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The opening round of the annual Freeway Faceoff got underway at Honda Center last night with the Anaheim Ducks emerging from the Southern California rubble with a 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.
While the game lacked the physicality we’re used to seeing between the two teams (though there was a fight in the lower bowl amongst fans), there was no shortage of skill and exciting hockey as these rebuilding clubs managed to make the game entertaining.
The Ducks opened the scoring a little more than five minutes into the first period, when Nicolas Deslauriers fired a one-timer up high that hit off a Kings defender in front. Derek Grant, battling for position in front, saw the puck first and pushed it past Jack Campbell for the 1-0 lead and an ever exciting Grit Goal™ from the fourth line.
Anaheim would make it 2-0 on a [checks notes] power play goal? Special teams were reportedly a heavy focus over the last two Ducks practices, and it paid off with vastly improved puck movement as well as a newfound penchant to one-time the puck, culminating in Jakob Silfverberg ripping one into the back of the net off a Hampus Lindholm setup. More of that will be needed if the Ducks want to increase scoring moving forward.
The second period saw the Kings cut the Ducks lead in half when Kurtis MacDermid’s point shot got past Ryan Miller who had the sun blocked out by both Michael Amadio and Erik Gudbranson battling in front of the net.
Just 56 seconds later, however, the Ducks answered right back. Hampus Lindholm dropped down low with the puck and made an incredible saucer feed through a Kings defenders legs, over a stick, and right on to the tape of Carter Rowney in the crease for the layup. Another goal for the fourth line, but after a rough game on Friday against the Winnipeg Jets, Lindholm proved that it doesn’t take long for him to shake off a bad start.
Before the period was out, the Kings made things interesting as the Freeway Faceoff continued to live up to its reputation. Nikolai Prokhorkin took a puck right up the middle of the offensive zone and somehow beat both Korbinian Holzer and Brendan Guhle who had let him skate right past without much of a real fight. Prokhorkin deked backhand-forehand and put it past Miller to make it 3-2 and leave Holzer and Guhle wondering why waiving their sticks at a player didn’t end up being a good defensive strategy.
The third period say the Kings playing mostly in the offensive zone as they furiously tried to even the game. Fortunately, Miller had rebounded from his poor performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning and kept the Ducks lead alive with some great saves and great positioning.
After icing the puck and a couple of failed clears with the Kings net empty, Ryan Getzlaf retrieved the puck and fed it to Derek Grant who chipped it into the empty net for his second multi-goal game of the season and another round of supporters preaching the gospel of the Elite 1C.
With the 4-2 win, the Ducks are just three points out of a playoff spot, though they also still sit eighth from the bottom of the league.
Up next: The Ducks host the Washington Capitals on Friday at 7:00 PM.
Best And Worst
Best: Elite 1C for All Star Game – Derek Grant is currently on a 23 goal pace and is ahead of names like Evgenii Malkin and Tyler Seguin in scoring. Let’s be real here: Grant’s overall shot metrics on the season are not anywhere close to good. But he’s putting up points and contributing more than most bottom six player in the league at the current moment. So, who wants to John Scott him into the All Star Game?
Best: Ryan Miller is back – Miller gave up six goals in his last start against a Lightning team that hasn’t been as potent as usual two weeks ago. Fortunately, he was back on his game tonight and was the number one reason why the Ducks were able to hang on for a victory. He stopped 34 of 36 shots and, for the most part, looked calm and poised in net.
Best: Top line domination – The top line of Devin Shore, Ryan Getzlaf, and Troy Terry pretty much had their way with the Kings. Looking at the shot attempt and expected goal differential charts below, Los Angeles barely got any shots off against this line, let alone quality chances. It would be great to see Dallas Eakins keep this line together for a few more games to see if this was a fluke or if there might be some real chemistry here.
Worst: On their heels – The Ducks were outshot heavily. That’s a fact. And while they did a good job getting high quality chances from the shots they did have as evidenced by the heat map below, there’s only so much a team can take as far as volume is concerned. Don’t expect the Ducks to win these kinds of games often.
Worst: Holzer’s struggles – Korbinian Holzer has spent his entire career up until this point as a top AHL defenseman and a good seventh defenseman at the NHL level. This is his first year getting regular playing time, but we’re starting to see why he is best limited in his NHL minutes. This game highlighted how much he struggles with regular playing time at this level, and at this point there might be better options on the blueline like Josh Mahura, Chris Wideman, or Simon Beniot, who have all excelled in San Diego this season.