Elliott: Ducks-Kings is still hockey at its most entertaining, if not yet its most skillful

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Anaheim Ducks center Troy Terry, left, scores on Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Anaheim Ducks center Troy Terry scores on Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick during the teams' game Tuesday at Staples Center. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The first meeting this season between the Kings and the Ducks felt like the good old days of seven or eight years ago, when both teams ventured deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs every spring and their every encounter was a rugged battle for every inch of the ice.

They’ve endured tedious rebuilds and non-playoff finishes recently, and although both have made progress, neither has gotten far enough to be considered a title contender again. But the intensity of their play and the sprinkling of skill they displayed in the Ducks’ 5-4 shootout victory Tuesday night at Staples Center represented progress for both teams, and they could appreciate that.

“That was an exciting hockey game. Two teams trying to do the same thing at the same time. And I thought both teams worked extremely hard tonight,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said after his team withstood a three-goal rally in the third period by the Kings and prevailed on shootout goals by extraordinary rookie forward Trevor Zegras and veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

“In a perfect world, do we want to close out that game 4-1? Absolutely. Will we address some places where we can be better? Absolutely.”

The Kings, who have followed a seven-game winning streak with a 1-3-3 skid, regained the inestimable services of defenseman Drew Doughty, who had missed 16 games because of a bruised knee. He played 27 minutes and 55 seconds, took three shots, delivered two hits and blocked two shots, his old self once again.

“That felt good. That was a great comeback,” he said. “They got some pretty lucky goals tonight. Unfortunately, we had some bad bounces against us, but it showed a lot of heart to come back and tie it up. It’s just that we didn’t get that win.”

That gnawed at Kings coach Todd McLellan, too. “You’ve got to find a way to get past close,” he said, “and that’s where we are right now.”

They’re a couple of points out of a wildcard playoff berth in the Western Conference. The Ducks are third in the Pacific Division, which would put them in the playoffs.

“It’s been fun to watch, and it’s been fun to watch this group grow together,” Eakins said. “It’s still very early in the season, and we’ll see where it all goes.”

He also said he expects to learn Wednesday the extent of the lower-body injury that took team captain Ryan Getzlaf out of Tuesday’s game early in the first period. Getzlaf, who has had a resurgence this season and would be missed if he were out long-term, will be reevaluated by team doctors.

Anaheim Ducks player Kevin Shattenkirk celebrates with his arms up
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk celebrates after scoring in a shootout to win the Ducks' first game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After a scoreless first period, the Ducks broke through on a nifty snap shot by Troy Terry at 10:43 of the second period. The Kings pulled even at 13:29 on a nice backhand pass from Viktor Arvidsson that bounced around in front of the net and was prodded home by Alex Iafallo. That ended a seven-game drought for Iafallo.

The Ducks took a 2-1 lead at 17:53 of the second period, when Shattenkirk used Kings defenseman Matt Roy as a screen and took a rising shot that got past Jonathan Quick’s outstretched left (glove) hand. The goal was Shattenkirk’s fifth this season.

A power-play goal that was credited to Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler at 2:27 of the third period after it deflected off Kings forward Trevor Moore and a shot that deflected past Quick after hitting teammate Alex Edler gave the Ducks a 4-1 lead at 2:56. That goal was credited to Isac Lundestrom.

The Kings remained positive, and it paid off when Adrian Kempe redirected a shot by Roy at 7:56. They appeared to score again at 8:17, off a scramble in front, but a review determined that Carl Grundstrom had batted the puck with a high stick and the goal was waved off.

The Kings continued to press and got within one goal at 15:08, when Iafallo tipped in a bouncing puck. They pulled even at 15:34, when Dustin Brown slipped the puck past John Gibson from the doorstep for his first goal in 16 games.

Fowler hit the goal post in overtime, and the teams went to the shootout. Kings forward Lias Andersson scored in the first round for the Kings, but Gibson was solid and was backed by goals from Zegras and Shattenkirk.

“Some of us guys who have been around for a while know it’s going to take more than that to maintain a lead, and when you have a lead in this league you have to do a good job of clamping down on teams,” Fowler said. “We’ve shown that we can do it, but we need to do it consistently, so we have to prove that to ourselves.”

For Eakins, the Ducks’ resilience in winning on the road and improving to 12-8-3 mattered more than giving up a lead in the third period. “I’m never going to be bummed out by taking two points out of this building. Ever,” he said.

For the Kings, who next face Calgary and former coach Darryl Sutter at home Thursday, the work continues. “We definitely need to end this not-good streak, and we need to put a string of wins together and only lose one out of five or six if we can,” Doughty said.

McLellan said the Kings’ level of play hasn’t fallen off dramatically since they were enjoying that seven-game winning streak and winning close games instead of falling short. “We haven’t got the results, timely goals, timely — if I say saves, that sounds like just the goaltender — but timely defensive plays,” he said. “Maybe one on the power play would have helped somewhere along that line.”

Before the game, the Kings learned that they would be without forward Brendan Lemieux for the next five games, the result of a suspension imposed by the NHL as punishment for Lemieux biting Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk last Saturday. Lemieux is lucky to get only a five-game ban; the NHL’s Department of Player Safety had clear video proof he bit Tkachuk’s bare left hand, but couldn’t find proof he also bit Tkachuk’s right hand, as Tkachuk contended.

“This is not a hockey play,” the DPS said. “This is a player delivering a forceful, intentional and potentially dangerous bite to the hand of another player with sufficient force to puncture the skin.”

Lemieux is the son of former NHL forward Claude Lemieux, who was playing for Montreal when he bit the finger of Calgary forward Jim Peplinski during a Stanley Cup Final game in 1986. Based on his average annual salary, Brendan Lemieux will forfeit $38,750. The money will go to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

“They made the decision and we live with the consequences,” McLellan said of the league’s ruling.

The punishment was about right for a shameful, needless move. It probably will show up on more highlight shots than will replays of Tuesday’s goals and saves. That’s a pity, because the renewal of the Kings-Ducks rivalry was hockey at its most entertaining.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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