Date: Thursday December 12th, 2019
Time: 7:00 PM Pacific
Location: Honda Center - Anaheim, CA
TV: Prime Ticket, Fox Sports West
Radio: AM 830
Your Enemy: Jewels From the Crown
Through 15 games this season the Anaheim Ducks had amassed a respectable 9-6-0 record that saw them hanging around the playoff conversation despite a struggling powerplay and a lot of new faces. In the 16 games since however, the Ducks have gone 4-8-4, and while numerical palindromes are fun, posting four wins and twelve points between November 3rd and December 10th is very Not Good™.
The powerplay, despite the occasional flash of competence, has continued to struggle posting only nine goals in 31 games, the lowest total in the league; a statistic that is emphatically underscored by the fact that Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak both have more individual PPGs than the entire Ducks roster combined.
In a staggeringly vicious example of “no good deed goes unpunished”, both John Gibson and Ryan Miller have seen their form dip this season. While some regression was to be expected after both put up such stellar seasons last year, both the coaching staff and the front office were surely hoping it wouldn’t be quite this drastic. Goaltending is the great equalizer after all, and a team with as many young players on it as Anaheim was going to need to rely on saves more than goals to be successful.
It should be noted however, that both Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson each missed multiple games during that stretch. Lindholm was sidelined with an injury for seven games in the heart of November, and Manson returned Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild after sitting out for 19 games with an MCL injury. Losing multiple NHL caliber defensemen is going to make winning games hard for any team, but the Ducks were particularly unfortunate to lose their two best for a significant stretch while already dealing with a thin blueline when both were healthy. In Manson’s first game back, and the Ducks’ blueline back at full health, the not-so-mighty Ducks were able to post some of their best shot metrics of the year. It’s crazy what a little bit of health can do.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Kings continue on their push to be the worst regular season team in the West and secure the best possible lottery odds they can for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. While leading/trailing both Chicago and Anaheim by four points at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Kings are going to have to continue to lose games if they are to have any hope of catching Detroit and New Jersey in the crawl space below the NHL basement.
Led by the Four Horesemen of my personal apocalypse, LA is getting good to decent production from a small handful of veterans and not much else. While Jonathan Quick (Conquest) seems to be showing signs of having fallen off the edge of the elite goaltender world, it’s hard to look at the roster and blame him completely (though I will find a way, don’t you worry). Meanwhile Anze Kopitar (Famine), Drew Doughty (War), and Dustin Brown (Death) seem to have responded well to new head coach Todd McLellan and are the team leaders in points.
Neither Southern California team is a contender this year, nor should they be in the near future. Once the best rivalry left in the league, this game has lost all of its luster. Enough of the names may still be involved to fool fans into thinking this matchup may still pack some kind of a punch, but the truth is this game is a shadow of its former grandiose self from earlier in the decade.
Keys to the Game
1. Special Teams – The Ducks and Kings are both bottom three in the league in power play percentage, and bottom 10 in penalty killing percentage. In a true reflection of the LA-OC rivalry, this game may ultimately come down, not to who is better, but who is less actively terrible. Anaheim has scored nine power play goals and allowed 23, while Los Angeles has scored 13 and allowed 26. Truly a clash of special team titans. The Kings had hoped to utilize Ilya Kovalchuk to bolster their powerplay this year but his tenure as a Kings regular seems to have come to a less than ceremonious ending.
The Ducks on the other hand, in the personnel equivalent of throwing your hands in the air and yelling “ah screw it nothing matters anyways”, have inserted #Elite1C Derek Grant into the PP1, because sure. Losing Nick Ritchie for 6-10 weeks, to the same injury that Manson just returned from, is sure to help make things interesting as he was one of the team’s best options in front of the net with the man advantage. In a game that is as likely to end 0-0 as it is 6-5, either team getting a special teams’ goal could be a major factor.
2. Discipline – There is an episode of The Boondocks where Granddad fights Stinkmeaner over a parking lot dispute only to lose a fight to the blind man. Huey, misunderstanding what happens, attributes Stinkmeaner’s one hit KO to him actually being a highly trained ninja-like warrior and forces Granddad to train hard for the rematch. Ultimately, it’s revealed that Stinkmeaner’s vicious skill and precision was actually just a lucky punch and that Stinkmeaner is in fact a helpless old man with a bad temper. All of this is to say, crazy things happen and both teams would do well to keep their emotions, and sticks, under control. While both powerplays are largely toothless, there is no need for either side to give up free chances for the other to get lucky.
Players to Watch
As the decade comes to an end, what better way to signify its closing and its history than a matchup between two teams who were both lead by top 10 centers for the majority, if not the totality, of that decade? Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar are both on the wrong side of 30 these days, and neither is the two-way force they were at their peak. But even if all the prestige is gone from this matchup, these are still professional athletes with pride and dignity (well, maybe not Brown but everyone else to be sure). Nobody enjoys losing, and while both teams are likely to do a lot more of it as the year progresses, getting a good win over your crosstown rival is a nice way to keep spirits up as the season enters its more tedious winter months.
Getzlaf is first on the Ducks in points (25), assists (15), and game winning goals (5), while also being tied for first in power play goals (2), and second in goals (10). The 34-year-old captain has had to change his style of play and finally start shooting more; on pace for 26 goals this season. A number that would be the second highest total of his career. His 15 assists show he hasn’t lost the elite-level playmaking that made him one of the most dominant centers in the league for the better part of a decade, but with the absence of Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, and Rickard Rakell still finding his stride this season, Getzlaf has been forced to be more aggressive with his shooting this season.
Anze Kopitar is probably past the point of being a yearly finalist for the Selke, but at age 32 the Slovenian superstar is still more than capable of effecting the game. First on the Kings in goals (11), assists (18), and points (29), and tied for first in power play goals (4) with Doughty, the LA captain still has a few good years left in him. Much like his Canadian counterpart to the south, Kopitar is being asked to try and keep the Kings competitive on a night to night basis as the franchise begins to transition to the next era of Kings hockey and a new core. While Dustin Brown managing to hit double digit points is a cute story, with fellow veterans like Quick and Jeff Carter clearly no longer the impact players they once were, Kopitar is doing more than his fair share of heavy lifting most nights to try and help keep the Kings from drowning.
In a few years this matchup should be highlighted by fellow USNDT products and good friends Trevor Zegras and Alex Turcotte, but we aren’t there yet. For now, we will have to all to find a way to enjoy the final gasps of a once great rivalry as defined by two of the best players in the league. Hopefully that’s not as difficult as explaining how to use a water bottle to Dustin Brown.