[Disclaimer: My notes on this game may be less than complete, due to the fact that I spent a large portion of the game with a toddler on my lap, trying to get him to eat something other than ketchup (catsup?). For a more detailed recap please see Adam Brady's post on the Ducks' official website or Eric Stephens' at the OC Register ($).]
The absolute first thing that needs to be mentioned about this game is the atmosphere. Pulling into the parking lot 45 minutes before puck drop we were greeted with the longest line I have ever seen to enter the Pond. Of course, once we got in we found that the length of the line was due in large part to a bottle neck at security for a free event that was not fully staffed as a normal game would be. Still, the turnout, estimated by the team to be over 7,500, was impressive.
Once everyone was settled into their seats, the entire Lower Bowl and Club Section were full with a sprinkling of fans in the Terrace. I'd estimate the crowd to be roughly split 50/50 between Ducks and Kings fans, with the latter gaining volume as the game went on, for reasons that will become obvious once we get into the on-ice recap.
As I mentioned the atmosphere, especially at the start of the game, was electric partially because everyone in the building was grateful to have some hockey to watch (FOR FREE!), and partially because of the Ducks/Kings dynamic, but mostly because the game started like a house on fire.
For years I've always considered the Fedorin Cup charity game at Anaheim Ice to be the unofficial start of the Ducks' season. Without taking anything away from that event, for a fantastic cause, I'd be more than willing to reconsider that statement if this were to become an annual tradition. In terms of hockey alone, there's just no way a charity game where most of the pros/ex-pros go shoulder-pad-less to some of the top prospects in the league fighting to make their NHL dreams a reality by looking to absolutely wreck anything that moves.
The first ten minutes, or so, was a full on attack of high intensity, physical hockey on my eyeballs ... and it was terrific. Devante Smith-Pelly, for one, was on the ice for no more than ten seconds before he flattened one of the Kings' prospects with a hit you'd be expecting from EA Sports NHL '14. And as the first minute came to a close we had our first fight of the night, in which Kenton Helgesen (I believe. This is where a box score would come in handy next time. Hint, hint.) took it on the chin a bit. Literally.
Once the youthful exuberance wore off a little bit, the first players to put on a real show of skill were Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell, the former with some superb skating, and the later with outrageous stick handling. Rakell opened the scoring as well after Steven Whitney made a nice play on a washed out icing to get a shot to the net and the man affectionately known around these parts as Ricky Raccoon (ok, to Jen only) roofed the rebound. Emerson Etem collected the other assist.
The Kings tied it at one on a 2-on-1 break that saw Lindholm back, begging for help but never getting it as the puck carrying King whipped it right past goalie Frederik Andersen.
Later in the period Etem was robbed of a goal after he dangled through at least three Kings defenders and his shot appeared to trickle over the line from my vantage point. The referee, however claimed it never went in. Unfortunately there is no video review in preseason rookie games, or I'm sure it would have counted. That's where things started to go down hill for the Ducklings.
The period ended tied 1-1 with the Ducks leading 18-13 on the shot clock.
During the first intermission the famous Teemu Non-Retirement Announcement video got the rousing round of applause you would expect, and it deserves.
The Kings took the lead, early-ish in the period on a power play that was infinity more efficient than that of the Ducks, and never relinquished it.
2013 first round draft pick, Shea Theodore didn't catch my eye until the middle of the second period. Unfortunately, it was for one of the weakest D-to-D passes I've ever seen at the hash marks in front of his own goal that resulted in a turnover and Kings scoring chance. To be fair though, he made several very solid defensive plays with his stick in the neutral zone throughout the rest of the game.
It's always interesting at events like this, or training camp, to over hear some of the comments made by fans. The line of the night in our section came when defenseman Stefan Warg shanked a shot from the point (to put it kindly) and someone from two rows behind me said, "You should drop your stick and pretend it broke after a shot like that." Well done, sir.
The highlight of the middle frame on the ice, for the Ducks was a Getzlaf-ian toe drag from Max Friberg in the slot, that a Kings defender bit down on like a candy apple, that is to say hard. Unfortunately, the shot went wide, but it was still an impressive move.
At the start of the second period, and even more so the midway point of the period, I was surprised to see Andersen stay in the net, considering the roster listed four goaltenders.
The period ended with the Kings leading 2-1 and the shots even at 27.
At the start of the third period, my surprise at that fact was relieved as Igor Bobkov came in and proceeded to give up two goals on his first two shots (or thereabouts) and four total in 20 minutes on ice. Not all of them were his fault by any means, but the only reason it took the Kings 30 seconds to score in the third period was that they fanned on two wide open attempts at a gaping net before a seeing eye point shot squeezed between Bobkov's arm and body.
The fifth Kings' goal was the most egregious, as a Ducks defenseman, who I can only assume has already been cut from the full training camp roster, (didn't catch the number) carried the puck from behind his own net and tossed a pizza right up the middle for one of the cleanest one timers you'll ever see. Felt bad for Bobkov on that one, a little bit.
Etem was probably the unluckiest guy on the ice for the night. Not only did he get a clear goal taken away, but he also rang one off the pipe on a breakaway in the third.
The less said about the third period, the better though for Ducks fans. With slightly over two minutes remaining one of the many post whistle scrums resulted in the Ducks' fifth or sixth or 87th two man advantage of the night that resulted in little more than some zone time and a substantial amount of overpassing.
The only other note I have is that as the game wound down Sammi Vatanen got proportionally chippier, not necessarily his strong suit.
The game ended mercifully 6-1, with the Kings also leading the shot total 41-40. But that wasn't all, it was predetermined that regardless of the scoreline at the end of the game there would be a shootout!
In his defense Bobkov was good in the skills competition, stopping three and watching one sail wide, the problem is you won't likely get to the shootout when you give up four goals in 20 minutes. Etem, Rakell and Vatanen were stopped for the Ducks and DSP won the shootout for the Ducks with the final shot of the night, going Backhand Shelf (TM Justin Bourne).
After the shootout, there was a Chuck-a-Puck contest, my favorite minor league fundraiser in which the fans purchase a numbered foam puck to throw on the ice and the closest to a number of targets wins a prize. This one was to benefit the Anaheim Ducks Foundation. Also after the game the players stuck around for a 30 minute autograph session.
Finally, on our way through the parking lot we saw Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter taking pictures with some excited Kings fans in front of a Port-O-Potty.
Overall, it was a great way to get back into the swing of hockey season after a long, hot, hockey-less summer, and I highly recommend it if and when it becomes a regular event. The first ten minutes alone were worth well more than the price of admission.
Hopefully the Ducks can turn the tables in the return leg Monday night at 6 pm in the Kings' practice facility, Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.