Kings, Ducks at Quarter Pole

by | Nov 26, 2023

Kings, Ducks at Quarter Pole

by | Nov 26, 2023

The Anaheim Ducks have played at mid-day on Black Friday for years. It used to be that Chicago was the opponent, and the lore was, “They’re on their circus trip,” by which it was meant that the Blackhawks were vacating their arena so that the circus could take up residence. I’m not sure what’s happened to that, but this year, the Ducks were hosting their cross-town rivals, the LA Kings. This being the roughly quarter mark, it forms a useful moment to ask what the next 60 games will bring, and who will be where relative to the playoffs some four-plus months from now. So let’s do some comparing.

The Kings are surprising no one. That’s not a criticism. They have been good the past couple of years and continue on a rebuild path that has seen them add hallmark players Kevin Fiala and Pierre-Luc Dubois.

The Ducks started the season strong but have faltered of late, in part because their strategy (ahem) of coming from behind to win on a nightly basis was unsustainable.  Prior to Friday’s contest, they were 9-10-0. The Kings were 11-3-3, and perfect on the road with eight wins. Make that nine after a 5-2 defeat of the Ducks.

Coach Greg Cronin put some perspective to things after the game, saying, “You take Boston, Vegas, and the Kings. They’re three heavyweights, and we’ve got them three times in twenty games. They’re different styles. . . . This team [Kings] is unique in the sense that they smother you in all three zones. The one zone they don’t is the neutral zone, where they play that one-three-one, but they’re still smothering the blueline. In the D zone they play the same system we do, but they’re tight-gapping it. On their forechecks, they get on top of people, and they’re really good at wall battles.”

Cronin continued, “They’re probably the best team, for me, in breaking pucks out when the puck is on the wall, which is a hard play to make. . . . They get people in positions and It’s predictable. They know where people are. They shovel pucks into spaces with speed, so they’re able to come out with speed. Once they’re in the offensive zone, you watch them. They really shield the puck well. They protect it well. They make good plays with the puck. The D get involve real maturely. They’re a handful. They’re a good team. Not to put any pressure on the Kings, but from what I see, they’re a Stanley Cup contending team.”

About his Ducks, Cronin says, “Everything’s going to be OK. This is a process. … We’re fighting and clawing to get points, and you’ve got to take the long view of what’s going on. Like I told them after the game, you learn from experience. You go through these games, and you’ve got to keep finding ways to improve and build on things. That’s the only way you can dissect it.”

On forward, the Kings are seeing a maturing Quinton Byfield, who is playing on the top line with Kopitar and Kempe. They are also getting scoring from Fiala, who added two goals to his total on Friday, and from Anze Kopitar, who has 19 points on ten goals. Adrian Kempe leads the team going into Saturday with 20 points (8-12-20).

On defense, the Ducks are suffering some, mainly due to mistakes. But they’re bigger and stronger there than they were a year ago. The Kings, meanwhile, have seen Mikey Anderson come into form as Drew Doughty’s partner. Is he Doughty’s someday successor? That’s still something of a stretch. In terms of blueliner goal production, only Doughty has more than two goals (the number is actually four).

In net, well that could almost be a sentence in itself, with the imagination of the listener supplying the verb and the rest of the words. Here are a couple of possibilities: In net, the Kings are saying they’re confident in their duo, but they often see a weak goal get past. Or, In net, the Ducks are blessed to have John Gibson playing so well, and Lukas Dostal isn’t too bad, either.

So things are mostly advantage Kings, with netminding possibly excepted. On Friday at 12:30 and after, this was proved. The teams came out playing a speedy, up-and-back game early. For the Ducks, this could at least be seen as an improvement over many sleepy starts.

At two minutes, each goalie (Kings and Ducks) had made at least one save off a dangerous rush. But twice in the early going, the Ducks did exactly what their coach, Greg Cronin, said they shouldn’t be doing, which is passing one too many times. The Ducks actually had the first man advantage, but gave up a penalty against right after that and saw the Kings score on a puck thrown to the net, then recovered on the goal line by Fiala and flung past Gibson. The Anaheim goalie would get better as the period went on, including making a save off his mask. But then the Ducks were behind the game 2-0.

Period two was not so hopeful, but it was entertaining. By 2:56 gone, it was 4-0 Kings. Two incidents followed, both violent. One was a hit-then-fight between Sam Carrick of the Ducks, who hammered Trevor Lewis, and Andreas Englund. Then there was an apparent slew foot that led to a cross check which led to a pile-on which led to another scrum, all of which meant that the first five minutes of period two took about fifteen minutes to lodge in the books. Fans were certainly engaged, though, and note that the arena was full. By contrast, the other night versus Montreal produced a full house up top and a hen’s teeth audience in the lower bowl, most of whom had Montreal sweaters on.

At times, the Kings fans asserted themselves quite boisterously. This was true late in period two when, with the Ducks killing a penalty, Frank Vatrano burst out of his zone on a two-man rush. Kempe was defending, and he came across center with a hip check that knocked Vatrano over, hard.

The rivalry was a topic of conversation after the game. When asked if he was aware of it, Killorn said, “Sort of, slowly but surely [he’s been plugged in to the Kings-Ducks rivalry]. You can feel it in the arena, a ton of fans for both teams. As close as they are, I look forward to this rivalry.”

He had high praise for the day’s opponents, indicating, “They’re a very impressive team. You can tell they’re built for the playoffs. Their forwards, even their D. Their neutral zone, once they get in there, is so tough to break through. I think they’re going to be a team down the stretch that’s going to go pretty far.”

All was not lost for the Ducks, as they got their first goal with just shy of eight minutes left in P2. It came off a Gudas slapper skating in from the point, where he had received the pass from Vatrano. Fans reacted like their team was back in the game, though this made it only 4-1. They would soon go down 5-1 and get one back courtesy  of Killorn, to end 5-2.

For the  last Ducks goal scorer, getting one, if futile in helping out his team, was a personal relief. “Typically, you don’t start a season like that, ten games or nine games without a goal,” Killorn said, “So I’m getting my chances, and I’ve been trying to stick to the process. I had another four good chances tonight, so you do that consistently, you’re going to score.”

Coach Greg Cronin weighed in on Killorn after the game: “He’s obviously a proven player. He’s a Stanley Cup champion. I think he was putting pressure on himself. The puck wasn’t going in. He wasn’t getting the points and results he wanted offensively.”

Killorn added a comment about the flow of the game. “It’s really tough to go down 2-0, especially in the early part of the game, give them two goals. We’ve taken a lot of penalties, and it’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Cronin said after the game that the team would do just that, especially in cleaning up the too many men penalties. To restore his team’s equilibrium, he called the early timeout, which he said after the game allowed him to reiterate the point that you always want to be playing the right way, whether it’s 22 minutes into the game, or 42.

But the Ducks just didn’t have enough, especially against this quality of opponent. “The one thing they do really well, the Kings, is win wall battles. And then they’re always driving inside ice. They challenge you to defend the entire shift. That’s what makes them so unique.”

Cronin knows the formula. Watch now over the season to see whether he has the players to emulate it with his Ducks.


Brian Kennedy is a member of the PHWA and the author of Growing Up Hockey and other books.

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