Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller stops the Kings center Anze Kopitar from… (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles…)
Delayed until December by an insensitive schedule maker, the renewal of the rivalry between the Ducks and Kings on Tuesday was a welcome occasion in a season crammed with games against opponents that are almost interchangeable.
Their performances in a 4-3 victory by the Kings at the Honda Center were snapshots of the reasons Kings fans are infusing more optimism into their natural caution and Ducks fans continue to shake their heads at a team that can alternate world-class skill with moments of singular stupidity.
The game was decided late, when Brad Richardson, standing by the right post, deflected Jack Johnson's long blast from the right side past Jonas Hiller with 2 minutes 20 seconds left in the third period.
Richardson's first goal since Jan. 30, 2008, proved the difference in a game that went back and forth more often than either coach really wanted but entertained a surprisingly sparse crowd of 14,231.
It also affixed a downward sloping end to a homestand the Ducks had considered crucial. They finished 4-2-1, with the last two an overtime loss to Phoenix on Sunday and Tuesday's loss to the Kings, and they're seven points out of eighth place in the West.
"I think if you looked at every seven-game stretch, and you went, what were we, 4-2-1, you'd take it," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. "But it's disappointing that we lost a point the other night and then it's disappointing the way we lost tonight's game."
The Kings had held leads of 2-0 and 3-1 but were caught by the Ducks at 5:29 of the third period. Corey Perry scored one goal and set up another, extending his league-best point scoring streak to 19 games, to bring the Ducks close. They pulled even, 3-3, after defenseman Matt Greene mishandled the rebound of a shot that had caromed off the chest of goaltender Jonathan Quick and Todd Marchant managed to poke it home.
Even though the Kings were depleted -- this was their sixth game without left wing Ryan Smyth, their seventh without defenseman Rob Scuderi and they lost fourth-line winger Brandon Segal to a lower-body injury in the first period -- they persevered.
"I think, especially in the end, we were doing good stuff, keeping it easy and simple," Anze Kopitar said, "and we got the win."
That victory could loom large in a tight playoff scramble. But Kings Coach Terry Murray downplayed any suggestion his team can claim supremacy over the Ducks.
"It's the first of December, the first game of six we're going to play," Murray said. "We have a long way to go. There's going to be many more intense games."
Still, the Kings were elated by their triumphant start to a stretch of 10 games in 17 days in six cities.
"That was huge. Especially not giving them a point they really needed," Richardson said. "Everybody really seems to be winning right now."
Except the Ducks.
Letting a conference rival earn two points when you get none on Dec. 1 might not seem to mean a lot. But it's as much how the Kings won this game and the Ducks lost it that matters.
Although goal droughts continued for Kopitar (10 games) and Dustin Brown (11), Justin Williams broke an 0-for-8 streak with a power-play goal in the first and the Kings' support players came through.
Wayne Simmonds set up Scott Parse's goal with a fine backhand pass at 5:11 of the first period. Williams deflected a shot by Jarret Stoll at 11:33 of the first to end the Kings' 0-for-15 power-play futility and give them a 2-0 lead. After Perry cut the lead to 2-1 at 14:41 with a redirection of James Wisniewski's shot, defenseman Randy Jones put the Kings ahead, 3-1, with a shot from about 35 feet.
The Kings' penalty killers did yield one power-play goal but that was their only glaring weakness Tuesday. They were able to overcome it by displaying the grit they've lacked since Smyth was injured.
"They did a good job the whole night getting people in front of me," said Hiller, who made 38 saves. "We have to do a better job and not give that many deflections in front of the net."
And the Ducks being the Ducks, they took several needless penalties, two in the first by Evgeny Artyukhin. The Russian winger was stapled to the bench for a good long while after that.
If only all the Ducks' problems could be solved that easily.