The Southern California rivalry series has begun later on the calendar than ever for a full length season, and the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings are in unfamiliar positions. Instead of the Ducks atop the Pacific Division, it's the Kings, while the Ducks are chasing a playoff spot. With Anaheim three points out of the final guaranteed position heading in to the game, it's a major spot to either make up ground, or for their rivals to shovel some more dirt on them. Presenting the Best and Worst of the Freeway Faceoff, Game One:
Worst: Big Money, New Contract Battle Tilts To Los Angeles
For the first two periods the Ducks chose to hard match the Ryan Kesler line with Anze Kopitar's, and the Kings new big money man absolutely smashed that matchup. The final two LA goals came against Anaheim's second line, and for the game Kopitar's unit had a +7 shot attempt differential against Kesler's group in over ten minutes of even strength play.
Part of that could be sticking David Perron in his first game with the team and limited knowledge of their systems on a line that, despite seeing significant minutes and showing more of an offensive flair lately, is primarily expected to neutralize whomever they face. Things were much better when Ryan Getzlaf matched up with Kopitar, but the initial matchup cast the die for the game.
Best: A Blended Mix Worth Revisiting
While it is important to remember the role of score effects, trailing teams generally doing better at generating shots and chances later in games, the way things set up for Anaheim line-wise in the third period looked like they could much more evenly disperse the dangerous qualities in the lineup.
While Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry have been tremendous with Getzlaf since being put together early in the season, why not try Ricky at center and bump Patrick Maroon up to try and create another scoring line? Getzlaf looked good with Perron and Chris Stewart, scoring the third period goal and also being the playmaker/physical presence combination that Perron did so well in tandem with in St. Louis. Andrew Cogliano's speed and two-way prowess has always looked good next to Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg, and they can still be dangerous offensively as the disallowed goal showed. This is a case where the Boudreau Blender may have found something even better for the lineup, thanks to how switching out a forecheck/two-way presence for an established scorer changes the complexion of the personnel.
Best/Worst: They Are Who We Thought They Were
When you look at these two teams on paper, comparing the player names as well as their performance thus far this season, things ended up playing out about how one would expect. The Kings had their expected dominance in even strength analytic numbers in building a lead, while the Ducks were opportunistic early in creating their chances with an extra man, and then took over while trailing in the final frame with LA more willing to defend and react. Clearly the margin is a whole lot smaller than the current division standings indicate, which portends good things for Anaheim- especially with new personnel- as the season churns deeper.
Worst: How Do You Goalie?
Serious question- how many of you reading knew that a goalie was not allowed to freeze the puck out level with the face off dots? Sure, it's not a goalie trying to play the puck in the neutral zone, but it's rather basic hockey knowledge that unless the goalie is in the immediate vicinity of the crease, trying to freeze the puck results in a delay of game penalty. Someone should tell John Gibson, who has given up 11 goals in his last 10 periods against LA, and looked particularly bad against old man Vincent Lecavalier early in the second period.
Best: The Guys Can Hang
While there's been plenty of chatter about whether or not folks should buy this defensive turn by the Ducks, it's about time to put that discussion to bed. Without their top minute defenseman Cam Fowler, Anaheim has suffocated the league's best scoring team, and despite getting out-attempted by a margin of 14 through the first two periods, were able to keep both chances and high danger chances close and then end up finishing atop two of those three stats against the league's best possession team.
Sure, it's not a win, but it's further proof that folks should believe in the evolution of this team. The final game of the home stand against wild card Minnesota, and then the road trip that begins in league leading Washington, then seeming perennial bugaboo Detroit gives the Ducks a great chance to make a statement.
3) David Perron
While he finished the game even in five-on-five shot attempt differential, that in itself says a lot as through his first two periods he was a -6 SAT while skating with Kesler and Silfverberg, and +6 in the third with Getzlaf and Stewart. Perron also scored in his first game with his new team, his first twine-tickler in 19 games since December 1 while with Pittsburgh. His scoring ability gives Anaheim the opportunity to try something new that could invigorate the team with more offense up and down the lineup, and a good initial showing is worth the acknowledgment.
2) Jonathan Quick
It's become the fashionable thing to dump on Quick in the blogging community, and while the stats may not always be amongst the best in the league, the guy does enough for LA to win consistently. Tonight he made 30 saves, and while the goals he gave up may look ridiculous considering how he reacted, some of the saves he made based on his positioning and athleticism were even moreso. It's time to drop the talking point of 'Is Quick A Elite Goalie', and give the man credit for putting together a season thus far that is the closest he's come to his unholy 11-12 campaign where he carried the team to a title with a back requiring surgery.
1) Anze Kopitar
The game-winning goal and an assist, his 26 and 27th points against the Ducks in his 26th game against the rival since 10-11, Kopitar was every bit the player you'd expect that'd just earned a massive new extension. His line owned the matchup against Kesler through 40 minutes, which necessitated Anaheim shuffling up their lines. Any time you can singularly be responsible for your opponent making major alterations, you're clearly doing something- really many things- right.