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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

Ducks and Kings face off at crucial time for both

Each team is trying to put it all together and make a run at the playoffs.

December 01, 2009|Helene Elliott
  • During a game last winter, the Kings' Wayne Simmonds and the Ducks' Mike Brown squared off in the first period.
During a game last winter, the Kings' Wayne Simmonds and the Ducks'… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Kings Coach Terry Murray looks at the Ducks and sees a team that still has the heart of a champion and is capable of world-class efforts when the moment demands them.

"With us, looking at our team, we need to develop that attitude," he said.

Ducks General Manager Bob Murray (no relation) looks at the Kings and sees a mobile and talented defense that could be a force for years to come.

"You've got to build from the defense," the former NHL defenseman said. "Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Matt Greene -- what a move that was to get Greene. That's a great defense. . . . That's a good hockey team."

The Ducks might still know how to win, but their diminished talent prevents them from winning as often as they used to. They're 13th in the West and seven points out of the final playoff berth as they prepare to face the Kings tonight at the Honda Center.

It will be the teams' first meeting this season, and it comes at a pivotal time for both.

The Kings have younger legs and a better defense from top to bottom, but their inexperience in goal and lack of finishers up front are holding them back.

"To get to that next level we need everybody clicking at the same time," winger Justin Williams said. "We should have that working. We should have our top two lines scoring every game."

At the moment, that's a dream.

After a fast start, the Kings have gone through brief droughts and have been hurt more than they should by Ryan Smyth's absence.

Their supposed depth up front hasn't materialized. Their power play was 0 for 13 over the last four games. If not for second-year winger Wayne Simmonds' three-game goal streak, they'd have no reliable scoring at all.

Anze Kopitar, drawn to the net by Smyth's fearlessness and puck sense, has retreated to the periphery since Smyth was injured Nov. 16. Kopitar hasn't scored a goal in nine games. Williams hasn't scored in eight.

They're not alone. Right wing Dustin Brown hasn't scored in 10 games and Alexander Frolov has only six goals in 26 games after scoring 32 last season.

The Kings (15-10-2) are coming off a fine effort Saturday by goalie Jonathan Quick in a 2-1 shootout victory over Chicago, but they're not attuned to playing what Terry Murray calls a hard and heavy game, based on defense and determination.

"As much as anything else there's an urgency that everyone bring that kind of an effort every night," Murray said, "and whenever it's not there, whenever the players don't have that 'A' game, then you really have to adjust emotionally, mentally and play a very intelligent game so that you're not going to get exposed as a result of it."

The Ducks started slowly but have awakened and improved to 10-11-4 as they complete a seven-game homestand they regarded as make-or-break. They're 4-1-1 going into tonight's finale, including a superb effort in shutting out Chicago and a late letdown against Phoenix on Sunday that led to a 3-2 overtime defeat.

"When you're getting out-goaltended and out-special teamed every night, that's a recipe for disaster and that's what's happened here lately," Bob Murray said. "In the last little while the goaltending has been very good and the special teams have been good."

The Ducks have had uneven starts under Coach Randy Carlyle in all but their 2006-07 Stanley Cup season and then made a late push entering the playoffs. This start was especially tough because Carlyle had to squeeze more out of less.

He experimented with his lines often and only recently found combinations that allowed players to develop chemistry. Ryan Getzlaf's slow recovery from hernia surgery also contributed to the team's woes.

"When we all play our game and play with the game plan that the coaches put in place, I think we're as good as any team in this league," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said last week.

When they don't, they stumble. Their struggles stirred rumors Carlyle might be fired, but Murray said he'd send players out the door before he'd dismiss his coach. No one has left yet. The group that ends this homestand will be the same as the one that began it.

Murray met Friday with owner Henry Samueli, who's back from a league-imposed suspension, and didn't get a bigger budget -- but nor was he told to slash payroll.

"You might want to add to make it better. But how can you add if you don't know what you need until they play well?" Murray said. "It's tough to figure out."

As tough as it is to tell how dramatically the paths of the Kings and Ducks will diverge after they meet tonight.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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Devilish move in NHL rankings

New Jersey takes over the top spot in Helene Elliott's

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