WHO: Los Angeles Kings (29-19-7) @ Columbus Blue Jackets (28-25-1)
WHAT: NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAME
WHEN: Friday, March 4 @ 4:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Nationwide Arena – Columbus, OH
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: Bally Sports West – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings are back in action this evening in Columbus, as they continue their four-game trip across the country.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Columbus has won the last two matchups here at Nationwide Arena, with the Kings collecting a point in a 3-2 overtime defeat during their last trip here in December 2019. Among players still here, forwards Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo scored against Columbus during the 2019-20 season. Iafallo has tallied seven points (4-3-7) from six career games against the Blue Jackets, his second most against an Eastern Conference opponent.
KINGS VITALS: Following a quick skate in Dallas, it’s right back at it here in Columbus.
Today’s morning skate was optional, as the Kings have tended to do on days following a full-team practice. Acting Head Coach Trent Yawney discussed yesterday the possibility of lineup changes, both in terms of shuffling the lines a bit, or personnel changes. More on that below.
Following Cal Petersen’s start in Dallas to begin the trip, expect to see Jonathan Quick between the pipes this evening in Columbus. Quick was not on the ice for an optional skate today, a usual indicator of it being his turn in net. Quick brings with him a 16-8-0 record all-time versus the Blue Jackets, to go along with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
Below is how the Kings are expected to align this evening in Columbus –
Anderson-Dolan – Kopitar – Kempe
Moore – Danaut – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Byfield – Brown
Lemieux – Lizotte – Kaliyev
Anderson – Doughty
Maatta – Roy
Bjornfot – Durzi
Quick / Petersen
Yawney shared this morning that Jaret Anderson-Dolan will play tonight and is expected to skate on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. In turn, that moves Alex Iafallo to a line with Quinton Byfield and Dustin Brown, while Carl Grundstrom appears to be the odd man out. An in-depth look at both changes below.
BLUE JACKETS VITALS: Columbus enters tonight’s action playing its best hockey of the season, with 10 wins from the last 14 games played.
Elvis Merzlikins is expected to get the start for the Blue Jackets this evening. The Latvian-born netminder is in line for his second career appearance against the Kings, following a 35-save effort in a win in Los Angeles back in January 2020. Merzlikins has won five of his last seven starts, dating back to the beginning of January.
In terms of tonight’s lineup, Blue Jackets Insider Jeff Svoboda noted this morning that defenseman Zach Werenski and forward Yegor Chinakhov are both expected to return to the lineup this evening, in place of Brendan Gaunce and Jake Christiansen. Gaunce is “banged up” per Svoboda, with Chinakov set to take his place.
Per the Columbus team account, here’s how the team lined up last game, minus the aforementioned changes –
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 1, 2022
Regulars Joonas Korpisalo, Jake Bean, Eric Robinson and Alexandre Texier are all on injured reserve and thus not expected to play this evening against the Kings.
JAD News Travels Fast
But certainly not bad news!
Acting Head Coach Trent Yawney said this morning that Jaret Anderson-Dolan will be in the lineup tonight, skating on the top line alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. Anderson-Dolan, who has featured both at center and on the wing with AHL-Ontario, will play on the left side of that line this evening.
“He’s been very good, very hot, he’s been a big contributor to their success down there,” Yawney said, of Anderson-Dolan. “At this point in the season, if you’re at the 20-goal mark, you’re doing something right and he’s one over that threshold. We’re excited for him, he’s going to get a chance, we’re going to start him up with Kopi and see how that goes. Both him and Kopi have a bit of a relationship, I think that him and Juice are easy to play with, so hopefully that can continue.”
Anderson-Dolan has scored 21 goals this season playing at the AHL level, playing more on the wing this season than in the middle, where we saw him for the majority of his first two seasons at the professional level, both with the Kings and the Reign.
More than 20 goals from less than 40 games at any level is outstanding, and Anderson-Dolan has added that offensive flair to his game, a game that already features a high-motor, a hardworking mindset and a responsible player in all three zones. For him, it’s taking those little things that he’s worked on and improved, and now applying them here in the National Hockey League.
“It’s doing the things that I was doing down in Ontario and translating them up here,” he said earlier today. “I’m confident with my game right now, I’m looking forward to tonight, it’s another opportunity to show what I can do and prove myself. Anytime you get called up, that’s the goal, to come up here and stay here, but I’m just focused on tonight, having my best game tonight.”
When asked what he’s worked on more specifically in Ontario, it’s been a lot of focus on the offensive end. He said that he worked on his shot a lot over the summer and has found himself taking more shots this season than he did in the past. In 14 fewer games so far here in 2021-22, the Calgary native has taken 12 more shots than he did in 2019-20.
The results have been evident from his offensive production. Looking to tonight’s game it’s about doing what got him here and translating it to the NHL level, where the players are a bit bigger and faster, and the game is a step quicker. The 22-year-old forward is confident that he is prepared to do so this time around.
“A couple of things offensively, working on my play around the net,” he said, of his focus points. “Other than that, it’s just getting the basics back down and translating that to the game up here, everything happens a little bit quicker. I’m confident in what I’ve been able to do down there and confident I can translate it up here this time.”
Third Line Shakeup
The corresponding move to inserting Anderson-Dolan on the top line is that Alex Iafallo will skate with Quinton Byfield and Dustin Brown on the third line tonight. I’ve long felt that Iafallo would be a good match for Byfield and the coaching staff agrees, liking the potential fit here.
Yawney agreed this morning and led off by pointing out that he didn’t feel this was a demotion for Iafallo, calling him one of the team’s most trusted forwards in just about all situations. While saying that, however, he also believes that by Iafallo’s standards, his game hasn’t been at its highest level over the last little bit, something he knows the player himself would be the first to say. Now, Iafallo will hopefully mesh in well with the combination of Brown, who he’s played with extensively, and Byfield.
“He’s one of our most consistent, trusted players up front and I think that he has some chemistry with Brownie, from playing with Kopi,” Yawney said this morning. “Now, with Brownie and AI with Q, I think that he’ll add the grit to that line and also maybe pull them into the ruggedness, the way that he plays.”
Iafallo is the kind of player who contributes in a lot of different ways. He’s an effective forechecker, he’s responsible defensively and he adds value in all three zones. His offensive production was at a career-best earlier in the season, but it’s talied off a bit over the last few weeks. With that being said, he’s still on pace to score 20 goals this season, which would be a career-high.
Pair that with his other attributes and intangibles, and you’ve got the type of player you want playing alongside your organization’s top prospect.
“Absolutely – I think the one thing that I admire with AI, and it’s just a personal opinion, there’s not many guys, maybe each team has one guy, it’s how he covers for people,” Yawney said. “When the game is going really fast, he has the ability to read the game with such a high IQ that he’s able to see plays develop before they actually develop. In essence, he covers for you and you go ‘wow, I didn’t see that play’, when you’re watching it on video, and he sees it on the ice. Not that they’ve been bad defensively, but he will add that. He’s a good forechecker, he’s going to get in on pucks, strip pucks, be hard on pucks and I think that plays into both Brownie and Q’s games.”
Yawney also touched on Brown a bit today, understanding that the veteran hasn’t produced up to his usual standards so far this season. He said that, with a player of that stature, the player knows his own game better than even the coaches do, and when there’s a rough patch, the player already knows.
He pointed to Brown’s character as wanting to break out as bad as anyone and felt that, in Dallas, he was an asset on the second power-play unit, where he collected a secondary assist on Arthur Kaliyev’s second goal. In total, Brown has assists on two of the last four PPG’s the Kings have scored collectively.
“I think that, when players of his stature are going through a rough patch, my experience is that you’re not going to leave them alone, but they already know,” Yawney said. “He wants to do as well as anybody and I thought he was good on the power play [in Dallas]. On the goal that we scored the other night, he was down low, he rolled out and made that quick play up top, two passes and it was in the net. It’s hard, you always want more, but at the same time, guys like that know their game better than we do as coaches.”
Excited to see how this line plays together this evening.
Kings and Blue Jackets, 4 PM puck drop in Pacific time. Hope to keep that damn cannon silent for as long as possible.