EL SEGUNDO, CA — After the Los Angeles Kings’ overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on December 28 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, a reporter noted that rookie forward Alex Iafallo was not on the ice very much, and asked head coach John Stevens if Iafallo was hurt.
“He was not hurt,” said Stevens, very abruptly, and without elaboration.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, to be sure.
For the record, the 24-year-old, 6-0, 185-pound native of Eden, New York was on the ice for just twelve shifts in the game, a total of only 8:57 of ice time—both season lows.
As Stevens’ post-game comment and his very limited ice time indicate, Iafallo had an off night. But Stevens was quick to note that the Kings had a lot of players who did not play well against the Golden Knights.
“[Iafallo is] no different,” he noted. “I think there were a lot of guys last night who weren’t as sharp as they should be. We’ve liked an awful lot of the things Alex does.”
“I wouldn’t [single out] Alex,” he added. “I think his game, at times this year, has been really good. But for every position, there’s certain parts of the game where you’re got to be good. I’ve always felt this way. For goalies, it’s rebound control. If you’re talking about a defensemen, it’s going back for a puck in those tough areas. For a center, it’s taking pucks in the middle of the ice. For a winger, there’s twelve feet of ice along the wall that’ll define your career.”
“If you can be comfortable along the wall in those areas, pucks come to you, and you’re got to be ready to take on contact, make a play, move your feet, or chip a puck. I just think there’s times along the wall that when he’s really on, he just seems like he’s really sharp, and he makes those plays. When he’s not as sharp, I think those are pucks that go by him, or don’t get out of the zone. When they do, he gets in foot races and gets after pucks.”
As reported in this space on December 17, in college (University of Minnesota, Duluth), Iafallo played only on Friday and Saturday nights in a much shorter season, and the transition to playing a lot more games in the NHL has been a bit of a challenge for him.
“It’s just the amount of games, I think,” he said. “I mean, we’ve played [the equivalent] of a full college season already, so it’s just getting used to that. It’s getting my sleep, diet, everything. It’s getting used to different teams, too. Different teams from different conferences. I’m just trying to find my niche and get ready to play every game.”
“We’ve played 38 games,” he added. “I’ve got to get used to that—playing every single game.”
As for his play against the Golden Knights, Iafallo acknowledged that he didn’t perform up to the team’s expectations, or his own.
“I’m just not getting the right bounces, I think,” he said. “Last night, my wall play wasn’t too good. That hurts the line, and that’s the way it goes, sometimes. I wasn’t getting the puck and chipping it out. I’ve got to work on that.”
“It’s wall play,” he added. “That’s huge. Getting the puck out, keeping the offense moving forward. I have to make sure I focus on that in the next game.”
An additional challenge is that opponents now know how to play against Iafallo—he isn’t going to surprise anyone now.
“Using my speed is very important, and I think [opponents] are realizing that,” he noted. “They’re getting on me quicker, pinching me off the wall. I’ve just got to make sure that I make quicker plays, making sure that I got the puck out to my center right away.”
Whether it’s having an off night, or no longer being able to fly under opponent’s radar, this is all part of Iafallo’s growth and learning as a young player in the National Hockey League.
“It’s all learning from here, but that’s good,” he emphasized. “I didn’t want it to be easy, you know? It’s good to learn, every practice, every game. It’s about understanding how the game goes sometimes, using that and getting better. It’s good adversity.”
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he added. “But it’s fun. I’ve just got to stay positive, use everything I’ve learned to my advantage, and be prepared in every game.”
“I’ve just got to do that in every game. [I have to] prepare myself and work hard. I’ve said it all the time, and it’s on the walls here [in their dressing room]. It’s huge, each part—preparing for the game, and playing every shift the right way.”
Iafallo’s maturity should also help his development.
“The one thing that’s going to allow him to get [back on track] in a hurry is that he’s really honest about his game,” Stevens noted. “He doesn’t get temperamental when you talk to him about his game. You can be very up front with him, and tell him what he’s doing well, what he needs to do better.”
“When you’re honest with your game, you can get better in hurry,” Stevens added. “You can fix things in a hurry.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward Alex Iafallo (center), shown here during a recent practice with goaltender Jonathan Quick and defenseman Derek Forbort (right) Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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