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2/24 Preview – Talkin’ Top 6: First Line Gels, New-Look Second + McLellan on Isles

TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are right back at it coming off of yesterday’s overtime defeat in New Jersey with a matchup on Long Island.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Forward Quinton Byfield scored in both games a season ago, including his first career NHL goal in this building last January. Forward Alex Iafallo has six points (2-4-6) over his last six games versus the Islanders.

KINGS VITALS: The Kings did not skate this morning as a group, coming off the game last night.

Considering the back-to-back, consider goaltender Jonathan Quick tonight’s likely starting goaltender tonight versus the Islanders. Quick has faced New York 12 times throughout his professional career, posting a record of 6-4-2, with a .915 save percentage and a 2.26 goals-against average.

No rushes this morning, without a morning skate, but last night’s alignment listed below for reference –

Looking at the potential changes, forward Trevor Moore missed yesterday’s game with an upper-body injury and is designated as day-to-day. Up front, Brendan Lemieux is an option to check back in, while forward Carl Grundstrom remains on injured reserve and would first need to be activated in order to play. On defense, defenseman Alex Edler is available to enter into the lineup should the Kings so choose. As we saw yesterday in New Jersey, you never know for sure until warmups so we’ll see if the Kings wind up with any alterrations.

ISLANDERS VITALS: New York has picked up at least one point in five of its last six games entering tonight’s matchup against the Kings.

For the Islanders, goaltender Ilya Sorokin is tonight’s starter versus the Kings. LA is one of two teams around the NHL that Sorokin has not faced during his NHL career. The 27-year-old is 20-17-5 on the season, with a .925 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average on the season as a whole.

Per Andrew Gross of Newsday, here’s how the Islanders lined up last time out –

Islanders forward Bo Horvat has seven points (4-3-7) from nine games played since he was acquired from Vancouver last month. Winger Hudson Fasching was a Kings draft selection back in 2013. Forward Mat Barzal is week-to-week with a lower-body injury and will not play tonight.

Notes –
Top Line Thriving
“They have some chemistry. They’re capitalizing on their chances, when you think of the Kempe streak that he’s been on, we know he’s a streaky scorer, Kopi’s played well, so as a result, they’re getting some opportunities and they’re taking advantage of them. Prior to Mooresy leaving, I think the way we had our lines spread out, it was tougher to check, so you had to pick your poison. The third pair or the third or fourth line has to be on the ice against somebody and I think that’s opened some ice up for them as well. So. we need them to keep going and their goal differential for and against has been really strong, which is a real positive thing, not just the goal scoring.”

The line of Quinton Byfield – Anze Kopitar – Adrian Kempe has 15 goals for, compared to just 6 against when they’ve played together this season. That’s the goal differential McLellan is referencing and that’ll work in any league.

Kempe’s excellent run has been well documented. He picked up an assist last night and extended his scoring streak to seven games, with eight goals and 12 points in total over that stretch. Kopitar’s high level of play is sometimes so consistent that it becomes underappreciated. He’s currenlty riding a four-game goal streak though and picked up his 20th of the season last night, which has thrust some eyeballs back onto number 11. Since January 1, however, those eyeballs probably should have already been there.

Since 1/1, 19 Games Played

Kopitar – 10 Goals, 14 Assists, 24 Points
Kempe – 14 Goals, 8 Assists, 22 Points

“We’ve found something, it’s been working and hopefully we can keep riding the wave,” Kopitar said. “I think all three of us are players that can do pretty much everything. It’s just making the plays that are there, being responsible and eventually winning our matchups, that’s a big thing.”

Then there’s Byfield, who hasn’t had the same level of offensive production (9 points from 19 games) but he’s a big body who plays with a lot of speed and takes pride in the work he’s done physically to help get pucks back and let his teammates go to work. Plus, it’s hard to argue with the line’s production. If you said the top line was averaging 2.9 points-per-game between the three of them, I don’t think anyone would be particularly upset with that level of production.

“I think I work pretty hard out there and try to create turnovers, try to be physical and open up some space for them,” Byfield said recently. “Try to be a retriever, be solid defensively as well and play a two-way game. I’m just playing off of them and allowing them to play their game. They have some great chemistry together, I just want to get them the puck and create space for them.”

So They Haven’t Played Together Before?
Wouldn’t have known it from watching them in action, but last night was the first extended look at forward Kevin Fiala on a line with Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson.

Naturally, the circumstances were not how the Kings would have liked to make the change. Trevor Moore, the usual third member of that line, missed the game with an upper-body injury, with Todd McLellan indicating that something didn’t feel quite right between morning skate and the game. Rather than a 1-for-1 swap, the Kings opted to bump Fiala onto that line, creating a trio that has certainly sparked some interest.

“He’s the type of player that can go up and down and he adapts and makes other people around him better,” McLellan said of Fiala. “Whether he’s playing on the first line or the fourth line, he’s that talented and the guys enjoy playing with him.”

Entering last night’s game, those three had played together for fewer than 15 minutes all season and no more than 2:24 in a single game. While there was the odd overlapping shift here and there, including one in Minnesota as the Kings shuffled things around in the third period, there was very little history between the three players together. Arvidsson and Fiala were former teammates with the Nashville Predators, but were rarely utilized as linemates. During Fiala’s three seasons in Tennessee, Arvidsson played more minutes with seven other forwards than he did with Fiala, so not exactly a regularly used pairing.

There was obvious excitement though when the line connected on a first-period goal, which summed up a terrific start to the partnership. New Jersey had substantially more puck possession in the opening 20 minutes, with a 26-11 advantage in shot attempts. Of the team’s nine shots on goal, the second line was responsible for six of them, including the second goal of the night off a 2-on-1 rush. Moments earlier, Fiala and Arvidsson had another odd-man opportunity, but the connection just missed at the back post. On take two, a change-up shot from Fiala went off the pad, right to Arvidsson for the rebound goal.

For the night, that line combined for 10 of LA’s 22 shots on goal. They had five scoring chances and three high-danger looks, on a night that was solid and effective overall. Almost as importantly, the line ceded very little deffensively. Danault prides himself on his two-way performance and can be the conscience on that line, while also contributing to the puck movement the line is capable of. Three good players and so far so good.

“They all have real good hockey minds offensively, defensively as well, but offensively I think they can understand what each other is doing. Haven’t had a chance to play a lot together, but just visually watching, you can expect Kevin to do something or Phil or Arvy and I think they were hungry to play with each other last night. They had the most scoring chances out of any of our lines, at least visually for us when we looked at it. I think that’s them in their own way saying hey, we want to keep playing together and that’s a good sign, so keep showing us and we’ll keep it going.”

Lastly, Insiders, Todd McLellan with the 10,000-foot overview on tonight’s opponent, the New York Islanders.

McLellan on the Islanders
Goaltending, exceptional goaltending, their numbers are through the roof. There’s a commitment to a simple, heavy game. They have an identity and they play to it and it doesn’t matter who’s in or out, they seem to be able to plug holes and and get the job done and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.

New York has several forwards out of the lineup, but has remained in the race through exceptional goaltending from Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. Despite the injuries, the Islanders are 6-2-2 over their last 10 games as they’ve vaulted back into the wild card picture in the Eastern Conference. A stern test awaits the Kings on the second half of a back-to-back set.

Kings and Islanders, tonight at 4:30 PM Pacific from UBS Arena!

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