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Free Agents Amplify Rivalry

Influx of talent has lifted Kings and Ducks, and verbal jabs have flown in buildup of tonight's game.

October 25, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Never one to be subtle about his opinions, Jeremy Roenick couldn't resist when the subject of playing against the Mighty Ducks as a member of the Kings arose at his introductory news conference.

"We're going to kick their [butts]," he said in August.

He was kidding, of course. Just throwing in a little sound bite to spice up the rivalry. Right?

When asked if he wanted to amend that statement, Roenick said, "No, because we're going to kick their [butts]."

The Ducks have taken a distinctly different approach in discussing their Southern California neighbors to the north. They have stayed away from baiting the Kings.

But that doesn't mean the Ducks ignored what they heard.

"There's no need to do your talking in the papers," goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "You want to bring your game on the ice."

And so the two teams shall tonight at Staples Center in the first of eight regular-season meetings that could bring out the best and worst in each other.

A lot has happened between both since the last meeting, a 5-1 Kings' victory on March 14, 2004.

Once the 310-day NHL lockout ended in July, the teams immediately fought for headlines in an unprecedented free-agent shopping period that included some of the biggest names in the game.

The Kings struck by trading for Roenick and landing another All-Star in Pavol Demitra. The Ducks trumped those moves by getting the game's premier defenseman in Scott Niedermayer and bringing back high-scoring forward Teemu Selanne.

The off-ice battles weren't limited to the front office. King forward Sean Avery, himself a talkative sort, infuriated French Canadian players in the preseason when he said they take cheap shots on the ice after Phoenix's Denis Gauthier leveled Roenick in an exhibition. Montreal-born Giguere responded by calling Avery a "moron."

"That's just him," Giguere said of Avery recently. "He's a good player. But I don't think about him. He's not worth it."

Duck enforcer Kip Brennan said Roenick and Avery "obviously love the spotlight. That's just their personality."

There's no denying, however, the dislike that exists between the teams. The first exhibition resulted in seven fighting majors and 125 minutes of penalties as the Ducks sent in their tough lineup and the Kings responded by suiting up three enforcers.

Brian Burke is new to the local hockey rivalry. The Duck general manager said all that's needed is a heated playoff series to put it among other traditional NHL rivalries.

"It's as intense as any of those other ones," Burke said. "The only reason you can't compare it to a Boston-Montreal or another one is because we haven't had a bitter playoff series with each other.

"They don't like us and we don't like them. A rivalry like this is good for both markets."

Many preseason forecasts had the Ducks jumping quickly out of the gate with their acquisitions and a switch to an up-tempo style, but the Kings have been the team of high fliers with a surprising 6-3-0-0 start.

The Ducks (3-4-0-1) have been erratic on offense and struggled in special teams, though Sunday's games might have brought a fresh perspective; the Ducks defeated Phoenix to stop a three-game losing streak and the Kings lost at home to Calgary.

Burke said it is too early to put a sense of urgency on the Ducks, whose three wins have come against sub-.500 teams.

"I'm not concerned," Burke said. "I like this group. As our special teams evolve, I think our chances for success get better."

With seven more meetings after tonight, the Kings and the Ducks will have plenty of opportunities to get under each other's skin.

"It'll be great to get the rivalry going with Anaheim," Roenick said. "Getting the first one at home is important."

As intense as it may be, the Kings' Eric Belanger put the rivalry in perspective. All of Southern California may not be at a standstill.

"I grew up watching Montreal-Quebec games," Belanger said. "On Saturday night, I'd take a bath, get some chips and watch the game. That's all you would do. That's what everyone would do.

"I'm not sure that's going to happen here. I don't think there'll be 500,000 people watching on TV."

Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.


Mighty Ducks vs. Kings, 7:30, FSN West

Radio -- 710, 1090.

Records -- Ducks 3-4-0-1; Kings 6-3-0-0.

Record (2003-04) -- Kings, 3-1-1-1.

Update -- Rookie Jason LaBarbera will start in goal for the Kings; the Ducks' Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to get his third consecutive start. LaBarbera has won all four of his starts. His .942 save percentage ranks fifth in the NHL and his 1.50 goals-against average ranks sixth. King forward Jeff Cowan (groin) practiced for a second consecutive day, including some "battle drills," but said he was unlikely to play before Friday. Duck center Sergei Fedorov (groin) will miss his sixth consecutive game. Forward Jonathan Hedstrom took a shot off his wrist in practice but said he would play tonight.

Tickets -- (888) 546-4752.

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