Rookie Faceoff: Notes, Quotes, and Pics from Kings-Avs

A win is a win. And that’s exactly what the Kings walked away with on Sunday night, downing the Colorado Avalanche 6-1, even though it’s more of a symbolic victory than anything else.

“It’s good to get a win, now we’re no longer 0-for-the tournament,” coach Mike Stothers quipped after the game. “It took us two years to get a win, but the guys played well – every one of them. It was fun to watch… [We’re trying not to get] too excited about one win. There are no points given out, there are no standings going on right now. We just want everybody to play and everybody to feel good, and I think they did that tonight and we’ll look forward to playing again on Tuesday.”

Overall, Stothers had plenty to like about his team’s performance, especially after the Kings were nearly run over by a more experienced Ducks team the night before. Interestingly, coming into the game, the veteran coach somewhat dismissed any notion that Sunday’s matchup vs. Colorado would be a more valid litmus test of his group (when asked about it following the Game 1 loss). However, less than 24 hours later, he then seemed to agree with that sentiment following LA’s Game 2 win.

“I think this was maybe a little bit better matchup, a little more of an equal playing field,” he said. ‘[Last night’s game vs. the Ducks] might have been tilted somewhat in favor of the home team.”

One other noteworthy moment from Stothers post-game presser was just how little light he was willing to shed on Jaret Anderson-Dolan moving to center. Again, after Game 1, when we asked if he planned to keep Rasmus Kupari at center with JAD on his wing, or flip them at all, Stothers said he liked things that way and was going to stay the status quo. Thus, we were rather surprised to arrive at the rink on Sunday and see that he was moving JAD to the second line center slot.

Naturally, we asked Stothers about it after the game, to see if any insight could be gleaned regarding what had changed since we last spoke.

“The sun came up… Last night when we talked, it was dark. Today it was bright and sunny,” he said. “It’s a coach’s prerogative to change his mind, isn’t it?”

On the ice, there were positives at all three functional positions. Jacob Ingham was simply fantastic in net – something that several members of Kings management also noted to us after the game. The 19-year-old goaltender was active and involved from puck drop until the final whistle.

Defensively speaking, it was another solid effort from 2019 first round draft pick Tobias Bjornfot, recently turned pro Mikey Anderson, and newly acquired Sean Durzi (came via the Jake Muzzin trade, maybe that’s not quite so recent).

Equally noteworthy from the blueline were contributions from Austin Strand and Billy Constantinou.

Strand, serving as captain for the second straight game, played more aggressively than any game since signing with the Kings organization as a free agent from WHL Seattle.

One such moment that caught the attention of most in the arena was when Strand put a serious facewash on Avs 2019 first round selection Bowen Byram right in front of the Colorado bench.

“Austin Strand is a pretty good player that we need to stay on the ice, not take four minors,” Stothers noted. While true, Strand appeared to have a different edge about him – something he referred to as ‘gritty’ when we caught up after the game.

“Seeing how yesterday got away from us, with the physicality, I wanted to bring it to [the Avs] early on and give them a scare,” Strand added with a smile. “[This win] is huge, it feels unbelievable. It’s the first win for some of these guys as a King. Last year, going 0-3 was really tough. I could tell that wouldn’t happen with this group, the way we were prepared. This year, with Paul [Valukas, the new trainer] coming in and leading us through warmups, there’s a new intensity in warmups and leading into the games. It seems like we’re sharp right off the bat, which is really good.”

For Constantinou, who returned to Rookie Camp as an invitee after a strong showing at June’s Development Camp, he was happy to show up on the scoresheet in his first appearance of the tournament – picking up a goal and an assist.

“I was falling over and I just tried to get the shot off,” he said, when asked about his goal. “I tried to go over the pad, but I fanned a little so it went 5-hole. I got lucky… I was always taught, when you have nothing throw it to the net and good things happen. That’s what I did and I found one.”

At forward, Mikey Eyssimont led the way with two goals.

We have a few thoughts here. It’s his birthday today, so his performance certainly qualifies as an early celebration. Second, he was paired on a line with Blake Lizotte, reuniting the former St. Cloud State teammates – as they were linemates during the majority of the 2017-18 college season. Yet, it may just be Eyssimont’s more professional approach that’s helped propel him to some early success during camp.

Over the summer, he made several changes, including opting out of the second-half of Da Beauty League to finish training back home in Colorado; and switched agents, moving to Scott Norton at Norton Sports Management. 

“Yeah, I was in Eagan, MN for most of the summer, working out with Jeremy Clark, skating with Diane Ness, shooting with Butch Gable,” he told us, when we asked about his preparation for this season. “It was a busy summer, it was all hockey. I had some time for social life, but it was mostly just a very focused summer; trying to get past that hump of being a younger, weaker guy. I think I’ve made that jump and I want to continue this season to also get stronger, instead of just maintaining. With Jeremy, and with our new guy Paulie, they’re all on board with that, so it’s full steam ahead.”

Rounding out the Lizotte-Eyssimont line was free agent Jonny Yantsis — in camp as an invitee, while being considered for an AHL contract — who likely helped his cause by picking up a goal of his own.

After a day off on Monday, the tournament will conclude with three games on Tuesday.

Updated standings at the 2019 NHL Rookie Faceoff:

San Jose Sharks 2-0
Anaheim Ducks 1-1
LA Kings 1-1
Colorado Avalanche 1-1
Arizona Coyotes 1-1
Vegas Golden Knights 0-2

Tuesday schedule:

All photos courtesy of Foster Snell / Anaheim Ducks


Summer Check-In: Five Questions with Billy Constantinou


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