With all games being played within the West Division this season, pretty much every one of them is important if the Kings plan on securing a postseason berth in 2021. That said, St. Louis is one of the specific teams LA should be paying closer attention to, as they’re expected to be competing with them (and Minnesota) for the final playoff spot.
For tonight’s opener of the two-game set, coach Todd McLellan looks to be going with something close to this:
LA Kings projected lineup for Game 22 vs. STL
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Athanasiou – Vilardi – Carter
Kempe – Kupari – Moore
Grundstrom – Lizotte – Luff
Anderson – Doughty
Bjornfot – Roy
Maatta – Walker
Other players available:
Martin Frk (IR)
Jaret Anderson-Dolan (IR)
Current taxi squad listed as – Sean Durzi, Mikey Eyssimont, Tyler Madden, and Matt Villalta
NOTE: This article will be updated with McLellan quotes following his media scrum
On if it’s any easier to have Kupari draw in at home and coming off of a practice day
The timing on the road was a little bit different too because the team was winning games and we needed to continue to reward those players that were involved in it. Here, we haven’t won in a few games and a couple guys haven’t performed to the level that we expect of them, and probably what they expect of themselves. So Rasmus is going to get his first NHL game tonight. We want him to play free, play hard, don’t worry about making mistakes — we’ll help him with those things — and enjoy it.
On cleaning up some of the passing with extra attention in practice
We stress it. As a staff, we’re always barking for them to value the opportunity to pass the puck and receive the puck properly. Sometimes it’s more valuable in the simple pattern drills that you do in practice. I equate it to going to the driving range. You can go there and hit a bunch of balls and just spray them all over the place, you probably don’t get any better. The real good golfers go to the driving range to improve. Every ball is important. They think it through, they execute on the shot, and for us in practice, every pass is important – whether we’re doing a simple drill or whether it’s 5-on-5. And it has to carry over into the game. A lot of times, it’s the next play. It’s not the initial breakout play, but it’s the next one that’s getting away on us. We’ll continue to harp on it and we’ll continue to work at it. Some of it’s just experience, the other part is just being sharp.
On how much Kupari’s 200-foot game has improved
In all honesty, it’s a really hard question for me to answer. I’m really just going off of this year’s training camp. Last year when we got here, Ras was a young player and he was reassigned to the minors. We had so much work in front of us that we didn’t get to see him play a lot in Ontario. He left real early December for the the World Juniors and obviously didn’t play after that. So our assessment of him is really based on what we’ve seen this year. I’m only talking about us as a coaching staff. Management and other people in the organization have seen him a lot more. He just looks more confident, he’s heavier, he’s stronger. He has good legs this year. He’s produced at the minor league level and he’s been a leader down there. A lot of the attributes that have allowed him to show up here in the NHL we expect to see tonight. I think he’ll be really excited about playing.
On if this is a short tryout for Kupari or if he’ll be able to play himself into a permanent role
Well the goal is for him to play himself into a permanent role. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what part of our plan and program is. Is he ready for that? He’s taking the test today. The first page of the test happens tonight. Let’s see where it goes when we wake up tomorrow morning. There’s some that arrive and never leave, there are others that arrive and still need a little bit of touch-up time in the American League. Not only does it improve his opportunity to play here, but it probably also puts a few other players on notice. They have to get their game going or they’re going to get pushed out.
On goals coming in bunches from the opposition over the last few games and how he can address it
We talk a lot about a bump up shift. That’s that first shift after we score. Can we win the draw? Can we establish a little momentum, offensive momentum playing in the other team’s end? Just back them off for 30 or 40 seconds. When I look at the third goal the other night, for example, we won the face off and we turned it over right away. All of a sudden, we were in our end and then turned it over on the breakout, 13 seconds later we’re down 3-1. That’s a big hit to any team. You just feel it on the bench and sometimes you waste minutes then trying to work your way back in. We have trigger shifts and cues that we remind the players of after getting scored on. It doesn’t always work in our favor.
LAK scout Christian Ruuttu on Kupari's NHL debut – Worked hard to get back after injury. I think he's earned his chance and not been given it for free. Now needs to earn the trust of coaches and players to get minutes. Play hard, play well to get more chances. Don't think, react!
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) March 5, 2021
Finally, here’s a bonus quote from McLellan on Kupari…
“He’s certainly knocking on the door, as far as getting his opportunity. He’s done some really good things, starting with his homework following his injury. He worked really hard on overcoming that. Physically, when he came back, you could tell that he did the homework. There are guys that kind of half-ass do it, he did it all. He’s been rewarded at the American League level with a good start to his season.”
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