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How Kevin Fiala and Phillip Danault make the Kings go

Having compiled 19 of a possible 24 points in their past dozen games, the Kings have begun to coalesce, and more of General Manager Rob Blake’s vision for the club has been reified.

Wednesday, they’ll forge ahead against the San Jose Sharks, with whom Blake spent his final two campaigns as a player, seeking to sweep the season series. Like his contemporaries Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely and Joe Sakic, Blake has set out to become as adroit in the front office as he was proficient on the ice.

“When you start getting into management, it’s not going to be like at the peak of your career when you were scoring 50 goals or batting .300,” said Kings team president Luc Robitaille, another Hall of Fame player turned executive. “You’ve got to go back to what made you great.”

For Blake, his marquee acquisitions in the past two offseasons could be considered back-to-back home runs, with some other hits sprinkled into his slash line. Last year, free-agent signing Phillip Danault went from third-liner in Montreal to team MVP for the Kings. Last week, Kevin Fiala, acquired via trade from Minnesota over the summer, earned the Kings’ only All-Star nod.

Fiala wasted little time in justifying his selection. He poured in a hat trick Saturday against Vegas, with whom the Kings can move into a points tie for first place Thursday. He then had an even stronger showing in a blaring declaration against the Edmonton Oilers Monday.

Veteran defenseman Drew Doughty was hard-pressed to think of a former teammate who would compare stylistically to Fiala. Doughty said Fiala’s four-point night could have been an eight-pointing outing given his verve and creativity Monday. But Coach Todd McLellan, who stewarded both Edmonton and San Jose previously, focused more on the strides Fiala had made recently in other areas of his game.

“We’ve been poking Kevin a little bit about some defensive responsibilities and put together some video for him after the Vegas game, and the number of defensive plays that he made that led to offense, to some of his goals, it was pretty impressive,” McLellan said. “He’s playing to win. I thought at the beginning of the year, our whole team played to score. Now we’re playing to win, and we’re finally getting it.”

One player that seemed to “get it” from Day 1 yet has continued to add new dimensions to his value has been Danault. In the 2022 calendar year, Danault racked up 35 goals and 66 points in 89 games. In 393 career games before joining the Kings, he had just 55 goals. His 11 career power-play points were just one more than he has scored in less than a full season as part of the Kings’ man-advantage attack.

But there’s more to Danault’s prosperity than expanding his offensive production. He’s become a magnet for young players like Sean Durzi and Trevor Moore as well as a popular figure among the Kings’ veterans. On Saturday, he stood up for teammate Viktor Arvidsson, another savvy addition by Blake two summers ago via trade, by pounding Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi in a fight. It was the third tilt of the season for Danault, just one fewer than Brendan Lemieux’s team-leading total. Danault had dropped the gloves just twice in nearly 400 games with Montreal and Chicago.

“He’s kind of used everything up in the leadership bucket. Eventually, there is an end to it, but it doesn’t go away,” McLellan said. “His ability to check, his ability to score, his teammate-to-teammate relationships, blocked shots, faceoffs, physicality, and, tonight, the fight. That sounds like a helluva teammate, a great player and a good leader, and he’s all three.”

On Monday, Fiala provided the offensive spark and Danault helped lead the concerted defensive effort to suppress Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the two perennial leading scorers in the NHL. McDavid paces the league in points and goals, totals to which he added with a late unassisted tally. But that was the only point the tandem has accounted for in two meetings with the Kings this season.

Limiting McDavid, let alone the prolific duo, has been quite a feat. He put up five points in a single game against the structured Seattle Kraken and half a dozen in two meetings with the Carolina Hurricanes’ top-five defense. In all, he’s posted at least a point per game against all but three teams he has faced this season, and two a game or better against nearly half of the 24 unique opponents he’s faced.

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With that feather in their cap, the Kings will welcome the league’s most dangerous defenseman, San Jose’s Erik Karlsson. Like McDavid, Karlsson has mustered just one point in two losses to the Kings this season, but has prospered against most of the NHL. His 54 points in 41 games are eight more than any other rearguard. That has him on track to shatter his career high of 82 points in 2015-16, when he finished second in the Norris Trophy voting to Doughty.

San Jose at Kings

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Crypto.com Arena

TV/Radio: TNT/iHeart Radio (English) and Tu Liga 1330 (Spanish)

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