Game Day Preview #74, Anaheim Ducks @ Los Angeles Kings



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

At the end of the season, will there be anyone more excited to see the back of Willie Desjardins than Ilya Kovalchuk? (Aside from JFTC contributor Michael, that is.)

You can debate endlessly the wisdom of signing Kovalchuk to a three-year deal — and there will be plenty of time to dissect Rob Blake’s moves and what responsibility he bears for the situation as a whole — but the mishandling of a player being paid that much money to score goals, who has not been put in the position to do so by the current coaching staff, is just another blemish on this very, very long season.

It says something significant that two of Blake’s biggest acquisitions — Kovalchuk and defenseman Dion Phaneuf — have been healthy scratches down the line here, as both are expected to be out of the lineup tonight. Phaneuf’s acquisition wasn’t ever met with much more than annoyance, as it was clear already exactly what he had left to give to a team. Kovalchuk, on the other hand, was greeted with a mixture of skepticism and optimism, and while his underlying numbers this year aren’t great, and don’t reflect kindly on the signing, a) no one’s numbers have looked great and b) he hasn’t been put in a position to succeed and c) his coach keeps scratching him.

That’s a lot of money to have sitting in a suit watching the game. Scratching Jonny Brodzinski, while perplexing, is one thing — he’s on a cheap contract, is an UFA at the end of the season, and seems destined to go to another team. Scratching two highly-paid veteran players, including the one who was your big off-season move, is another thing entirely and doesn’t reflect kindly on Desjardins, Blake, or the organization in general.

Both the Kings and their evening opponent the Ducks have weathered their share of drama this season; the Ducks endured months of Randy Carlyle stumbling through his job before he was finally dismissed, allowing Ducks General Manager Bob Murray to step behind the bench. Murray’s never coached before, but it looks more and more like he made the right call in putting himself there, a move which has put him closer to the players to truly understand what ails that room.

The Ducks have had their ups and downs since Murray joined the bench, but it’s been more ups than downs as of late. They’ve won six of their last 10 games, including a back-and-forth game last night against the Sharks, ending in a 4-3 shootout win for the Ducks. They’re doing it all shorthanded still, as they’re without deadline acquisition Brendan Guhle, Ondrej Kase, Jacob Larsson, and Ryan Kesler, who was shut down again shortly after reaching his 1000th NHL game and is most likely done for the season, if not for good.

The Kings have won both of their games against the Ducks this season, in maybe one of the only feel-good stories of this season. The Ducks may not be good either this year, but a win over a rival is always going to feel good, even if you steadfastly don’t really want those two extra points. The Kings have just three wins in their past 10 games, with one of those wins coming against the Ducks.

With games like Thursday’s performance against the Sharks, the Kings showed that they still can surprise. Anze Kopitar looked like the Kopitar of old — dangerous, hard to play against, active with the puck. For someone who has looked disengaged at times, along with the rest of the veterans on the team, seeing a more vibrant Kopitar was a nice change of pace. This team can hang with its superiors every so often, and outings like the Sharks game proved it.

Whether you’re Team Tank or Team I Just Hope Everyone Has Fun And No One Gets Hurt, it’s easy to root for a vintage Kings performance tonight. Hopefully, they’ll deliver one for fans.

Lineup Notes

Brendan Leipsic is out for the Kings; he left Thursday’s game with a lower body injury and did not practice on Saturday morning.

Ryan Miller is expected to start for the Ducks.

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