Biggest Game of the Year
Tuesday, 12.6.2011 / 9:52 AM PT
It's December 6, game 27 of 82, but it's safe to say tonight is the biggest game of the year for the Anaheim Ducks.
Yes, the Kings are in our barn, and that always means it's a big night, but this one takes on even more meaning because of what the Ducks are facing now. It's been six days since the Ducks replaced Randy Carlyle with Bruce Boudreau, a move made with the intent of turning around a dramatically slow start for Anaheim. But that turnaround hasn't been instant -- understandable for a coach quickly introducing a new system and still getting to know most of his troops.
The Ducks lost a 3-0 lead in Boudreau's first game, a crushing OT loss last Friday night against the Flyers, and surrendered a 2-0 lead in falling 5-3 to the Wild last Sunday evening.
If they're going to show a renewed vigor and a long-anticipated return to their winning ways, there is no better night than tonight against the most bitter of foes.
And it was Boudreau himself who cranked up that already-tense rivalry just a little bit more, when asked about Ducks-Kings on Sunday. "I think there's going to be a lot of hatred on both sides. When I was part of the Kings' organization, they certainly didn't like the Ducks," said Boudreau who coached the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester from 2001 through 2005.
"Now that I'm here, I certainly don't like the Kings."
That's our new coach speaking like your typical Ducks fan, whose distaste for the Kings has been amplified by L.A. taking the first two games of this Freeway Face-Off series last month. That came on back-to-back nights, when the Ducks went down 2-1 in a shootout at Staples Center and lost 5-3 the next night at Honda Center.
Boudreau, who is the subject of a nice feature today by Lisa Dillman in the L.A. times, reflected on his team turning things around after a rough start and a 0-1-1 record so far under him. “You’ve got to believe that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "You’ve got to believe when you do turn it around, then it’s going to be a real good situation. You have to believe there’s hope. If you don’t, then what you do play for?”
Tonight they play a Kings team that hasn't played since last Saturday, when they were edged 2-1 by a Montreal team the Ducks defeated last Wednesday just before Boudreau was announced as coach after the game. Los Angeles can related to Anaheim's difficulty in scoring goals, as they've had two or fewer in each of their last five games. But as has been the case most of the year, they've ridden on the back of Jonathan Quick and his stellar 1.97 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
L.A. will be without Mike Richards, who is on injured reserve after taking a hit to the head last Thursday night against Florida.
The Ducks, on the other hand, got some good news on the injury front, as both George Parros (torn retina) and goalie Dan Ellis (groin) were activated for tonight's game. (Parros' availability will be a gametime decision, according to Boudreau.) That leaves only Lubomir Visnovsky (broken finger) and Jason Blake (lacerated arm) on the injured list for the Ducks. At last report, Blake is still on schedule to be out until mid-January, and Bob Murray said recently on NHL Live that the hope for Visnovsky is for him to return the middle of this month.
Oddly enough, Parros, Visnovsky and Blake are all former Kings, as noted in this interesting piece by Fox Sports West on the players who have worn both Ducks and Kings uniforms. Please excuse the glaring absence of goalie J.S. Aubin and this all-time classic helmet (although, in their defense, he never played a game for the Ducks).
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The Ducks-Kings rivalry will of ourse remain intact after the radical realignment that was approved by NHL officials yesterday.
With the intent to decrease travel for its teams, the league will switch from its current format of six divisions to four conferences, likely as soon as next season. The move comes partly because of Atlanta's move to Winnipeg, putting the Jets in the Eastern Conference, where travel has been just as extensive as it has been for many other teams based in the Western part of North America.
There will be two mostly Western-based conferences with eight teams each, and two mostly Eastern-based conferences with seven teams apiece. The Ducks will be in what is now called Conference A, with the Kings, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Phoenix, San Jose and Vancouver. That is one of the two mostly Western-based eight-team conferences, with the two seven-team conferences being made up mostly of Eastern-based teams. Here's a look:
Teams will now play a home-and-home against all nonconference teams, meaning we're guaranteed to see top Eastern Conference draws like Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Philadelphia and the like here at Honda Center every season. Teams will play five or six games within their conference each season.
The top four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, with the first two rounds consisting solely or series within your conference. Commissioner Gary Bettman indicated he will consult with team GMs at their meetings in March as to whether the league will re-seed the playoffs in the third round.
The Ducks were among the significant majority of teams that voted for the realignment (a 2/3 vote among the 30 teams was required to approve the change). "I'm all for it," said Bobby Ryan. "I like the home-and-home with all teams. It'll help establish rivalries."
Said Boudreau, "It looks really good. I think it'll create great rivalries and it makes it easier for [teams] to stay in the same time zone. It's going to be tough to make the playoffs, but [it should be]."