Ducks Start Strong, Kings End Stronger

How do you measure who’s better in hockey? Both Drew Doughty of the LA Kings and Bruce Boudreau, coach of the Anaheim Ducks, must know, because each declared LA the better team of the two (the Ducks and Kings) before Monday night’s game at Staples Center.

On paper, the Ducks are better in that they exceed the Kings’ point total. But so what? The game sees the two teams in second and ninth in the conference coming in. They’ve played the same number of games as well, 16, and if you give the Kings a couple of points or three for the games they’ve got in hand on the two teams ahead of them, Phoenix and Dallas, they’re actually locked up around sixth with Detroit and Nashville.

In terms of recent streaks, nothing needs be said about the Ducks, who have been streaking since January. They were 13-2-1 as Monday night’s game started. The Kings, fans are starting to realize, are making up for their start, which is now well behind them. The team won just once in its first four games (with an OTL thrown in), and posted five losses in its first ten games. But they have since won five of six.

And the two teams faced a common enemy on the weekend, Colorado. The Kings barely noticed the Avs were on the ice as they brushed them aside 4-1 in a game where they outshot the other side 26-24. The Ducks, meanwhile, had a tired Avs team Sunday, playing on slightly more than 24 hours rest (afternoon game in LA 1pm, late afternoon one in Anaheim 5pm), and they let the Avalanche out to an early lead of two goals before drawing even, then falling behind again and having to take their two points in the OT frame.

The Ducks did, in truth, take the play over near the middle of the first period, and they eventually outshot the Avs by a 39-23 margin, but the fact that they let Colorado hang around suggested that maybe they aren’t as dominant as their record would suggest. On the other hand, the Kings had the benefit of a terrible game by Matt Duchene and his line Saturday, with their mistakes contributing to three of the LA goals. In total, then the Colorado matchup doesn’t accurately tell the tale of which team is superior.

Boudreau, Getzlaf, and Selanne all said Sunday evening after their game that the Ducks had to come out far better in period one on Monday than they had Sunday, when they were outclassed entirely. They did it.

Their pace was quick and their risky style of play in full gear. The problem was, nothing clicked. Twice in the first ten minutes, pucks sailed through the Kings’ crease. Bonino put a puck to Bobby Ryan, who fanned on it, on one chance. The good news was that their gambles, which often see a defenseman down low and whatever forward is available covering the point, didn’t cost them anything. The period ended as it began.

One notable thing was that both goalies were fighting the puck. Even later in the game, the blockers were getting a workout. Mostly these days, NHL netminders make leg saves or gather pucks into their gut. These two were flashing the gloves, pushing the puck out, giving up rebounds, and generally getting in front of it, but without having the control of the puck that made for one-save opportunities. One early example came when Perry took a shot in the slot. Quick fought it off with his glove. Later in period one, the puck was turned over in the Ducks’ end and went out to Doughty. Fasth made a blocker save on him.

Perhaps another way to read these actions is that the goalies were playing a little back in their nets, and that they were handcuffed as a result. Why were they doing this? It could be the collapsing defense in front of them. There was so much push in this game that space was at more than the usual premium.

The other thing of note in period one was the wholesale shuffling of lines done by the Ducks’ coach. No trio was left untouched, even line three, which has been stable for weeks and working well for the team. On this night, that line consisted of Koivu and Winnik as usual, but with Selanne to round it out.

To go back to the top of the order, the first line was Perry and Getzlaf with Cogliano, who was up from line three. After the game, which the Ducks ended up losing 5-2, the coach commented on this line. “I would have looked like a genius if Cogliano up there with those guys had worked,” he said.

Cogliano mentioned in speaking with IH that he liked the fact that Boudreau was giving guys a chance to stay fresh with new linemates. “It gets guys going,” he said, “Bruce watches video, so he knows what to try.” But he cautioned that “we try not to read into things,” in terms of why the coach does what he does. The line produced the Ducks’ first goal, which came at the crack of period two (13 seconds in).

Line two was Ryan and Bonino with the addition of Kyle Palmieri and the subtraction of Selanne.

Finally, line four had just one member remaining from the last game, Patrick Maroon. He was joined by Beleskey and Brad Staubitz, drawn into the lineup after having not dressed for four games. There was a reason for that, too. “I wanted a physical fourth line,” the coach said.

Through two periods, things could not have been more even. The score was 2-2, and the shots 21-20 in favor of the visiting team after forty minutes. The problem was, the score did not tell the tale, because the Ducks had the chance to put the Kings down 3-1 and did not.

To a man, all four players that IH spoke with after the game (Selanne, Cogliano, Beauchemin, and Koivu) said that not going up 3-1 was what killed the team’s chances. Sample Beauchemin: “Perry hit the post in period two. That would have given us a two-goal lead.”

Cogliano: “We were up 2-1 and Perry hit the cross bar. The power play was then close to putting us up 3-1, and we could have gone up 4-1.”

The moment he is referencing was when, the Ducks having failed to score to get that two-goal lead, they saw Dustin Brown put a long one in as the second period wound down. It was from the high slot, and his wrister beat Fasth over the glove. It shouldn’t have. Cogliano said it like this: “We were doing all the right things until it got to be 2-2.” Others explained what happened to follow.

Entering the third period tied at twos on the road, as Beauchemin said, is not a bad place to be. But then, the Ducks failed to capitalize on a power play, and the Kings took over. “We came out well in the third,” the big defenseman said, “But we didn’t score on the power play to start the period,” and that spelled doom.

Koivu agreed, saying that “the third period was the swing. After that power play [miss], we had nothing going.” Numbers show that the Kings had just five shots, and the Ducks five. The Kings, however, scored two goals on Fasth, and one on the empty net. More than that, they controlled the play, leaving the Ducks to take risks. None of those directly resulted in goals, but that’s not the point. What is, is that the Ducks’ method suddenly wouldn’t work, and they spent the rest of the third scrambling, with defensemen pinching and forwards trying to cover.

Boudreau, interestingly, reunited his big guns in P3, with Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan playing together for spells. He also had Perry and Getzlaf with Beleskey. He played Selanne with Beleskey and Bonino. Nothing worked. Call it fatigue (Selanne), not getting bounces (Koivu), letting down after the power play (Beauchemin) or whatever. It didn’t produce an equalizer, and in truth, the Ducks barely sniffed the net in that period.

Add to that the fact that the Kings hit, hit, hit in period three, though the Ducks won that battle on the night, 36-29, and you have the recipe for letdown. Look at it the other way, though, and you’ll see that the Kings came on after starting slowly, and they proved something: that the hangover is over. They’re now playing to win every night.

The Ducks’ coach said after that his team, once the Kings scored their third goal, did not have any push to sustain their momentum. “The crowd was energized, and we didn’t have a chance to breathe,” he said. He did not blame his goalie, though two of the goals were on the softish side. “He will respond,” he indicated. “He made some good saves for us tonight.” He may, however, find it advisable to work with his goalie on developing a book on the shooters. “Brown’s goal was exactly like yast year, the goal he got to make it 3-2. I could see it as soon as he went in.” Fasth has no history, of course, to predict such things.

So in the end, does this game show which team is better, or which team is on a trend? From a fan point of view, it does. The Kings showed that they can rally and take over. The Ducks showed quietude and the lack of ability to finish. But from the players’ perspective, there’s nothing to read into the game. Selanne said to IH after, “We just have to be even keel. We stay the same emotionally, win or lose.” He also indicated that maybe playing the prior night affected the Ducks, but added, “That’s just an excuse.” Their attention must now turn to the next game, which is Nashville Wednesday. Meanwhile, LA has Detroit.

Follow me at Twitter @growinguphockey. Read my article on concussions at hockeytalk.biz.

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