose, with tonight’s game the second of three on a Western swing.
Goaltender Jordan Binnington was first off this morning for St. Louis, making him tonight’s projected netminder against the Kings. Binnington has faced the Kings 12 times throughout his NHL career, posting a 5-5-2 record, a .909 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average.
Per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, here’s how the Blues lined up last time out –
Blues pregame lines, pairings:
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 3, 2023
St. Louis made a transaction yesterday, acquiring forward Jacob Vrana from the Detroit Red Wings. Blues defenseman Torey Krug has eight points (2-6-8) over his last 12 games against the Kings. Former Kings draft pick Brayden Schenn is slated to center the top line tonight for the visitors.
Tonight’s game against St. Louis will be goaltender Joonas Koripsalo’s debut with the Kings organization.
Korpisalo was acquired on Wednesday morning, but speaking to Todd McLellan, he felt it was best to give him Thursday to settle in, plus a training day on Friday with the group, while showing faith in goalkeeper Pheonix Copley for what McLellan felt was a strong performance on the tour. Copley got the start in Thursday’s win over Montreal and delivered another solid performance. Now that Korpisalo has had a couple of days to integrate here in Los Angeles, it appears to be full systems to get his first start with the Kings tonight.
“I’m just trying to fight to stop every puck, and give it my all out there,” Korpisalo said. “That’s what it is with goalies, our job is simple, just go and stop the puck. I just try to give 100 percent every single night and go from there.
Speaking with Kings General Manager Rob Blake, he used many of the same words to describe Korpisalo’s game that McLellan has to describe Copley’s. The key word I took away was calm, which applied to both his style of play and his mentality in the crease. His initial interview with the Kings exemplified the mentality part of it, while we get our first glimpse of his stylistic approach here tonight.
Both McLellan and Blake have indicated that there is no set plan for a split between Korpisalo and Copley at this time. Right now it’s a 1-1 split that seems likely after tonight. There is no agenda for a 10-10 split between the two, or anything that favors one way or the other. McLellan called both goaltenders important and signaled that both will get their opportunities to play. We’ll see how things shake out in the future, but today is Korpisalo’s day and we’ll go from there.
“We felt in this situation, we had Copley who played really well on the road trip and gave us a big win in Winnipeg, we wanted him to understand that he’s valuable,” McLellan said this morning. “We didn’t trade for a goalkeeper to get rid of Pheonix, we traded for a goalkeeper to help Pheonix and the pair of them will go on. So, there was a little bit of that, and there was also the traveling and getting comfortable with the surroundings, that kind of thing for Korpisalo. The environment around us allowed us to make that decision, we knew we were going to play Korpisalo today.
It’s clear that the Kings view the tandem of Korpisalo and Copley as a shared situation at this point. Both will have the opportunity to play down the stretch and McLellan indicated Thursday that both are extremely important down the stretch. The quote above seems to reinforce this point.
What Byfield brings
From a fan perspective, there seem to be two schools of thought surrounding Quinton Byfield, and everyone seems to agree on the first part.
It’s either “he does a lot of things well and the production comes” or “he does a lot of things well but he doesn’t produce”. Everyone basically says the same thing, it’s just how it’s framed and how it’s worded. Byfield brings a lot to the first line right now, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the offensive production from his linemates — Adrian Kempe and Anze Kopitar — is through the roof since he was moved to that line. The numbers are obvious.
9/11 w/ 55 – 4.15 GF/60 vs. 1.62 GA/60
9/11 without 55 – 2.33 GF/60 vs. 2.58 GA/60
While the expected versions of these numbers are actually tighter, the odds against high danger for, with Byfield versus without, are extremely high, and the odds against across the board are much lower. That’s not to say Byfield runs the line, because Kopitar and Kempe, even before, still had solid production. But maybe Byfield enables Kopitar and Kempe to do certain things that result in production.
“I think if you look at the physicality he’s brought to that line, compared to when he had his role as a center, maybe on the third line, it’s really enhanced the other two and he probably feels pretty good about himself , and he should”, said McLellan. “You can’t always base it on individual stats, collectively they’ve done a really good job and he’s played a big part in that so far.”
The bench boss added that the Kings still envision Byfield as a center in the long run, still as a guy who can carry his own line as opposed to being a complementary piece to others. He’ll still need to grow and develop into that player, but he’s still only 20 years old and he’s logging first-line minutes on an extremely productive line.
If you look at a play like the 2-on-1 opportunity he had with Kopitar against Montreal, eventually the puck has to go in, and it will. McLellan said the same thing. However, look at his assist late in the game to showcase his playmaking abilities. It is physics first to separate man from puck and vision and passing ability to find Kopitar in front of the goal.
“I think it’s always been there, I just have to do it a lot more and be more efficient with it,” Byfield said of the check. “I didn’t do much in juniors, I didn’t always have to, but it’s another level here. When I get that puck separation, I just try to find guys and will continue to do that.”
Over time, individual numbers will rise. At the moment, a video like the one above shows that it is already coming. More to follow.
Carl Grundstrom is now two games back in action due to an injury that cost him around six weeks of playing time. So far, so good in the words of his head coach.
“[We’ve got] what we wanted,” McLellan said of Grundstrom’s play. “Physicality, straight lines, finishes checks, creates opportunities off the forecheck, blocked shots, shoots it when he gets the opportunity. Pretty good with Carl Grundstrom, and that’s when he plays at his best.”
Hear from Grundstrom below, who talked about how he’s doing through two games, how much he likes the style of hockey this time of year and getting up to speed as things pick up.
Kings and Blues, tonight at 19:30 from the Crypto.com Arena. See you there!