In meeting with his players one by one over the last week, Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle addressed a single theme about the first half of the season.
"Our message was that status quo wasn't going to be good enough for our group and we're in the process of trying to change that," he said.
Some things about the Ducks may never change -- such as their habit of taking bad penalties. That appears to be incurable.
But one unexpectedly successful change proved the difference Tuesday in the Ducks' 3-1 victory over the Kings at the Honda Center in the opener of a home-and-home series.
For the last two weeks, Carlyle has instructed Samuel Pahlsson to plant himself in front of the net on power plays, even though the Swedish center's strengths lie primarily in his checking and penalty-killing skills.
But Pahlsson looked like he had played there all his life when he stood by the left post and redirected a pass from Scott Niedermayer past Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg to break a 1-1 tie during a power play at 9:45 of the third period.
It came only 18 seconds after the Kings had taken the second of two needless penalties, the first by Dustin Brown for elbowing at 7:29 and the second accidentally incurred by rookie Drew Doughty when he tried to ice the puck and instead shot it over the glass for an automatic delay of game infraction.
To Kings Coach Terry Murray, whose team will play host to the Ducks on Thursday at Staples Center, those little mistakes added up to a big problem.
"We're in a situation as the L.A. Kings where we need to win games right now," he said. "We're kind of staying close to the pack, but we've got to get some wins under our belt, and the composure and dealing with the moment is a lesson we have to take away from this.
"It's the way it is for us the rest of this year. We've got to have a playoff-like mentality coming in to every game and deal with the pressure and deal with that kind of expectation. And I think as a young hockey club we'll take strides in that area. We have to be better at it right away. We need to win some games."
The Ducks won Tuesday because their special teams were solid after they gave up a five-on-three power-play goal by Kyle Quincey past a screened Jonas Hiller at 1:14 of the second period. After that, they killed off two more penalties and made the Kings pay when they were penalized.
Pahlsson's power-play goal was his first with a man advantage since the 2003-04 season and only the fourth of his career, though he did come within five seconds of scoring one during his power-play debut Dec. 22 at Vancouver.
When he was first told he'd be on the power-play unit, Pahlsson said he responded enthusiastically to the new job description.
"I said, 'Yes! Finally I get a chance,' " he said, laughing.
"It's fun to get them."
Not so much fun for Doughty, the precocious defenseman who has made so few mistakes this season but goofed in lifting the puck too high.
"Next time I'll shoot it along the ice," he said, "but sometimes those can get picked up, so I was just trying to get it up and get it down there."
Ersberg, starting in place of the flu-ridden Jonathan Quick -- Ersberg's first start since he pulled a groin muscle Dec. 15 -- had no chance against the Ducks' first two goals. But his teammates did little to support him, getting little sustained pressure on Hiller.
"I never had many shots against," Hiller said. "The only thing they had was pretty much that power play and they played that quite well."
Not well enough in other areas, though.
Rob Niedermayer scored a 140-foot goal into an empty net with 6.9 seconds left to lift the Ducks' record to 21-15-5 at the halfway mark.
That's not as good as they wanted but better than they might have expected after salary-cap considerations scrambled their lineup, they lost Teemu Selanne and Francois Beauchemin to injuries and, most recently, lost Corey Perry to a four-game suspension.
"I think it's important for us to carry this energy into the second half," said Bobby Ryan, who scored the Ducks' first goal, at 17:32 of the first period, on a lunging one-timer off a pass from Ryan Getzlaf while Doughty was serving a cross-checking penalty.
"We've got to continue to put a streak together here."