The Kings and Ducks always seem to be at opposite ends of competitive cycles, perhaps explaining why they have never made the playoffs in the same season since the Ducks entered the NHL in 1993.
As they prepared for their second meeting of the season, Thursday at Staples Center, they were again on opposite paths.
The Kings, after an impressive start, have lost three straight games and seven of their last 10 and are in danger of dropping out of the top eight in the West. The Ducks, thin on defense and plagued by injuries, have been following their post-lockout pattern of gathering strength in the second half of the season, cutting in half what was once a 12-point gap between them and the last playoff spot.
Kings defenseman Sean O'Donnell, who played for the Ducks in their 2007 Stanley Cup run, offered some insights on what to expect Thursday.
"It should be a pretty spirited game. They've won four in a row and they've gotten themselves to within striking distance of those teams that are six, seven and eight," O'Donnell said after the Kings' practice Wednesday.
"Kings-Ducks games are always good games. I've been on both sides of them. It doesn't matter who's ahead of who in the standings. Both teams get up for the games. The fact that I'm sure they're looking at, I don't want to say a must win, but if they're going to keep climbing, this will be huge. . . .
"I know Randy [Carlyle] and their coaching staff are using whatever means they can to get them going. They've got some of their guys back from injuries so it should be a real interesting 60 minutes. Or 65 minutes."
The need to win Thursday applies to both teams, but as O'Donnell said, the problem with labeling a game a must-win situation is what do you do if you don't win?
"You want to get away from saying that because then it just gives you anxiety. I think if you worry about the process, the results will come," he said.
He acknowledged that the Kings' play has slipped and included himself in that assessment. Small lapses have allowed opponents to score early and late in the period of several games. All seven of their recent losses have been by the margin of one goal.
"For the most part the play's been OK. It hasn't been great, but it's not like we have to blow the whole thing up," O'Donnell said. "It's a matter of mentally focusing, and we feel like if we can do some things -- create some scoring chances and stay out of the box and stay tight defensively -- the results will come. . . .
"We knew Detroit was going to make a push and we knew Anaheim was going to make a push and it's just up to us to take a stand and show that we belong in those top eight seeds."
Left wing Ryan Smyth, who will skate alongside Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds on Coach Terry Murray's latest version of the first line, was similarly blunt.
"These guys are behind us in the standings and it's a matter of we've got to play desperate. We know we still have room but we don't want to look past" Thursday's game, Smyth said. "We know the points are so important. Just getting back to a level of compete we're capable of doing on a nightly basis. This is playoff hockey now. Let's cut right down to it and say this is playoffs right now because these points are just as important as at the end of the year. For us to be successful we can't have mental lapses. We have to play a full 60 minutes."
Going to the videotape
To analyze the Kings' recent scoring problems, Murray said he spent much of Tuesday watching the team's offensive-zone play in the first 22 games of the season -- stopping at the point Smyth suffered a rib injury and came out of the lineup for nearly six weeks.
His main conclusion: players aren't going to the net enough and establishing a presence there.
"We're getting on some opportunities, we're scoring some goals, but it came with better flow earlier," he said. "We had better puck possession time. We were giving each other the support that was needed with the pressure that you're going to face in the [defensive]-zone coverage and created more off of little give-and-gos, driving to the net."
An MRI exam on defenseman Matt Greene's lower-body injury was "the best scenario possible," Murray said, adding that Greene got permission to participate in off-ice workouts and skate lightly. The time frame for his return remains "probably close to a couple of weeks," Murray said. Greene was hurt last Saturday.
Defenseman Davis Drewiske, who suffered an apparent shoulder injury Jan. 4, skated Wednesday and has improved dramatically, Murray said, but there's no timetable for his return.
Peter Harrold, who last played Jan. 2 and has been a healthy scratch since then, is scheduled to replace Alec Martinez on Thursday.
Harrold, who has alternated between the wing and defense, was glad for the chance. "You work hard off the ice and then in practice but it's nice to go in and play a game," he said.