With the status of those that are available, we’ve been able to reschedule this conversation until today. It’s a conversation we probably wanted to have earlier, but sometimes injuries get in the way.
Todd McLellan hinted at it over a week ago, with his quote setting the stage below.
“I think at the moment we have nine that are pretty consistent with Kevin sitting in the wings. That doesn’t mean it can’t change, but that’s how we see it.”
McLellan’s quote was in reference to the team’s forwards and their availability and placement within the lineup. For a while it was the absence of Trevor Moore that kept the Kings in that constant column of nine forwards. When Moore returned to action, that return came on March 9 in Colorado in the fourth row as the Kings had their tenth forward in that group. That lasted for a period and a half as Kevin Fiala suffered a lower body injury that day that kept him out of the lineup until last night.
A one-game suspension for striker Blake Lizotte has pushed the talk back 24 hours, but Lizotte is now ready to play and can return to action against Calgary tomorrow night. So we revisit the quote above. The Kings finally have all 10 of these forwards and anyone can make that claim to a top 9 role.
There isn’t one among them that you can easily discount. We talk a lot about depth and how it relates to lineup decisions, meaning who plays and who doesn’t play on any given night. This is a valid conversation. Frankly, in a different situation, the likes of Rasmus Kupari and Carl Grundstrom would probably have jumped into this discussion as well, but the Kings’ depth got both players into the fourth row. However, we need to start talking about depth on another level, and those are the roles within the lineup for those who play.
With Lizotte out of action but Fiala returning, the Kings decided to shake things up in the third row. Fiala returned to the spot he left through injury, running on the second unit alongside Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault. This created a group of Alex Iafallo, Trevor Moore and Gabe Vilardi in the third row. Moore, who played center in college and with Team USA at the 2021 Worlds, pulled the first corner to center, flanked by Iafallo on the left and Vilardi on the right.
On paper, this line has a lot of potential. All three players have played in the top six in their careers and when you sum up that line on paper, it’s pretty damn good. It’s also a line made up of three players who have played on the wing for most of the season. Moore and Vilardi shared the faceoff yesterday, both drawing on their forehand, but that’s just one of the finer details of the process. It’s a different role to play in the middle than on the outside. However, Moore is a versatile player, a player who is up for a challenge.
Results on the first night included a few goals against, although Moore and Iafallo each scored on the power play. Despite the expected goals for the percentage being higher than 65 percent, the actual goals column showed none for and two against. Expecting night one to be flawless was probably a bit much, but McLellan felt that line wasn’t quite as effective without Lizotte in the lineup.
“I think it was a big factor, he fits really well with this place on our team,” McLellan said. “I agree with Moorsie and Gabe and Al, but that line wasn’t the same without Lizzo in the middle. We missed him.”
Moore, running mid against St. Louis, was a matter for the Kings, who assembled three players who belonged in the top 9 roles at those spots in the lineup, valuing that consistency over positional favoritism. It also gave the fourth line, which was exceptionally good with Grundstrom and Kupari as two of the three parts, a chance to stay together, with Jaret Anderson-Dolan returning as a third member.
In the Kings system, McLellan pointed out that all forwards must be able to play all roles. In the meantime, first man back takes over the middle position and you never know which lane you will find yourself on offensively.
“In our system, everyone has to be able to play that position on the middle ice, whether you line up there for a faceoff or not,” McLellan said. “They are quite interchangeable parts. A guy like Moorsie has played center in the past, whether it was in college or at worlds, a bit at the pro level, that opens up opportunities for him. We’ve got Vilardi, Byfield, Kempe, these guys were all center trained once so we shouldn’t be afraid to put them in that situation but we also want to keep some of our chemistry and lines together.”
Yesterday the Kings had a decision to make due to the suspension but Lizotte’s return to action may give them a tougher one as Lizotte will be eligible to feature in the lineup against the Flames. He’s had a good season and spent the last few months in the middle position on the third row, a job he didn’t get but a job he earned through his play. Someone has to play the fourth line, however, and those decisions won’t be easy to make. Players on this line have been effective and productive, which means the kings must be given something and it won’t be an easy thing. From the looks of it, players who probably deserved regular play weren’t in the lineup. Now, with 15 forwards in this conversation and 10 consistently in, those decisions become even more difficult.
Kings as a whole have been prepared to experiment a little should they wish. The magic number is currently 5 after yesterday’s NHL-related results, including the win in Los Angeles. The Kings are yet to get a playoff suspension, but their game in March put them close to earning a playoff berth with nine games left this season.
There’s a reason you’re playing the games, but that moment could come as soon as this journey. With that in mind, you don’t want a playoff game to be your first time trying something. McLellan and his collaborators have shown ahead of this time that they are willing to see how certain combinations look now so that they will have that knowledge when the time comes in April. With the caliber of players we’re talking about, these experiments could also give the team the best chance of winning on any given night. The Kings have shown a willingness all season to move things around as needed, throughout the lineup, and being so close to a playoff berth gives the Kings every opportunity to do so again should they wish.
We’ll see how the lines look in Calgary tomorrow, with tomorrow’s game set to mark only the fifth time in the past two months that all 10 of these players have been available. We’ll see how things play out in the morning when the Kings hit the ice from the Saddledome at 11:30!
Source : lakingsinsider.com