Practice day, experts!
The Kings returned to the ice today for the final tune-up before going into a straight set this weekend. The Kings are in Anaheim tomorrow night, a trip that presents its share of differences, which we’ll cover here tomorrow. Then the sizzling Arizona Coyotes are in town on Saturday night, bringing with them a seven-game point streak and two days between games.
The full group was on the ice for practice today, with six gray jerseys, eight white jerseys and one red jersey made up of the forwards. The six defensemen were also on the ice, along with two goalies. It’s not a practice based on a lot of line combinations and the Kings did a lot of special teams work, which they really didn’t do much over the course of the week here.
Grey: Byfield, Kopitar, Kempe, Moore, Danault, Arvidsson
White: Fiala, Lizotte, Vilardi, Iafallo, Lemieux, Kupari, Anderson-Dolan, Kaliyev
Defenders: Anderson, Doughty, Durzi, Roy, Edler, Walker
Goalkeepers: copley, quick
Not expecting anything to change with the top six and bottom six lineup probably depends on the state of Gabe Vilardi. He did engage in power play drills, an indication that he is at least close to being ready to play, but without formal line runs, it’s hard to say for sure. Todd McLellan shared that the hope is that he can get back in the lineup tomorrow in Anaheim or on Saturday against Arizona. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but Vilardi is definitely very close. More of him below.
Additionally, forward Carl Grundstrom participated in another practice wearing a redshirt. You never know for sure, but that’s likely to push any type of game beyond two straight games here over the next 48 hours, as the Kings generally like a full-contact practice first. After this weekend on a day off and a short practice day on Monday, before hitting the road for five games in eight nights. I will check back in the next few days.
In lieu of McLellan’s availability today, we had a chance to speak with assistant coach Jim Hiller, who runs the team’s power play and oversees the forwards. Most of the availability was in regards to what the team is trying to do with the man advantage. The Kings are currently in the top five in the league on the power play this season, sitting tied for fourth at 25.1 percent as of this writing, up nine percentage points from 16th. .1 percent from last season. Good signs, Hiller asked several questions today as to why.
A BIG IMPROVEMENT
The LA Kings’ power play has been one of the fastest growing areas this season.
55.9 percent, to be exact, in terms of percentage growth. The Kings scored 40 power play goals all of last season. They’ve already buried 47 here with 27 games still to play in 2022-23. It’s been a combination of factors as to why, but the Kings are firing on all cylinders when they win a man this season, a welcome change.
Jim Hiller was added as an assistant coach this offseason and has helped engineer that trade. The Kings like to tackle things like special teams as a coaching staff, but even with input coming from the entire coaching staff, it’s Hiller’s main specialty and focal point within the coaching room. With a point of view from outside the organization, Hiller has helped impact change with that unit. Staffing, both in terms of new faces and new deployments, has also helped, as has better execution and more depth, with two units impacting the game instead of one.
Some thoughts from Hiller below:
On the personnel similarities between the two power play units
It turns out to be really good, because there’s a right-footed defender up top and then there’s a net forward who’s shot to the right, with Aryy and Gabe when he’s healthy and then there are three lefties in the middle, so they really mirror each other. It works pretty well for us, as far as what we’re trying to do with one drive, we’re trying to do the same thing with the other drive. It is always a product of which hand the player shoots. You look at Juice and Arthur, they both have very good one-shot games, they’re both there on that side. If they were right-handed, the situation is a bit different, but it turns out that they are both good one-shots and both are left-handed shots.
On a healthy competition between the two units of the PP
You’d have to ask them, but I mean, ultimately, they’re supporting each other, they’re all happy. [when you score]. Someone blocks a shot, everyone is together at the end. The fact that they’ve had different moments, where they’ve been very hot in each group, I think maybe it pushed each other a little bit and at the same time makes things difficult for the other team. A lot of teams are set up with a really strong unit. We could argue that we have two really strong units and it’s hard to prepare for them. You have to be on your mark for the full two minutes.
About the qualities that you value and believe are important in the power game.
There are so many different abilities. Someone has to be able to retrieve it, many times you shoot the puck and someone has to have the strength. If you look at Kopi, for example, the puck goes to the corner, the big guy on the penalty kick is going to put pressure on you and Kopi can protect people, he doesn’t panic. Now, he can pass it on to someone and then you can restart again. Those are important skills, I’m just using it as an example, we have others, but being able to get the puck back after a shot that doesn’t go in is a power play skill.
Talking to some guys on that unit, they’re also seeing the impact, as the Kings may be relying more on the power play this season than in recent memory. More to follow, both from Hiller and those in the room, in the days to come.
Gabe is getting there
It’s never fun being injured.
Gabe Vilardi has been out since January 14 due to an upper body injury. Initially thought to be more of the day-to-day variety, Vilardi was eventually shipped back to California from the East Coast and has slowly made his way back into the fold ever since. Now skating all week in a full contact practice jersey, Vilardi looks set to return to action potentially as soon as this weekend, though nothing confirmed as of today.
Either way, he is working every day to bring about that comeback and the end of a difficult process.
“All of that really, you never want to get hurt, obviously being alone can be [difficult] but being here with Arty, Moorsie and Carl was pretty cool,” he said this morning. “Just not playing and not being with the guys sucks.”
As you mentioned, the process was made a bit easier by having others on a similar schedule. During the All-Star break, when most of the team was out, Vilardi was able to be on the ice, along with teammates Carl Grundstrom, Arthur Kaliyev and Trevor Moore, who were in various stages of their recovery process. . Kaliyev and Moore are already back in the fold, with Grundstrom the furthest away from the pack.
Still, even though the timelines weren’t identical, it was nice for Vilardi to have some help throughout the process.
“Yeah sure, it’s always good to have guys going through the same thing you’re going through, that helped,” he said. “Obviously they’ve been back for a while and I’m coming back so it’s good, it’s good that we have a healthy roster.”
Vilardi indicated that he followed the team quite regularly while he was out of action, although he did not watch every game. It is different to watch it on TV, as it was when the team was traveling and to be able to watch the game from the press box, when everything “seems easier”. He complimented how well Jaret Anderson-Dolan played in his place at the back row and noted that he learned a thing or two from time away from him.
“You learn a few things and then you’re also a fan of the guys who are successful,” he added. “JAD was amazing on that trip. You’re not looking at anything specific, you’re just picking up the things you’re looking at.”
There is nothing wrong with watching from afar, but it is clear that Vilardi is prepared to start watching from the bench. For him and for the sake of the Kings, here’s hoping it arrives sooner rather than later.
Tomorrow at 6:00 pm, the puck will drop in Anaheim, which means the game-day routine will be disrupted on a few fronts. More to follow in the morning as the Chrome Domes return!
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