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Game Day Preview #14, Anaheim Ducks @ Los Angeles Kings

There’s a ton going on in hockey right now but hey, we’ve still got a game tonight.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 7:30 PM Pacific
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Anaheim Calling

The Willie Desjardins Era

Let’s all agree in advance to not make tonight’s results a referendum on Willie Desjardins’ coaching ability or anything. He’s still getting acclimated and he still has the so-so roster of players who may or may not decide to play hard at any given time. But still, tonight will be our first glimpse at what Desjardins does with his squad — how he responds when things are going good, if and how he tweaks things if the game goes poorly. As we’ve learned, Desjardin’ gained somewhat of a deserved reputation for his inflexibility in lineup decisions when the going gets tough.

Based off of practice, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be seeing any different looks on the ice than we’d seen previously. (In fact, based on practice, the biggest difference is the change in the way the players are color coded by jersey, which affects basically no one except beat reporters and also me when I’m in town.)

The Kings players all talked a good game after Stevens’ firing, placing the blame on their shoulders for not performing up to standards, but it’s still on them to go out there and physically do the job. If they want to turn this around and have any hope of salvaging their season, it has to start tonight.

Your New Leading Scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk

Let us for the moment not talk about why Anze Kopitar is stuck on just six points.

Instead, we’ll look at how quietly Ilya Kovalchuk has gone about becoming the Kings leading scorer. He leads in points (11) and shares the lead for most goals with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, both familiar names from Kings scoring races of years past. He’s been as streaky as the rest of the team, but has a three-game point streak going right now, including three points against the Rangers and two against the Flyers. It seems to have taken some time to find the best way to utilize Kovalchuk both at even strength and on the power play. And while he’s still prone to some defensive mistakes — insert caveat here that +/- is generally not a great statistic but also Kovalchuk sure has a lot of minuses in that column on the stat sheet — he can make up for it with his hands.

Kovalchuk hasn’t had the benefit of having consistent linemates so far this season, and has even spent some time on the third line. Keeping him going may be all about allowing him to develop chemistry and consistency with other players. Based off of practice, he’s back to the second line, alongside Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. Maybe he’ll get to stay there for a while.

The Opposition

The Ducks are … well … let’s put it this way. Our counterparts over at Anaheim Calling are wondering if this Ducks season is really an attempt at a stealth tank, fans are openly dreaming of a coaching change, and, once again, basically everyone is hurt.

The Ducks went 5-1-1 in their first seven games, enough of a combination of skill, luck, and favorable matchups to make the team look respectable. But a seven game losing streak has the hot seat cranked all the way up under head coach Randy Carlyle. And while the Ducks pulled off a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, that doesn’t mean Carlyle’s job is safe. (Just ask John Stevens, I guess.)

The Ducks are second in the league in terms of shots allowed per game; their 37 shots allowed per game has them sitting just behind the Ottawa Senators. And much like an even more dismal-looking Kings team, the Ducks are failing to get the puck on the net (their shots/game is the worst in the league). The Ducks’ biggest saving grace has been goaltender John Gibson, whose save percentage of .935 is top ten in the league. When Gibson isn’t standing on his head for the Ducks, they struggle to keep the puck out of their own net.

The injury-ravaged lineup isn’t doing the Ducks any favors, either. Ryans Kesler and Getzlaf are both game-time decisions for the squad. Korbinian Holzer, Ondrej Kase, Josh Manson, Corey Perry, and Nick Ritchie are all out for the long term. Max Comtois and Carter Rowney are dealing with shorter term injuries and could draw back in.

With Perry out, and possibly Getzlaf and Kesler, and Jonathan Quick sidelined, that takes care of most of this team’s troublemakers, though it’s sure to be a spirited affair nonetheless. Both teams have a lot to prove, and a long way to go to claw themselves back up from the bottom of the standings.

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