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Ducks Lose Decision to Kings

Hockey: Anaheim has few highlights in 5-2 exhibition defeat that was fight filled.

September 28, 1997|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INGLEWOOD — The Mighty Ducks lost, 5-2, to the Kings in the final exhibition game for both teams Saturday at the Forum, and what an exhibition it was.

You certainly couldn't ignore all the fighting after the Ducks and Kings combined for 280 penalty minutes.

It might have been dismissed as muscle-flexing by a bunch of young toughs trying to win a job before the regular season begins.

But Duck Coach Pierre Page saw much more, and it certainly didn't please him.

"You saw a team trying to find a new identity and doing a lot of thinking out there," Page said. "Basically what you see right now is a team saying, 'When is this going to work?' [The coaches] know it works, so we'll stick with it. We've just got to find the right combinations."

The Ducks, as coached by Ron Wilson for four seasons, used to play a conservative style predicated on turning giveaways, produced by the neutral-zone trap, into scoring chances.

Page wants to open things up on offense, giving more freedom to players Wilson demanded only play a dump-and-chase game. Instead of trapping on defense, Page wants more forechecking and hitting. He also wants a faster-paced game.

"We have an opportunity to be a successful team, but in a different way," Page said. "That's our mandate. And the players have to realize it. I don't think the coaches should start saying, 'We need this and this and that and that.' We're going to be successful a different way and the players might as well commit to it."

After a 2-4-1 record in the exhibition season, including lopsided losses to the Kings on consecutive nights, Page hasn't seen the desired results. He believes the players' frustration over their failure to master the new system produced Saturday's thuggery.

It didn't help Page to have restricted free agent Paul Kariya unsigned and at home in Vancouver and right wing Teemu Selanne and center Steve Rucchin watching from the press box.

Nagging injuries to veterans such as defenseman Dmitri Mironov also forced Page to dress a lineup decidedly lacking in experience and finesse.

"If the [veterans] had been in there, you would have seen a different game," Page said.

King Coach Larry Robinson took a look at the youthful Duck roster and cringed. He had a pretty good idea of what sort of game to expect. He wasn't disappointed.

"I told my guys to be careful because I looked at their lineup and didn't see too many hockey players," Robinson said. "They didn't have many skilled players. I knew there was something going on."

The progress of young players such as centers Matt Cullen and Espen Knutsen slowed dramatically after strong starts, which didn't help either as Page prepared to make his final cuts this morning.

Page indicated Knutsen, who has a nagging groin injury and did not play Saturday, would probably make the 25-man roster for the Ducks' season-opening games Friday and Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks in Tokyo.

"Knutsen's got to show he can handle the grind. I didn't like the way he played [Friday] night," Page said. "Cullen fizzled out at the end of camp. We gave him a lot to chew on."

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