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KINGS-DUCKS REPORT

Cloutier's play in the net leads to tough questions

December 02, 2006|Chris Foster and Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writers

This is how the pads stack for the Kings these days.

One goaltender has a sore groin. Another is a sore spot in net. And the coach became sore when asked too many questions about the situation.

The Kings' 7-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday shed more red light on an ongoing problem in net. Dan Cloutier has given up eight goals in the last 17 shots fired at him, which works out to a .529 save percentage -- so at least one Kings player is able to say he's over .500 in something.

Mathieu Garon, who won consecutive games in the last week, is listed as day-to-day after suffering a groin pull as practice ended Wednesday. Meanwhile, Cloutier's play continues to call into question the wisdom of the two-year, $6.2-million contract extension he received before the season began.

Coach Marc Crawford on Friday became petulant when pressed about whether the Kings should risk recalling Jason LaBarbera from minor league Manchester. They had called up Barry Brust instead. Brust gave up four goals after replacing Cloutier on Thursday.

LaBarbera, the Kings' backup last season, would have to clear waivers if called up, a risk the Kings were unwilling to take. The Ducks lost goaltender Michael Leighton that way when they tried to recall him from Portland, Maine, two weeks ago.

"That is something that is not an option," Crawford said calmly. "... The way the rules are, if we call him up it adds to our [salary] cap. Someone will claim him and we pay half the salary."

The picture remains the same, but the landscape changed when Cloutier gave up three goals in five shots Thursday and was yanked.

That led to the question whether recalling LaBarbera was now worth the risk. The Kings claim to be playoff contenders, need goaltending help and LaBarbera is a restricted free agent after the season. But Crawford did not wait for the question beyond the word well.

"Well? Well what? Well what?" Crawford asked, not so calmly.

Told the question was still in the process of being phrased, Crawford got indignant, "Phrase it right. It's not going to change. Look around the league. Who are half the players getting hurt? Goaltenders. Who are half the players picked up [on waivers]? Goaltenders.... The Ducks tried and lost their guy. I'm sure they're happy about that up in Portland.... Jason is having a good season and he is also helping our young players. He is still a value to this organization."

All this would be moot if the value of Cloutier's play were equal to the value of his contract extension. But his 3.85 goals-against average and .862 save percentage are last among the 40 goaltenders who have played at least 10 games.

"Obviously, this has been a tough situation," said Cloutier, who was limited to 13 games last season because of knee surgery. "The only way out of it is to work your way out of it. There is no magic switch you turn on.... I know it has been a disappointment.... I will battle through it."

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The Ducks have the most points in the NHL because they have players named Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Teemu Selanne and are strong in almost every area.

But there's another reason. They cheat. At least when it comes to face-offs. All four centers -- Andy McDonald, Samuel Pahlsson, Todd Marchant and Ryan Getzlaf -- are well above 50% in face-off victories.

"In faceoffs, there is a certain amount of gamesmanship," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. "Cheating, if you want to call it. There's certain players that do a better job of masking the cheating and are best friends with the linesmen. There's a lot of politicking that goes into it. It's just the way it is."

Pahlsson is the team's primary face-off man.

"There's always a little bending of the rules," he said. "Some guys cheat a lot and I know that so I have to be ready and get in there. You don't want to get thrown out, but you still have to cheat a little bit. You have to be on the edge there."

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The Ducks signed defenseman Brendan Mikkelsen, 19, to a three-year entry level contract.

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TODAY

1 p.m., FSN Prime Ticket

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 1150, 830.

Records -- Ducks 19-2-6, Kings 9-14-4.

Season series -- Ducks 2-0-0.

Update -- The Kings are 3-8-1 against Pacific Division opponents. Dustin Brown, who sat out Thursday's game because of flu, was expected to play today. The Ducks sent goaltender Michael Wall back to Portland. Wall won his NHL debut Sunday with 19 saves in a 5-3 win over Calgary.

Tickets -- (888) 546-4752.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

eric.stephens@latimes.com

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