|There's gotta be a puck in there somewhere.
The Ducks and Kings lately have more in common than just a shared geographic region, a familiarity with freeway traffic and an appreciation for Wayne Gretzky. Both have endured a season that hasn't exactly gone as planned, and both have made coaching changes to try and provide a much-needed spark.
Anaheim's struggles in 2011-12 are well-documented in this space, while the Kings are 11th in the Western Conference, having dropped six of their last eight (including an 8-2 loss in Detroit last Saturday night) and are last in the league in goal-scoring.
Two days ago they hired former Flames, Sharks and Blackhawks coach Darryl Sutter to replace Terry Murray (fired last Saturday). Sutter had his first practice with LA yesterday and makes his debut against the Ducks tonight at Staples Center.
“I gotta believe they’ll play their best game of the year,” said Bruce Boudreau yesterday, as he goes into his 10th game as Ducks head man. (Sutter and Boudreau, by the way, are among six new coaches
hired in the league already this season.) “When they get a new coach, especially one with the reputation of being a tough taskmaster and an intimidator like Darryl is, they’ll put their best foot forward.”
Of course, the Ducks couldn't care less who is wearing the suit on the opponent's bench -- they're desperately looking for a road win. Anaheim hasn't won on the road since October 27 at Minnesota, and although this "road game" is only an hour up the road, it's one the Ducks desperately need.
“The one thing any athlete doesn’t want to be known as is a homer," Boudreau said. "They want to be known as guys who can play on the road. That’s something we have to change. We’re trying to find ways.”
The Ducks had one of their bigger wins of the year the last time they played the Kings, a 3-2 victory at Honda Center on December 6 (Boudreau's first win as coach here). Bobby Ryan
, if you'll recall, had two goals in that game, including the eventual winner with just 48.8 seconds left.
The game at Honda Center, and another win there December 14 vs. Phoenix, have been two of the better games Anaheim has played all season. But that recent 0-for-3 trip through Chicago, Winnipeg and Dallas looked like a different team.
“It seems like we’re waiting for something bad to happen,” Boudreau said. “You know, you get into a 3-3 tie in your last time on the trip (in Dallas), you think you’d come out and just go all out. It looked like we were so tentative that we were either afraid to make a mistake or we were waiting for Dallas to score before we started to play.”
“You can’t play tentative,” Boudreau said. “You can’t play…it’s like prevent defense. You’ve gotta play to win. We have to find something to turn it around. There’s an awful lot of road games left in this season."
As has been the case the last five games, Saku Koivu
will again be out with a groin strain, and Boudreau said he hopes to have him back before the New Year. Meanwhile, the Kings get a boost with the return of Mike Richards, who has missed the last eight games with a head injury. Richards, the big pickup from Philadelphia (how fun are they to watch on the 24/7 show?) over the summer, has 20 points in 25 games this season.
"Everyone is going to be up for it," said Nick Bonino
, who got his first goal of the year in Dallas on Monday. "There's not gonna be one guy not ready to play. They're our biggest rival, last game before the break. [We gotta give] everything we have."
By the way, I'll be at Staples Center again tonight doing a live game log during the game, and game recap after, if anyone is interested.
On a personal note, tonight's game will be followed by a drive with my dad, from LA to somewhere a couple hours up the road to get some sleep. Then tomorrow morning we continue the trip to Davis, to visit my sister and her family for Christmas. (Ugh, the holidays.)
- - -
The one group of people who cared very little about the Ducks' recent woes were the patients the team spent time with during their annual holiday visit to CHOC Children's hospital in Orange. The Ducks handed out Wild Wingers Kids Club kits that had been donated by fans, along with autographed items and -- most importantly -- just spent time with the kids being treated on the hospital's Oncology Floor.
Here are a few of the cooler photos from the afternoon, including Teemu Selanne
, Francois Beauchemin
and Jonas Hiller
playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with a four-year-old patient. I also like the one of them checking out the greatest photo ever taken, which decorates the hallway of the Ducks-themed wing of the Oncology Floor. Click here
to see all the photos.