The puck hadn't even been dropped for this weekend's back-to-back games between local rivals, and already there was discussion of which team was more desperate -- the Mighty Ducks or the Kings.
The Ducks, nine points behind the Kings for eighth place in the Western Conference, need to do well against the Kings today and Sunday to stoke the fire of playoff possibilities. Underachieving and underwhelming so far, the Ducks could see their playoff hopes fade to black with poor showings.
As for the injury-depleted Kings, three or four points this weekend could allow enough room for a quick breath during what has turned into a five-team scrap for the final four playoff spots in the West.
"I think our situation is more desperate than theirs," King Coach Andy Murray said. "They made the Stanley Cup finals last year. We didn't make the playoffs. How much more desperate could you feel than that?"
King forwards Martin Straka and Dustin Brown practiced with contact Friday, but Murray said it was unlikely they would play today or Sunday. Straka has sat out 21 games because of torn cartilage in both knees. Brown has missed 11 games since aggravating a severely sprained left ankle.
King defenseman Aaron Miller failed a strength test on his right shoulder, but Murray said he would be retested next week.
The marquee names have been absent for the Ducks. Sergei Fedorov, Vaclav Prospal, Petr Sykora and other headliners have not scored in the last four games. Yet the team has managed to pick up four points in that time on contributions from the chorus line.
The Ducks got seven goals in the four games, including two from Samuel Pahlsson and Joffrey Lupul and one from Jason Krog. Chris Kunitz assisted on three of them.
"That's what you need," Coach Mike Babcock said of production from his third- and fourth-line players. "We're getting good play from Krogger, Kunitz and [Garrett Burnett]."
Mike Leclerc, who suffered a minor hip injury against Edmonton on Wednesday, is expected to play today for the Ducks.
Ducks at Kings, 1 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- XPRS (1090).
Records -- Ducks 22-25-9-8, Kings 24-17-15-7.
Series record -- Kings lead, 1-0-1.
Update -- Backup King goaltender Cristobal Huet has given up one goal in the last two games in place of injured Roman Cechmanek. The Ducks have seven road wins; only three teams have fewer. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has a 1.97 goals-against average in nine starts since the All-Star break.