It may not be the oldest or most storied and it certainly isn't the most paid-attention-to showdown in the NHL, but let me throw it out there right now: the rivalry between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks is easily one of the most fierce, underrated and brutal rivalries in the league today.
The six annual meetings, dubbed the Freeway Faceoff series a few years back, result in some of the most hard-fought games that frequently see a return to what commentators like to call "Old Time Hockey."
You guessed it, gloves are dropped, punches are thrown, penalty minutes are taken and these two teams give a master demonstration on what happens when two teams that really don't like each other are forced to share the same sheet of ice for a game.
To top it off, the two teams share the Southern California market.
Staples Center is separated from the Honda Center by just over 30 miles of roadway (39 minutes of drive time according to Google Maps, but come on...this is LA traffic we're talking about here—try an hour-and-a-half).
As a result, the two also split the television market, and both are constantly battling for fans in what is turning into one of the most rapidly growing markets in the league, and no time has this been more true than right now with baseball shut down for winter and the NBA still in its lockout.
So tonight, Staples Center will play host to the first of six battles in this season's edition of the Southern California civil-war-on-ice and here is what you can expect to see:
Anaheim Ducks (6-8-3, 15pts—14th in Western Conference) at Los Angeles Kings (8-6-3, 19pts—10th in Western Conference)
Powerplay—Anaheim: 13.6% (21st in NHL); Los Angeles: 20.3% (7th in NHL)
Penalty Kill—Anaheim: 87.0% (9th in NHL); Los Angeles: 83.6% (14th in NHL)
At the outset this appears to be a battle of two of the most drastically underperforming teams in the NHL this season thus far.
Anaheim have won only twice in their last 12 games, victories over the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks. Their last game was an extremely disappointing loss to that same Minnesota team in which they were scored on three times in the first period and were never able to recover. They boast the league's worst offensive production numbers at 2.00 goals per game.
Los Angeles isn't doing a whole lot better. They've won only three times in their last 10, however are coming of a big win over Minnesota in which they looked extremely dominant, lighting up white-hot Josh Harding for four goals and chasing him from the cage.
Last year's Rocket Richard Trophy winner Corey Perry once again leads the Ducks in goal production with six on the season, but the overall team scoring lead belongs to 41-year-old Teemu Selanne who is once again completely defying his doubters and proving he can run circles around kids half his age.
The Kings, despite their extremely dangerous-looking offense, have struggled to find consistent goal scoring so far this season. Anze Kopitar has looked as dangerous as ever, however, leading the team in all major offensive categories (8-13-21).
The Anaheim Ducks' offensive struggles can for the most part be pinned on the shoulders of a top line that is failing to produce any significant offense. While Corey Perry leads the team in goals, Captain Ryan Getzlaf has struggled significantly this year, posting only nine points and a -4 rating while winning only 47 percent of his faceoffs. Bobby Ryan hasn't fared much better either, also with only nine points to his name while holding a +2.
Los Angeles is yet to see any return on their blockbuster trade to bring in Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers at last year's trade deadline. Penner has only two points in 14 games and a whopping 25 penalty minutes to go with a -2 rating, and now finds himself on injured reserve.
Brad Richardson has also gone stone cold for Los Angeles, boasting only one point and a -1 rating so far in 16 games this season.
Anaheim will likely be starting Jonas Hiller who returned to action this season after a rough bout with Vertigo symptoms. He clearly isn't the same goalie as the one who earned his first All-Star game berth last season. Hiller's 5-7-3 record is one of the worst in the league for a No. 1 goaltender, and his .899 save percentage and 3.10 GAA are something the team really hope improves and fast.
Jonathan Quick, on the other hand, has been lights-out solid this season for Los Angeles. His 7-4-3 record is only complimented by a dazzling .933 save percentage and 1.96 GAA. Quick is still yet to be pulled from a game this season.
However, with the two teams playing back-to-back matchups (the second of which being a meeting in Anaheim on Thursday), don't be too shocked if we see Jonathan Bernier take the net for one of the games as well. His numbers aren't nearly as glowing, however, with a 1-2-0 record, .873 save percentage and 3.37 GAA.
Anaheim will be without the services of their defensive stalwart (and former King) Lubomir Visnovsky who remains out for at least another three weeks with a broken finger in his hand. They will also be without the services of their feared heavyweight enforcer (and also former King) George Parros, who continues to recover from being struck in the eye with a puck in practice. And lest we forget Jason Blake who continues to nurse a lacerated wrist that will have him sidelined about another two months.
Los Angeles will also be without the services of a defenseman: Alec Martinez was placed on Injured Reserve on November 14 due to an "upper body injury" sustained in their game against Minnesota. He joins a list already populated by Dustin Penner (upper body injury) and Scott Parse (lower body injury).
The rivalry between these teams is intensified perhaps even more by how close it has been. Anaheim actually leads the all-time series by (get this...) one win. That's right. One.
Anaheim has 46 wins, Los Angeles 45. Before the lockout and adoption of the shootout, the two teams tied 11 times.
On a more recent note, the Anaheim Ducks won last year's Freeway Faceoff series for the first time since the series was first given its name, winning four games to the Kings' two.
Anaheim has also won each of the last three meetings between these two teams, two of those coming on the road in Staples Center.
The only thing I can promise you'll see tonight is a battle with zero love-loss and a whole lot of aggression.
Both these teams are desperate to break out of their slumping form and that could lead to a game filled with hard nosed, "Old Time" hockey action.
However, I can't help but shake the fact that the Kings look like they are going to have a definite edge once the puck drops tonight, and with the Staples Center crowd likely as loud as ever (believe me when I say it can easily be one of the most hostile buildings in the league), you can bet L.A. will probably be loving every second of it.
However, if you've never seen a Southern California battle before, I highly advise you tune in on GameCenter, Center Ice or whatever package you have.
This will definitely be a game you don't want to miss.
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