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Ducks Have Some Points to Make

Anaheim knows the only way to prove its off-season moves have helped is by winning games.

October 16, 2002|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

The Kings and Mighty Ducks renew an unusual but intense rivalry tonight.

Since the Ducks joined the NHL in 1993, the teams have been on a roller coaster ride. If one team is up, the other is down. If one team is a playoff contender, it's almost certain that the other is rebuilding and fighting to stay out of last place.

But that hasn't prevented the games from being fierce.

"Without a doubt, it's a rivalry," said defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who joined the Kings before the start of the 2000-01 season. "Since I've been here, the games against the Ducks have always been very competitive. Because of the situation that they've been in over the last couple of seasons, they've been able to point to games like these to try and turn their season around."

For the last couple seasons, the Kings have ruled L.A.'s little hockey world. This season, the Ducks believe they are ready to mount a challenge, thanks to off-season moves made by General Manager Bryan Murray.

"They are obviously a much improved team," King Coach Andy Murray said of the Ducks, who will host tonight's game at the Arrowhead Pond at 7:30. "They've had the potential to win each game that they've played so far.

"I've watched all three of their games ... in person. They've added some veteran leadership with [Adam] Oates and [Fredrik] Olausson, and having [Petr] Sykora definitely helps their team. We have to realize that they upgraded their talent level. I have a lot of respect about what they've done."

Still, the Ducks head into tonight's game under first-year Coach Mike Babcock with a 1-2 record. "We can talk about us getting better until we're blue in the face, but you have to get points in order to stay in the hunt," said Babcock, whose Ducks will fall four points behind the 2-0 Kings if they lose in regulation tonight. "We've said that so many times already. We have to keep working to get better, that's our focus. But you still have to win games, especially at home."

The Kings lead the series 21-19-9, and had a 4-0-1 record against the Ducks last season. Anaheim holds an 11-8-5 edge in games at the Pond.

Since Anaheim has been in the league, the Kings have made the playoffs four times, including the last three seasons. The Ducks have qualified only twice. They have never met in the playoffs.

"It's not the New York Rangers versus the New York Islanders but heated rivalries like that develop because of playoff series against each other," Schneider said. "That's what has happened with us and Detroit and Colorado. Playing them in the playoffs the last couple of years has made our [regular-season] games that much more intense."

Schneider could only imagine what it would be like to face the Ducks in postseason play.

"There's always extra feelings when you can just get on a bus and then, in less than an hour, be playing a road game," he said. "You're playing for your city and your fans. That makes the game that much more important."

But, providing the Kings stay sharp, a King-Duck playoff matchup can happen only if the Ducks start winning. Babcock understands this very well and he's looking for his team to get off to a fast start tonight, something the Ducks have failed to do so far.

"We have to be better than we've been," Babcock said. "Whatever the reason, we have to find a way to dictate the play. Especially in your building, it's up to you to set the ante.... The team that scores first in the NHL is in the driver's seat every time."

A position the Ducks hope to take against the Kings tonight.

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