And so it begins.
When the puck drops just after 7pm tonight at Crypto.com Arena in Downtown LA, the Jim Hiller era will officially be underway.
Over the past week or so, much has been said and written about what’s gone down over the past 24 games that has the Kings looking nothing like the team who played the first 24 games this season. In the end, though, GM Rob Blake may have been the one who summed things up perfectly during his press conference a few days ago while talking about the change he made behind the bench:
“This was done in an effort to correct the way we’ve played of late — our offense, our defense, our overall game; individuals and the team have not been up to a level of our desired needs.”
So, there it is. Simply put, the Kings need to be better in all areas and they need to be ‘connected’ more as a team (another word that has been used quite a bit).
Based upon comments from new coach Jim Hiller on Thursday, we’re not expecting many changes in the lineup configuration heading into the team’s first game in ten days. While the All-Star break and bye-week provided the players some well-needed rest and reset time, it was hardly a break for the franchise. In addition to replacing their head coach, and hiring a new assistant for the staff, management was left trying to pick up the pieces and attempting to get the club back to where they were in October and November.
That’s no small task in and of itself, then add in that when the Kings return to action tonight, they’re facing a Pacific Division rival in Edmonton – not only the team that ousted LA from the playoffs two years in a row, but an Oilers squad that’s won 17 of 18 games.
In stark contrast, Hiller is taking over as the head guy of a Kings team that has just three wins in their past 17 games.
That’s the past, though.
Hiller, and his hand-picked assistant D.J. Smith, are ready to turn the page for what should be a sprint to the finish. LA has 34 games remaining to stake their claim to a post-season ticket.
Trent Yawney will continue to work with the defense, so there’s continuity there. Likewise, for Hiller and the power play units. Smith is said to be mostly handling the 5v5 play of the team.
Sharpening the focus on tonight, the Kings will look to make a statement not only to their new head coach, but also to themselves. It serves as an opportunity to start fresh with a clean slate as they look to solidify (and possibly even improve) their playoff positioning.
How the Kings start the game will likely be a major key, as the Oilers have already played twice coming out of the break, including a win in Anaheim last night. Conversely, LA is coming off a long lay off with just two practices under their belt. Hiller put them through the paces and was calling for plenty of hustle through those on-ice workouts. It will be interesting to see if and how that translates to tonight’s game.
— Kings prospect Alex Turcotte is expected back in the lineup tonight after being recalled on Thursday. He scored his first NHL goal last time out. Tonight will mark game three, and the Kings are 1-0-1 since he slid onto the team’s fourth line.
— It’s a day late, yet still worth noting; rookie defenseman Brandt Clarke turned 21 on Friday. Last weekend was quite an adventure for the former first-round pick. He had his first pro fight (video and comments here), plus stole the show at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition (video and comments here).
— In their only other meeting this season, the Oilers downed the Kings 3-2 in a shootout back on Dec. 30 in LA. Adrian Kempe and Kevin Fiala both had goals in the opening period to put the Kings up 2-0 at first intermission. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl scored in the middle frame to tie it before things had to eventually be decided in a shootout later.
— Hiller will become just the 18th different head coach in league history to make their coaching debut with the team that originally drafted them, and the first to do so since Phil Housley (6th overall, 1982) with Buffalo on Oct. 5, 2017.
— Kevin Fiala has seven goals and 10 points (7G, 3A) over his last five games against the Oilers, dating back to Feb. 20, 2022.
— Drew Doughty has 12 points (2G, 10A) in his last 11 games against the Oilers, dating back to the 2019-20 season.
— Quinton Byfield is riding a four-game point streak (2G,3A). It’s his second point streak of at least four games this season after his six-game run (all assists) from Oct. 31 to Nov. 11.
Kings Projected Lineup vs. Oilers
Byfield – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danault – Fiala
Laferriere – Dubois – JAD
Lewis – Turcotte – Grundstrom
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 7:00 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 Trevor Moore 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
Edmonton is coming off a 5-3 victory against Anaheim on Friday
Here’s how they lined up for that one:
RNH – McDavid – Hyman
Kane – Draisaitl – Perry
Holloway – McLeod – Foegele
Janmark – Ryan – Brown
Nurse – Desharnais
Ekholm – Ceci
Kulak – Bouchard
In their last 10 games, the Oilers are 9-1-0 As the away team, they’re 14-10 this season.
On This Day in Kings History
On February 10, 2007, Anze Kopitar scored two goals and recorded his 50th point of the season in a 4-1 win against the Nashville Predators. Kopitar finished third on the @LAKings in scoring in his rookie season with 20 goals and 61 points in 72 games.#LAKings #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/JKKr8gEskL
— The Kingstorian (@Kingstorian) February 10, 2024
Lineup graphic via ALoImages
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