The Kings are set to return to action Monday night, as San Jose is in town for a Pacific Division showdown. Coming off a much-needed (and rather exhilarating) win on Saturday night, LA is looking to ride that momentum and get back to their winning ways.
Although they have defeated the Sharks twice already this season, by a combined score of 9-2, games between these two long-time rivals should never be taken for granted. There is a potential danger should LA take their opponent lightly, despite the Sharks currently finding themselves in last place. There is no room to take the foot off the gas pedal for coach Todd McLellan or his players. They need wins and they some positive storylines coming off the past few weeks.
Offensively, LA is still struggling to score goals on a consistent basis, especially at 5v5. Quite simply, this is a game they need to win. It’s an opportunity to make a statement that they’re not going anywhere, and the first two months of the season were not a fluke. Good teams beat bad teams on a regular basis. McLellan and the Kings need to remind people — and perhaps each other — that they’re a good team this season.
Up front, PL Dubois is expected to play at left wing, alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe, for the second straight game. Although coach Todd McLellan first went to that combination for a few shifts in the game prior, their more official debut as LA’s top line came vs. New York. Following that performance, coach Todd McLellan offered the following appraisal:
“I think for PL, he’s so used to playing the center ice position that when all of a sudden you’re thrown on the wing, it’s going to take a little bit to get used to it,” he began. “I saw some duplication between him and Kopi. But that’s natural because he goes to that center ice position [on the ice]. But we relied a lot on our top two lines to go head-to-head as much as they could against theirs. PL is a big part of it.”
In goal, David Rittich is expected to make his third consecutive start in net after playing exceptionally well of late and is being rewarded with more playing time. Overall, he has a 1.66 goals against average in his first six starts this season and he’s given up a total of just five goals in his four last appearances. In two previous starts against San Jose this season, Rittich only gave up one goal in each of them.
“It starts with the goaltender,” McLellan said following Saturday’s 2-1 vicotry over the Rangers. “I thought he made some really good saves when he had to, especially penalty killing there at the end.”
In a rather uncharacteristic comment 48 hours in advance, McLellan went on to declare Rittich the starter again for tonight.
“In my mind, Rittich is starting on Monday,” he said. “That’s not a reflection on [Cam Talbot], though. He’s going to the All-Star Game in two weeks; and he deserves to be there. Right now, Ritter’s had a hot hand, and we’ll play him.”
It was an interesting revelation, as most NHL coaches like to keep their starting goalie a mystery for as long as possible.
“There’s no sense in beating around the bush or trying to be coy,” remarked McLellan, when asked about the unusual announcement. “Ritter’s going to start on Monday. He’s played well and we’ve talked about it already [as a staff]. The saves he made; he deserves to go again. That’s easy for me to tell you. You asked, I tell.”
Like his play in the crease, Rittich was calm, cool, and collected when meeting with the media following his latest win. He was also quick to credit the time he spent in AHL Ontario for the first few months of the season as one of the reasons he’s looked so sharp since his recall last month.
“I appreciate everything that the guys in Ontario did for me, starting with the players, coaches, staff, it was awesome,” noted the 31-year-old netminder. “I got into my rhythm, I got into tempo, I feel good every time I go into the net. The past two years, I didn’t play much, and I almost beat my games played from the last two years with the games in Ontario.”
Indeed he did. Rittich played 17 games with the Nashville Predators in 2021-22, followed by 21 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season. With 16 appearances already for the Reign this season, he almost reached each of those marks. Now with seven more games as a member of the Kings — and even more to come — he’s played the most hockey since his 48 games with Calgary in 2019-20. At his current pace, Rittich will challenge that number by season’s end.
— Trevor Lewis recorded the game-winning goal in each of the two previous Kings-Sharks games played this season. In 52 career games vs, San Jose, Lewis has scored seven goals — his second most against any opponent. Which team has he scored more against? (answer below)
— Kevin Fiala has 13 points (4G, 9A) in his last 10 games vs. San Jose.
— LA has allowed a league-low 17 power-play goals this season.
— When teams are leading the Sharks after 20 minutes, San Jose’s record is 0-17-1. They only have one comeback victory when trailing after two periods, holding a 1-26-2 record.
— Here’s a crazy stat. In the month of January, the Sharks are 2-6-1 compared to the Kings record of 2-5-3.
— On the road, the Sharks power play is 28th in the NHL (14%) and their penalty kill is ranked 30th (72%).
— The Kings are riding a six-game winning streak against the Sharks, dating back to March 17, 2022. It is tied for the second-longest active winning streak by the club against any one opponent (6-0-0 vs. Montreal) and one shy of tying the longest active such run by the Kings (7-0-0 vs. Anaheim).
— Quinton Byfield scored his 13th goal of the season Saturday night against the Rangers. In the last 10 seasons, only two players have recorded at least 13 goals in a season at age 21 years or younger: Adrian Kempe (16G in 2017-18) and Arthur Kaliyev (14G in 2021-22; 13G in 2022-23). Byfield is on pace to exceed those numbers.
— A victory tonight would give the Kings their first back-to-back wins since Dec. 27 (also a game against the Sharks).
Answer: Calgary Flames (8 goals)
Kings Projected Lineup vs. Sharks
Dubois – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Fiala
Laferriere – Byfield – JAD
Grundstrom – Lewis – Fagemo
Anderson – Doughty
Gavrikov – Roy
Englund – Spence
Likely scratches: Clarke, Kaliyev
Injured Reserve: Arvidsson (LTIR), Copley (LTIR), Lizotte (week-to-week)
Key Game Info
Puck drop is set for 7:30 pm Pacific Time and will be televised by Bally Sports.
For those live in attendance, the LA Kings Booster Club will offer their popular ‘Puck for a Buck’ contest — featuring Vladislav Gavrikov for this game. Just $1 could win you an autographed puck from an NHL star. Visit their table outside sections 317-318 on the upper concourse for more information.
LA Royal Army, another fan support group, has a booth outside section 303. They do watch parties and other fun activities. Stop by and check them out.
Across the Ice
San Jose is coming off a 5-3 victory against Anaheim on Saturday
Here’s how they lined up for that one:
Zetterlund – Hertl – Hoffman
Barabanov – Couture – Eklund
Zadina – Sturm – Kunin
Bailey – Carpenter – Duclair
Vlasic – Ferraro
Thrun – Rutta
Okhotiuk – Burroughs
In their last 10 games, the Sharks are 2-7-1. As the road team, they’re 4-19-2 this season.
On This Day in Kings History
On January 22, 1995, Rick Tocchet scored his first goal in an @LAKings' uniform in a 4-3 loss versus Edmonton. Tocchet completed a Gordie Howe hat trick when he assisted on Eric Lacroix's first career goal, and scrapped with Oilers forward Kelly Buchberger.#LAKings #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/cBIupFAdNj
— The Kingstorian (@Kingstorian) January 22, 2024
Lineup graphic via ALoImages
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