It was Kings-Ducks Monday night in the first Freeway Faceoff of the year at Staples Center. Well, the unofficial first. It’s not a Faceoff, official-like, until the regular season. The fans turned up in OK numbers, especially those in the upper bowl. The press box was fairly full.
The Kings won, 3-0, with the last goal into an empty net. And guess what? They reprise this contest in Anaheim Wednesday.
As things go, you look for what you can with the preseason now a week old. Rosters are down to closer to their final form. The scratches are not so many to count, as it had seemed a week ago. And line combos are starting to show themselves.
I’ll take an example or two from each club. First, the home Kings. They started their all-not-yet-shaving line of Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Austin Wagner, and Rasmus Kupari. Kupari was the Kings’ first-round draft selection in 2018. He played in the Swedish league the last three years. Wagner is the most professionally seasoned of the three, having played in 62 NHL games, all last year, after being drafted in 2015, fourth round. As he matured in Junior (Regina Pats), he became almost a point-per-game player. He has a dozen NHL goals.
On the notional first line when the season gets underway, Kopitar played with Brown and Michael Amadio. They contributed four shots, two apiece from Kopitar and Brown, and the final goal, empty-net as was said. Amadio and defenseman Ben Hutton assisted as Brown got the goal.
Just one quick impression: Brown is playing with max energy. At one point, he was in front of the net when a shot came in. He leapt a foot or more off the ice to let it go by. He recorded no hits, which is surprising (especially since I saw one, but oh well).
But more interesting was the trio of Carter, Kovalchuk, and Blake Lizotte. The word has been that Carter needs less responsibility, that playing him on the right wing would be a wise idea. He was there, but he also took some draws at center. Lizotte mostly centered the line, taking nine faceoffs. Trouble was, he won just a single one of them. The team as a whole was 42% in this department, 23 wins against 32 losses. Carter took four and won three, by the way.
Carter was visible all night. In the first period, he took a long, cross-slot pass (yes, this is the Kings) from Lizotte and swept a wrister into the top corner of the net. The period would end 1-0, but at the one-minute mark (to go) of period one, Carter and Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf got into a face-to-face. It wasn’t a fight, but it might have developed into one in the regular season. Call him feisty Jeff; this is an energized player, like Brown is.
But to go back to that rookie, Lizotte. After the game, IH asked him about his pass, and consequent assist: “That was nice. Carts found an open lane, and he’s an unbelievable goal scorer. He has been his whole career. Get the puck in his hands and he’s not going to make that mistake very often. I was happy to find him there.”
His tenacity he described as also part of his game: “I like to think my vision is pretty good, so every time I’m on a rush, I try to make a play. . . . Sometimes you’ve got to make the smart play and dump it in but on the rush you’re trying to make plays. I think that’s a good attribute of mine is finding the open man, especially late into the zone.”
Lizotte, by the way, led the recent rookie tournament with four assists (if memory serves). He might be just what the Kings need to keep the offense moving at a slightly faster pace. In period two, he was up to it again, spotting a cruising teammate coming in from the defense. Lizotte made the pass. The shot was snapped off. Later in the frame, Lizotte carried a puck into the Ducks’ zone. He dumped it in, and ended up with it again with the goalie sliding out of position.
He also indicated that having played one NHL game last year was good for him. “Definitely, getting that star-struck feeling out of the way, with guys like Carter and Kovalchuk, my linemates tonight, and Doughty, and Kopitar. It definitely made me feel more comfortable around the guys and got rid of that star-struck feeling a little bit. You feel you can belong. You’re not some little kid in the locker room at the end of the game. It has definitely helped me over the summer with experience and confidence for sure.”
His coach also indicated that he’s playing well and being effectively led by the veterans. Todd McLellan said, “You take Kopi and Carts, for example, to play with Blake, they were talking a lot on the bench with him as an individual, to make him feel comfortable. He indicated that as a whole, his young players are doing well. He said that the veterans are taking responsibility for the failings of last year, and put a cap on it: “I’m glad that they’re bringing the kids along, because the kids can play. There are some good, young players here who are really pushing. Is it their time yet? I don’t know. We’ll have to figure that out, but there’s some good, young players here.”
McLellan said that the Kings are working hard on their power play, a little bit, a little piece, every day. The players sometimes get ahead, as if playing chess while the coaches are playing checkers, he indicated, but he said that they were taking just one thing a day and making that the focus without deviation.
Now to the Ducks. Getzlaf played with two youngsters, Troy Terry and Max Comtois. They, along with Sam Steele, who wasn’t playing tonight, and Max Jones, who was, are in the mix to make the big club. Getzlaf was up to Ovechkin-like tricks on the power play in the second period, getting a pass at the left dot and wiring a slapshot into the mid-section of Calvin Petersen in the Kings’ net. Petersen may have been shaken up on the play, so hard was the shot. He cradled it in his belly as he went down.
The Ducks’ best line might just be Henrique centering Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. Sounds at first like a bit of a waste of Kase, but if Henrique gets back to offense, and Ritchie plays the power forward role that he well should do, they could be a force, and a strong line on the defensive side of the puck. They added six of the Ducks’ 31 shots (to the Kings’ 30).
The Ducks scored no goals, but that shot total is right-on average. Who was firing? The line of Spring with Shore centering and Jones got five. The team leader was Lindholm with four. The defense altogether launched ten.
The Ducks were ineffective for the most part. Their power play, which had four chances including a 51-second five-on-three, diddled around with the puck. One shot forced Kings’ goalie Jack Campbell to make an acrobatic butterfly splits save. He was good in the period he played (the third). Cal Petersen was strong in his two frames. Ryan Miller went all 60 for the Ducks.
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Check out my IndyCar coverage from Laguna Seca at www.lacar.com, too. It’s super fun.