As Dissimilar as They Can Be

Thursday night in LA, there were two hockey games on TV. Check that. There were two broadcasts of the same game, the LA Kings playing down the road in Anaheim.

Read this two ways. One: each team’s fans like their guys to do the call. They’re familiar with the voices of their respective teams. They wouldn’t enjoy the game as much with a “foreign” announcing crew.

If you followed the playoffs of 2012, which the Kings took all the way to the Cup, you know that the fact that Bob Miller did not call the later rounds, including the Finals, really ticked off a lot of Kings fans, if that’s evidence of anything.

Two: these two teams’ fan bases hate each other so much that they couldn’t stand to hear their opposite numbers call the game. Heck, they might even refuse to watch.

The marketers would like to think that the latter is the case. It sells tickets to have a good rivalry. They have even named the series the two teams play year by year. It’s labeled the “Freeway Faceoff,” which indicates both the proximity of the two arenas and the way you get from one to the other. In the parlance of the local idiom, it goes like this: You take the ten to the five to Katella. Or if, like, there’s totally traffic, then you, like, can take the 110 to the 91 to the five, or stay on the 91 and then use the 57. You’ll be, you know a block from the arena when you get off the freeway.

“The” freeway. Every numbered freeway is proceeded by the word “the” when named. That’s how you totally talk out here, dude!

But that doesn’t create a reality in terms of these two local hockey teams. The fans may tease each other some. They taunt each other with things like, on the part of Kings fans, little rubber ducks hanging on nooses carried into Honda Center for away contests.

But as has become cliché in the area now, “There won’t be a real rivalry until these two teams meet in the playoffs.” For now, most of the enmity is marketing talk.

There might not be a real rivalry, because neither team has denied the other anything, neither has yet caused the other the pain of exiting the playoffs. But there is a rivalry in terms of how these teams pit against each other. Nothing about them is alike. Nothing.

Their coaches, for one. Bruce Boudreau is personable, almost jolly most of the time. He tells the truth and doesn’t cover up his feelings with clichés. Sutter of the Kings is brilliant, make no mistake. But he’s also the textbook definition of “mercurial.” In fact, some nights he says things so odd in his press conferences that it’s beyond laughable, though he does get laughs. He also won’t answer questions he doesn’t like, and he puts a stop to them using the contrary strategies of either giving a one-word response or going into some highly irrelevant anecdote that is, it appears, intended as a misdirection.

Their goaltending. Jonathan Quick is not just one of the best goaltenders in the league right now. He’s one of the most talented athletes to play the position, ever. In history. He’s spectacularly flexible, but that’s not his secret. His secret is explosive power in his legs that lets him literally burst across the crease to get to pucks directed at the corners or which come from redirects or wraparounds.

The Ducks’ main man in net is Jonas Hiller, who is also talented. But he doesn’t have a style so much as he’s a living textbook on how to position oneself in the net. Take this guy and put him in 1970s equipment, let alone take off his mask the way a guy like Rogie Vachon played when he began his career in the 1960s, and he would be lost. His whole game is played from his knees. It’s almost tempting to say that nearly anyone could stop the puck using Hiller’s technique, though if that were true, then there would be an endless supply of netminders out there, and that’s obviously not the case.

The two team’s styles are altogether different. The Ducks play however they feel like, with long passes and a wide open-game their trademark. They often get sloppy. They don’t often worry visibly about their defense (in the sense of two-way game). But they find ways to win.

The Kings win by doing what Sutter tells them to every night, without variation. They aren’t offensively adventuresome. They’re sometimes so clinical in their approach to the game that they are boring to watch. Sutter’s famous pronouncement, “It’s a 3-2 league” is not just a description. It’s a prescription. He’s happy to win that way every night. The team is thus a clinic in precision, if not beautiful play. That is, unless they stop playing, which they tend to do at times. When? Sometimes, midway through the game for no apparent reason. Other times, when they think they’re playing a weaker team against which the win should be easy.

Thursday night, they met with different goals in mind. The Ducks were out to regain their winning ways after having seen their long home winning streak snapped by Winnipeg on Tuesday evening. The Kings were trying to bounce back from two losses in a row and retain a mid-pack spot in their conference. They had 64 points at the beginning of the night, which put them a comfortable nine ahead of the team in the ninth spot for the playoffs in the West, but it also put them just ahead of the two last teams in the playoff picture currently, with Vancouver and Minnesota both sitting at 61.

The Ducks did it their own way. They had just eight shots halfway through the second period and were down by a goal. But then they put a shot past Quick on a rebound off his body. They scored again a few minutes later off a point shot that Quick corralled into the corner and then saw Patrick Maroon score on a wraparound that scored from in front ultimately. It wasn’t neat, and neither goal was textbook at all, but it put the home team up 2-1 after having been down for a good portion of the game.

The teams came out with more resolve in period three, with the Kings in particular laying the body on a little bit early. They had the play in the Anaheim zone much of the first five minutes, but to no great effect. Goalie on the night Anderson did allow for one dangerous short rebound in the early going, but he also corralled the second shot, getting it to go off a toe.

Tim Jackman of the Ducks rung one straight off the post and out again for the Ducks to narrowly miss putting the game out of the Kings’ favor by two goals before the halfway mark was reached in period three. Just after, Cogliano and Koivu went down two-on-one shorthanded and the latter just missed a tip-redirect wide. Still 2-1.

In the late going, Trevor Lewis whacked Bryan Allen with a late hit that knocked his head awkwardly into the boards. This didn’t sit well with Mark Fistric, who jumped on Lewis and got a roughing penalty for his trouble. The resulting power play didn’t net the Kings anything, but it might have done something to create some nasty that will make this into at least some piece of a rivalry. If so, then their next meeting should be fun, and especially so since it’s going to take place in just less than two days.

And that leads to the final reason for the two to be so interested in winning this game: it is the foreshadow to Saturday, which is the Dodger Stadium outdoor game. The ice has been in for a little over a week. It will be tested Friday afternoon-evening when each team practices on it. And then, Saturday night, comes the spectacular cash grab that is this game. One ticketholder told IH today that he’s excited to go, but that at $170-something, the seat was a bit over the top. With a shrug, he ended the conversation. “But I just want to be a part of it,” he explained.

Lots of others do too. We’ll be there so IH readers get a firsthand report. In the meantime, the Kings never did manage that second goal, and the Ducks took the close game and smugly returned to their dressing room to pack for LA Friday night.

“Not a lot of guys here have played an outdoor game. We’ll see if they can keep the ice cold,” was Anderson’s summation of what he expects Saturday. Hint: they can. They NHL probably play this game in Palm Springs if they could draw a crowd by doing so. Since they won’t, Chavez Ravine is a good choice. And if you don’t know what that means, then, like, you’re totally not from here, are you, dude?


Media reports were consulted in compiling this story.

Those who are going to the game on Saturday will note that there are lots of activities planned starting in the mid-afternoon. So no typical LA latecoming for this one, eh?

Bryan Allen left the game after the hit by Lewis and did not return.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.