Kings News & Rumors: Anderson, First Line & More

In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I discuss the update on Mikey Anderson’s injury and the impressive performance of the newly formulated first line. I also preview the final week of play that will round out LA’s 2021-22 regular season.

Anderson to Return for Conclusion of Regular Season

The Kings recently experienced a wave of injuries, but the team has nearly all of their regulars back. Anderson will be returning to the lineup for the last several games of the regular season, which will be a huge addition. So far this season, he has scored just two goals and five assists through 55 games, but his most important contributions haven’t come in the form of points.

Mikey Anderson LA Kings
Mikey Anderson, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Anderson has kept up a very steady game so far this season, recording a 54.87 Corsi for percentage (CF%) and 54.36 expected goals for percentage (xGF%). This means that the Kings have possessed the puck more than their opponent with him on the ice, and they have been expected to outscore their opponent with him on the ice. Even considering all of the games he has missed, his overall contribution still sits at fourth on the team, posting 1.3 wins above replacement (WAR).

Related: Kings’ Mikey Anderson Due for Scoring Outbreak

While the Kings’ defense core has held its own, Anderson’s return to the lineup will very much bolster the decimated blue line. This will be crucial through the end of the playoff race and, hopefully, into the playoffs, as it will improve the team’s defensive play while also giving them more options.

Newly Formulated First Line Performing Well

The Kings have tried many combinations this season for their first line. Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe have been two constants, but the third player of the trio has rotated. Since his return from injury, Andreas Athanasiou has been brought up to the top unit, and even though it took some time to get going, they showed in the recent game versus the Anaheim Ducks that they can be a force for the team.

The line of Kopitar, Kempe, and Athanasiou contributed one of the two goals in the Kings’ 2-1 win on Tuesday, and the three ranked at the top of the team in possession and scoring metrics. Kempe, Kopitar, and Athanasiou ranked in that order for the best CF% and xGF% on the night: an 83.33 CF% and a 97.53 xGF% for Kempe, a 78.95 CF% and a 94.28 xGF% for Kopitar, and a 77.27 CF% and an 82.61 xGF% for Athanasiou.

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Head coach Todd McLellan commented on the combination after the game: “That combination should work. There’s a little bit more pace up on that line with Dubs…You could see them starting to gel a little bit [last night], it’s only been two games, but we’d like to think that’s a line that we can keep running.”

The speed and skill of Kempe and Athanasiou combined with the two-way game of Kopitar proved to be an excellent combination. If the unit can continue to play a similar game, it will go a long way, as having a clear top line is invaluable come playoff time.

Kings Enter Final Week of Regular Season

The Kings have entered the final week of the 2021-22 regular season, and, to the surprise of many, they are very much in the playoff race. LA has three games remaining versus the Ducks, Seattle Kraken, and Vancouver Canucks, concluding the season on April 28.

Saturday’s contest versus the Ducks will be the second meeting with the team over the course of five days, and if the game is anything like what we saw on Tuesday, it will be a fun one to watch. The Kings will then have three days off before heading to Seattle for the final road trip of the season. After they play the Kraken, they will head straight to Vancouver for the latter half of the back-to-back.

While Vancouver appeared to be out of the playoffs for the vast majority of the season, they have managed to somehow climb back into the race. Depending on how the next week plays out, the game could mean nothing, or it could decide who takes the final playoff spot.

As long as the Kings continue to play as they have been for most of the season, there will be playoff hockey in Los Angeles for the first time since 2018.

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