Date: Monday, December 2nd, 2019
Time: 7:00 PM Pacific
Location: Honda Center
TV: Prime Ticket
Radio: AM 830
Your Enemy: Jewels From The Crown
The first round of the annual Freeway Face-off will open with...well...not sure if we can call it a bang.
The Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings are no longer the California powerhouses they were a few years ago after the Staples Center residents made their two cup runs and the Ducks tried to make their runs but couldn’t convert. ‘Member when the California road trip was a nightmare for most NHL teams? I ‘member.
Now, a battle between two titans has morphed into a battle for respectability more than anything else. This is still a rivalry that runs through Ducks and Kings fans, if nothing else for geographical bragging rights.
While both teams are in the middle of rebuilds, they are at different points in the path back to contention. The Kings appear to be a bit further out than the Ducks, having to bring their farm system back to respectability after being near dead last during and after their cup runs. General Manager Rob Blake has done an admirable job with drafting over the past two years, selecting future impact names like Rasmus Kupari, Arthur Kalyiev, and Alex Turcotte.
The big club, however, will have to wait until those names are ready to begin contributing if they want to return to Stanley Cup contention. The Kings currently sit at the bottom of the Pacific Division and are fourth worst in the league, putting them back on their quest to win the Alexis Lefreniére sweepstakes. However, their last 10 games have been surprisingly good, putting together a 6-3-1 record in that span. Their shot metrics back up their recent play and show that this isn’t a team on an unsustainable pace, especially when you factor in their abysmal 5.90 shooting percentage at 5v5 play.
Like the Ducks, the Kings have plenty of issues putting the puck into the back of the net. Led in scoring by captain Anze Kopitar with 27 points on the season, the Kings have been relying mostly on head coach Todd McLellan’s responsible defensive structure as well as good goaltending from Jack Campbell. Jonathan Quick can still turn in the occasional good performance, but it appears that Campbell is making a run at the starter job. Given his recent play, he might get it sooner rather than later.
The Ducks aren’t much better than the Kings from a standings perspective. They only have two more points, putting them second to last in the division and sixth from the bottom of the league.
Anaheim will be looking to bounce back after an abysmal third period on Friday against the Winnipeg Jets. After a good first two periods of play, the team fell apart in the final frame on the way to a 3-0 shutout. The team has played better overall as of late, nearly breaking even in shot attempts while sporting nearly 48% of the expected goals at 5v5. These numbers aren’t anything to sneeze at, but they’re at least respectable.
Mirroring the Kings, captain Ryan Getzlaf has been the Ducks most productive offensive player recently with seven points (2G, 5A) in his last 10 games. His line mates, Rickard Rakell and Troy Terry, have been helping drive that scoring sporting some of the best shot metrics on the team. The line as a whole is currently rocking a 62.32 xGF% since they were put together a few games ago. Look for them to get plenty of scoring chances.
Ryan Miller is expected to be the starting goalie tonight with John Gibson officially unavailable due to sickness (who among us after Thanksgiving). The Ducks have recalled Anthony Stolarz from the San Diego Gulls to back up Miller.
Looks like Anthony Stolarz is up with the Ducks as they have a morning skate. John Gibson left the ice before practice ended Sunday. Had appeared to get dinged by a shot. Ryan Miller is in the other net. Put it together, shall we?— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) December 2, 2019
Keys To The Game
Hit them Quick: Jack Campbell turned in a stellar 33 save performance against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. There’s of course a chance that he gets the net tonight again, but so far Jonathan Quick appears to have the #1 job at the moment. He has been less than adequate over the past couple of seasons, which is very good news for a starved Ducks offense. Put the shots on him and at least a few will find the back of the net. The only thing I’m sad about is that Quick’s best friend Corey Perry will no longer be rubbing elbows in the crease in their never-ending quest to show who loves the other more.
Protect Ryan Miller: The good news is that Josh Manson has begun skating with the team again. The bad news is that the Ducks defense still is the way that it is. Miller had a very rough game against the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks ago, so Anaheim would do well to try and limit the Kings scoring chances as best they can. Luckily, the Kings can’t score either, so this might be doable for the Ducks blueliners.
Entertain us, please: Neither of these teams is particularly good. Most of the Freeway Faceoff matchups over the last decade after been full-on gladiator battles with tremendously fun games, feeding one of the NHL’s best rivalries. Neither of these teams is filled with heavy bruisers anymore, however. Also scoring is hard to come by. Looking at the numbers, one could understandably assume this game could be boring. We’re hoping for the opposite, however. It would be great if, for one night, these two teams continued the tradition of hard, close, and exciting games despite their rebuilding state.