The Stanley Cup-contending but underachieving Anaheim Ducks have looked like anything but a contender in the very young 2008-09 season, while the young, inexperienced Los Angeles Kings have met expectations with their 0-2 start.
But when the ice chips finally settled late Tuesday night, it was the Kings who broke through with their first win of the season, a 6-3 trouncing over the undisciplined Ducks, in front of a relatively sparse crowd of 14,451 fans.
The Ducks actually got off to a fast start, taking advantage of a nice bounce and a breakdown by the Kings defense to take a 2-0 lead just 7:12 into the game.
Ducks defenseman Brian Sutherby had a point shot by defensive partner Nathan McIver deflect right onto his stick and his quick wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle beat Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera under his left arm before he could set himself into position just 1:46 into the first period.
Not long after, Anaheim winger Todd Marchant got a nice centering feed from center Samuel Pahlsson, who beat his man to a loose puck behind the Kings net. Marchant’s quick snap shot from high in the left circle beat LaBarbera through the five-hole (between the legs pads), giving the Ducks a 2-0 lead, not to mention all the momentum, at 7:12.
But outside of those two shifts, it was the Kings who were the aggressors, taking the play to the Ducks using a strong forecheck and physical play to generate sustained pressure in the Anaheim zone and that paid off on the next shift when rookie right wing Wayne Simmonds knocked in a rebound after a bit of a scramble in front just 32 seconds after Marchant’s goal.
The goal was Simmonds’ first in the NHL.
“[Kings defenseman Sean O’Donnell] shot the puck off the post after a mad scramble and I saw a wide open cage,” said Simmonds. “I just pounded it into the net. I didn’t want to miss it. It was really exciting for me.”
But more important, it shifted the momentum right back in the Kings’ favor.
“I think what turned it around for us was being able to respond with our goal right after they scored their second goal,” said Kings head coach Terry Murray. “About thirty seconds later, coming down, Simmonds gets his first goal in the NHL. To me, that was huge. We were a little off-balance after they went up 2-0. To respond right away was very important.”
The Kings continued to pressure the Ducks up and down the ice in the second period and they outshot Anaheim, 7-3 in the period. Another key point in the game came just before the 7:00 mark of the period, when Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown laid out Pahlsson along the left wing boards in the Anaheim zone.
It was a hard, but clean hit, but as is the tradition in the NHL, clean or not, big hits do not go unchallenged, but the challenge has to be done wisely…something the Ducks often seem to forget, and this time was no exception.
Ducks superstar defenseman and team captain Scott Niedermayer immediately skated in and cross checked Brown in the back, drawing a delayed penalty. Shortly thereafter, Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin picked up a roughing minor, giving the Kings a two-man advantage at the 7:18 mark.
The Kings had the full two minutes with a two-man advantage, but failed to score. But they kept the pressure on the Ducks, who continued their parade to the penalty box, giving the Kings one chance after another on the power play.
Left wing Patrick O’Sullivan scored the first of three power play goals by the Kings at the 14:20 mark when he made a strong move, taking the puck from the right corner directly to the front of the net where he banked the puck off the skate of Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger and into the net to tie the game.
Late in the period, the Kings had another two-man advantage, this one for 1:24, and they did not fail.
Kings center Jarret Stoll, who mans the right point on the Kings’ first power play unit, took a pass from Kings center Anze Kopitar. From the top of the right circle, Stoll blasted a one-timer, beating Giguere in the upper right corner of the net at 19:17.
The Kings continued to outwork the Ducks in the third period and that showed on the very first shift when Brown won a foot race to a loose puck along the right wing boards of the Anaheim zone, beating Scott Niedermayer, who is no slouch as a skater. Brown passed across to rookie left wing Matt Moulson, who was all alone in the left circle. From below the left face-off dot, he ripped a wrist shot high, beating Giguere over his glove, off the right goal post and into the net just 51 seconds into the period.
At the 9:40 mark, Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf ran into Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera, knocking him down. Kings defenseman Denis Gauthier went right after Getzlaf, throwing a couple of punches before pushing Getzlaf down to the ice.
Both players received double minors for roughing, with Getzlaf receiving the extra minor penalty for goaltender interference–another power play for the Kings and defenseman Tom Preissing made them pay, scoring on a slap shot from right point at 10:52.
Ducks winger Teemu Selanne blew past Gauthier at the Kings blue line for a breakaway goal at 15:31, but that would be the last heard from the Ducks.
Kings right wing Alexander Frolov closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal at 18:48.
The Kings finished the game 3-for-9 on the power play and they knew that if they could outwork the Ducks, they could take advantage of their tendency to be undisciplined.
“If you’re up and you’re taking it to a team, hopefully, they’ll take more penalties than you,” Stoll explained. “We were aware of that if we got up and just stuck to our game plan and tried to keep getting pucks in deep, we hoped we could get them in the penalty box and I think we did that tonight and capitalized on it.”
“There were a few turning points,” said Brown. “Those five-on-threes really helped, even that first one definitely got them rattled from that point on. But we just stuck to our game plan and our power play really came through.”
“We were fine with that two-man advantage,” said Stoll. “We worked it around. Maybe we got a little too cute and not getting too many shots away. But we moved it around well. We were finding guys, we just didn’t put it away. But we got confidence from it. On our next couple of power plays, we put it away.”
After scoring just once in their previous two games, it was a relief to break out in a big way on the scoresheet.
“It’s nice to see us score some goals,” said Murray. “That’s where confidence comes from and that’s where you can build a team a lot faster when you have that kind of result. The work ethic has been great, the competitiveness has been tremendous right through the training camp. I thought we’d be able to score goals at the end of training camp. I thought we’d go into the season and be able to score more than one in the first two games.”
“To have that breakout here tonight is important for this young team so that we can move on and continue to reinforce the things we’ve been working on,” added Murray.
The Kings win came as a bit of a surprise, given the Kings youth movement compared to the Ducks veteran experience.
“They’ve got a lot of experience, for sure,” said Stoll, who scored his first goal with the Kings. “We’ve just got to stick to it and work hard. If you outwork the other team, you have a good chance of winning the game and I think we did that tonight.”
“We got some lucky breaks too, but you have to work for those,” added Stoll. “We capitalized. We’ve been working on our power play and trying to get pucks to the net, get shots and rebounds. Tonight, we got some lucky breaks and we found some spots and put the puck away.”
To be sure, the Stanley Cup contenders in the visitor’s dressing room looked nothing like it.
“We had a decent start, but we just stopped,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. “I don’t know what it is right now. There are lots of questions, I’m sure. I’m frustrated, very much so.”
Clearly, the biggest problem for the Ducks is a lack of discipline.
“We can’t win taking so many penalties,” said Giguere. “We’ve got to be careful. It seems that too many times we get undisciplined. Then we get frustrated, start giving up goals and it just down downhill for there. So we’ve got to be a lot smarter, in that sense.”
“It’s been well-documented,” said Marchant. “We take too many penalties and it totally gets us off our game. It throws off your rhythm.”
“It’s not just one or two guys,” added Marchant. “It’s everybody. We’re all guilty of it. We’re all taking penalties. We’re all not staying within the system that has been put in place for us. When you get one guy out of a group kind of not doing it, or you get two guys, that’s what you see out there.”
But for Carlyle, the problems run deeper than just taking too many penalties.
“I’m sure the mandate on other teams, what they’re saying is, ‘Just move your feet, get inside and they’ll take penalties,’” said Carlyle. “I don’t think we’re working anywhere near hard enough. We’re not working in the tough areas to get enough done. I can’t point to one area where I’d say we’ve been satisfied, but I know these guys have it in them. We’ve worked hard before, and that’ll be a staple of our hockey club. We’ll outwork teams.”
“I think other teams have amped it up and we haven’t,” added Carlyle. “Exhibition series is one thing and regular season is another and that’s one thing that we’ve got to take responsibility for our actions and our inability to match other team’s work ethic is what’s costing us.”
His players see things similarly.
“It’s not rust, there’s no viable excuses,” said Giguere. “We’re just not working as a team. We need to work together and rely on each other and be confident that the guy beside you is going to do his job. Right now we’re just lacking that confidence.”
“We know we’re not playing well,” said Scott Niedermayer. “We know the mistakes we’re making and we know we can’t do that so that’s the bottom line. We just have to be ready to commit to our game plan and basically outwork the other team. Right now, we’re not doing that.”
For the now 1-2-0 Kings, they are clearly much more committed to each other than at any point last season, and one area where it shows is on their still-perfect penalty-killing, which has thwarted all fourteen power play chances against them so far.
“I think there’s just a big commitment,” said Murray about his team, especially in terms of the penalty-kill. “On penalty-killing, you have to a lot of things for the team. It’s hard work, it’s intensity, it’s doing the right thing, everybody on the same page.”
“Your goaltending has to be very special and you have to have people willing to sacrifice—blocking shots, playing hard along the boards and talking,” added Murray. “Talking is really important whenever you have possession of the puck to make sure it’s going to get out of your end. You probably have to make two more passes—very seldom can you clear it from below the goal line with the way teams are set up on the power play today. So a little bit of talk, hand-off plays, and I think we’ve been doing an excellent job with that.”
Another example of the Kings buying into the team concept was when Gauthier went right after Getzlaf after he nailed LaBarbera.
“That’s huge,” said Simmonds. “I think when you have that camaraderie, guys will feel safer out there when you know you have teammates looking out for your best interests right behind you. If you get popped, you know someone’s going to be right in there to help you out.”
“That’s hockey, and Gauthier is a hockey player,” Murray explained. “Those are things that hockey players have to do. When someone is taking liberties on your goaltender, somebody is going to have to help him out.”
Indeed, it is examples such as these happening so early in the season that has many of the Kings players excited, despite the rock-bottom expectations heaped upon them.
“I’m just really excited about the direction of this team,” said O’Sullivan. “It’s such a difference from last year. It’s a new attitude. We’ve got guys competing for each other, sticking up for each other, blocking shots—that’s going to make a difference for our team. I think we’re going to surprise some people, to be honest.”
NOTES: Kings defenseman Drew Doughty suffered flu-like symptoms and did not play in the third period; Kings forwards Anze Kopitar and Michal Handzus each contributed two assists, while forward Oscar Moller recorded his first NHL assist and point; Kopitar now has five goals and twelve assists for 17 points in fifteen games against the Ducks. He has more points against Anaheim than against any other team.
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