What better way for Darryl Sutter to make his Kings coaching debut than a home game against his new team’s biggest rival?
Yes, not only that, but perhaps Sutter will get eased into his new role in a way, as his debut is also against one of the worst teams in the NHL. Yes, a win over Anaheim would be a very nice way for Sutter to begin his tenure as the head coach of the Kings, especially if he can also get them to end their 12-game streak of scoring two goals or fewer in a game. A loss to the Ducks, however, would likely result in a collective facepalm by Kings fans everywhere (but if they do look bad and they do lose and/or struggle to score, no, that doesn’t mean we can already determine it a dud hiring, it’s one game).
As far as the Kings and Ducks go, this is the fourth of six installments of the Freeway Faceoff this year, and second of three at Staples Center. The Kings are 2-1-0 in the first three meetings, with one win coming via shootout, meaning the Ducks are 1-1-1 against the Kings this season, and took the last meeting, a 3-2 regulation win in Anaheim on December 6th, when Bobby Ryan’s fluky goal in the last minute broke a 2-2 deadlock and sealed the victory for the Ducks. The Kings won the first two meetings, 2-1 at home in a shootout on November 16th, and 5-3 in Anaheim the day after, on November 17th. Despite that, they’ve surely got a bad taste in their mouth from how the last meeting with the Ducks ended and they’ll be hungry for revenge this time around.
As far as the Ducks go, there’s no secret that it’s been an absolutely miserable season for them, who not too long ago made a coaching change of their own, replacing long-time coach Randy Carlyle with Bruce Boudreau (Boudreau was behind the bench for the Ducks’ win over the Kings a couple of weeks ago, his first win as Anaheim’s coach). Things haven’t gotten much better in Anaheim since the coaching change, however. In fact, in just their last 10 games the Ducks are 3-6-1, and they’ve also lost three straight games. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets have fewer than their 23 points this season, as Anaheim sports an ugly 9-19-5 record. The Ducks have scored 78 goals this year while allowing 110, and their negative-32 goal-differential is the worst in the league. Their offense is tied for 26th in the NHL, averaging 2.33 goals per game, and should be in tough against a Kings defense that is ranked seventh in the league, allowing just 2.39 goals against per game. Meanwhile, the Kings’ 30th-ranked offense will be desperate to end their embarrassing 12-game stretch without scoring more than two regulation/overtime goals in a game when they take on the Ducks’ 26th-ranked defense, allowing 3.24 goals against per game.
On special teams, the Kings power-play has been miserable lately, falling all the way to 23rd in the NHL, converting on just 15.5% of their opportunities, and they’re coming off a game where they only went 1-for-5 against the league’s worst penalty kill in Toronto, and the goal they scored shouldn’t even have counted because the play was offside a few seconds later (not that we certainly won’t take it). However, with Mike Richards being cleared to play and expected to play against the Ducks on Thursday after missing the last eight games with a concussion, the power-play should get a boost from his return. However, if there’s anything that hasn’t gone completely wrong in Anaheim this year, it’s the penalty kill, tied with the Washington Capitals for 13th in the NHL, killing off 82.5% of their penalties. In fact, the Anaheim power-play hasn’t been bad either, tied with the Boston Bruins for 10th in the NHL at an 18.5% success rate. Not entirely surprising given the high-end talent that the Ducks have. The Kings’ sixth-ranked penalty kill, which is killing off 86.6% of their penalties and has been great lately, including killing off all five penalties against the league’s second-ranked power-play in Toronto on Monday, will also get a boost by the return of Richards, but will still also need to be on their game against the Ducks. Preferably, they could just stay out of the penalty box as much as possible.
As I just mentioned, the Ducks do have some high-end talent leading the way up front, such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, and Kings-killer Teemu Selanne. However, their lack of depth likely explains many of the Ducks’ struggles this season. Matt Beleskey, Andrew Cogliano, Nick Bonino, Andrew Gordon, Niklas Hagman, Kyle Palmieri, George Parros, and Rod Pelley make up the Ducks forwards. Pelley was recently acquired from the New Jersey Devils along with Mark Fraser and the Devils’ 2012 seventh-round draft pick in exchange for Kurtis Foster (who I actually like and think is a good player, but he’s turned into a journeyman) and goaltending prospect Timo Pielmeier. Saku Koivu and Jason Blake are on the injured reserve, while rookie Devante Smith-Pelly has been lent to Canada’s World Junior team.
On defense, former King and the Ducks’ veteran leader on the blue line, Lubomir Visnovsky recently returned from injury, and it’s been a welcome sight for Anaheim. Visnovsky has a goal and two assists in four games since returning, and is coming off a performance in Dallas on Monday where he had a goal and an assist. Overall on the season, Visnovsky had two goals and five assists in 20 games this season, and last year had 18 goals and 50 assists in 81 games, and those 68 points were the most among all NHL defensemen. Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets, of course) defenseman Dustin Byfuglien’s 62 points were the closest any other defenseman came to Visnovsky’s point total. So, yes, needless to say, they Ducks are happy to have him back. Behind him, the likes of Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler, Sheldon Brookbank, Mark Fraser, Toni Lydman and Luca Sbisa make up the remainder of the Ducks defensemen. One of them will be a healthy scratch. Matt Smaby is on the injured reserve.
In goal, Jonas Hiller has struggled in his return from vertigo this season. However, he’s hardly alone on this team. Hiller is 8-14-5 with one shutout to go along with a 3.15 GAA and an .898 Sv%, but the Kings have scored just a combined three goals on Hiller in the two games they’ve faced him this season. It could potentially be backup netminder Dan Ellis in goal, who is 1-5-0 on the year with no shutouts to go along with a 2.79 GAA and a .910 Sv%. Ellis gave up four goals in a loss in the one time the Kings faced him this season. Yes, the actually Kings scored five times that game, as Mike Richards added an empty-netter for good measure.
For the Kings, Darryl Sutter’s lines look a little bit different than Terry Murray’s and John Stevens’. Today, they practiced with lines of Anze Kopitar between Brad Richardson and Dustn Brown, Mike Richards between Simon Gagne and Trevor Lewis (we’ll see if the former first-round pick can tap into some of his offensive potential now that he’s being given a real opportunity to produce, like he did when he injuries thrust him into a higher role in the playoffs last season), Jarret Stoll between Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, and Colin Fraser between Kyle Clifford and either Kevin Westgarth or Trent Hunter. Andrei Loktionov also took reps on the fourth line, but is expected to be assigned to Manchester before the game to make a roster spot for the return of Mike Richards. Loktionov certainly doesn’t appear to be ready, and that’s fine. He’s a young kid with a bright future ahead of him, but if he needs more seasoning, so be it. Also, Dustin Penner and Justin Williams on the third line? I like this, perhaps Sutter’s already holding underperforming players accountable and he hasn’t even been here before… Hopefully those two, among others, respond positively to Sutter and make a good impression on their new coach. Also, Richardson and Lewis, two normal healthy scratches under Murray, will provide some more speed to the top-six. Let’s see how this works.
On defense, it’s expected to be Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, and Jack Johnson with Matt Greene. Alec Martinez and Davis Drewiske are expected to be the healthy scratches, but Drewiske still probably feels good about himself after the impression he made in the last few games after finally getting in the lineup, including scoring a pair of goals, to tie Doughty and Penner’s season total. Also, congrats to Rob Scuderi, whose wife Courtney gave birth to Brett William Scuderi yesterday, their second son and third child, joining Ryan and Kate (I’ll let you guess who the other son is and who the daughter is). He sounds perfectly healthy, and weighs 8 pounds and seven ounces. Also, Drew Doughty left practice partway through, tending to the facial laceration he suffered against the Leafs, but is expected to be fine to play on Thursday.
Jonathan Quick is expected to start in goal.
Well, the Darryl Sutter has officially begun, and Mike Richards is back. Suddenly, are things looking up in Los Angeles? Will they be able to get the Sutter era started off on the right foot, or will they be disappointed by the Ducks?