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    Kings blow leads in exhibition loss against Golden Knights
    • October 8, 2023

    LOS ANGELES –– Meet the 2023-24 Kings, who looked suspiciously like the Kings of years past on Saturday.

    Then, a very close approximation of the opening-night lineup blew leads of 3-1 and 4-3 in a matinee exhibition match against the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights at Arena. The Kings have emerged as at least outside threats to win it all, but some of Coach Todd McLellan’s comments after a 7-4 loss sounded more like comments he made early last season or even during the acrid 2020-2021 campaign that was less to be played and more to be endured.

    “We weren’t good on any type of sort-outs coming into our end as far as backcheck goes, our net play wasn’t real good, lots of loose stuff laying around there that they got second opportunities on,” McLellan said.

    Yet McLellan, along with veterans like Matt Roy, said that overall he felt his club was in a solid position just four days before it was set to open its campaign against the Colorado Avalanche. Indeed it was an unusual preseason that pitted the Kings against not only nine opponents but also odd circumstances as they played games in San Diego, Salt Lake City and Melbourne, Australia during a magical mystery tour on ice.

    “There’s a little bit of disappointment because we started the night well, we got sloppy, we took some unwarranted penalties –– we just didn’t get it done tonight,” McLellan said. “We know what’s ahead of us and that’s exciting, but this training camp has been, certainly, an odd one … the relief is that we came out of this healthy.”

    While the Kings were healthy and, barring anything unforeseen, will be on Wednesday as well, they were without winger Arthur Kaliyev. He was suspended for the Kings’ final two exhibition games and their first two regular-season contests for kneeing Ducks forward Chase De Leo.

    That led the Kings to experiment with an 11-forward, seven-defenseman configuration that was admittedly cumbersome at some points. Due to salary-cap constraints, the Kings will likely play at least part of the season with fewer than the standard 23 roster players and potentially have to dress fewer than the permitted 20 competitors at times.

    “It was the first time that we’ve tried 11-and-7 in a long, long time, and based on some of the circumstances that we’ll face throughout the year we may have to do it,” McLellan said. “It’s good for the players to experience, I would prefer not to do it but we may be forced to do it sometimes.”

    Both McLellan and Roy said the Kings’ game was further disrupted by the volume, untimeliness and evitability of the Kings’ half-dozen minor penalties. A frustrated McLellan said that, eventually, the solution might be “welding somebody’s (rear end) to the bench.”

    Fiala and Dubois Shine

    Two seasons ago, Kings general manager Rob Blake eschewed the opportunity to give up theretofore inconsistent prospects in exchange for Vegas center Jack Eichel, who hoisted the Cup last year and scored five points Saturday to overshadow postseason MVP Jonathan Marchessault’s four-point outburst. But Blake coveted similar players who were in their 20s with runway left in their career, and he acquired one in each of the past two offseasons with winger Kevin Fiala and center Pierre-Luc Dubois.

    Fiala had at least one point in each of the four preseason games in which he played and Dubois finished the exhibition schedule on a three-game point streak. They transported the puck on a rush started and finished by Roy, and later tallied on a textbook four-on-four sequence where Dubois circled the offensive zone to find Fiala for a goal from between the circles.

    “It’s going well, he’s a really good player so it’s easy to play with good players. You’ve just got to find the openings and communicate, on and off the ice,” Dubois said. “He’s a great guy off the ice so he’s been easy to get to know and talk to. There’s a lot of games, it’s a long season, and we want to improve every day.”

    Talbot Teeters

    A less prominent but perhaps no less critical acquisition this offseason for the Kings was veteran goalie Cam Talbot, who did little to alleviate the Kings’ burden in their own zone Saturday. He ceded six goals on 34 shots against, due in part to rebound control issues.

    Still, to a man, the Kings expressed confidence in Talbot’s ability to contribute to what could be a three-goalie rotation this season with Talbot leading the way for Pheonix Copley and David Rittich.

    “I’m sure he’d rather have a couple of the goals back tonight, something that he could squeeze or clean up around the paint,” said McLellan, who coached Talbot previously in Edmonton. “I’ve seen him take care of that multiple times, I’m not worried about that, I think that will get done.”

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    ​ Orange County Register