ANAHEIM, Calif. – Although it’s way too early for the Ducks to get excited about passing their Southern California rivals in the standings, Anaheim’s leap over Los Angeles on Monday night is an apt illustration of what’s happening at both exits in the Freeway Faceoff.
Jonas Hiller made 27 saves in his seventh career shutout, rookie defenceman Cam Fowler scored his first power-play goal and the Ducks beat the slumping Kings 2-0 in the clubs’ first meeting of the season.
Just a month ago, Los Angeles seemed certain to solidify its spot this season as the Southland’s dominant team after making the playoffs last spring while Anaheim missed. Instead, the Kings have lost seven of eight while Anaheim clawed its way back to respectability, even moving a point in front of Los Angeles with this win.
“We don’t think much about where they are, because we’re only worried about where we’re going,” Hiller said. “A shutout is a nice thing, but we wanted to show we can play better defensively, and we definitely played well.”
Jason Blake scored with 2:24 left and Teemu Selanne had two assists for the Ducks, who have won two straight after a six-game skid.
Anaheim’s entirely rebuilt defence has often struggled in front of its Swiss goalie this season, but the Ducks’ defencemen are blocking more shots and playing with more familiarity lately. Hiller made his most breathtaking save with 3:19 to play, cleanly gloving Anze Kopitar’s point-blank one-timer in the slot.
“Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t have to make that many saves, but that’s part of the game,” Hiller said. “You can’t just change your whole defensive lineup and expect the team to play well from the first game, but I see progress. I see the young guys coming along, and it’s a process every night to get better.”
The Ducks also had struggled to score before ending their skid with a six-goal outburst against Phoenix last weekend. Selanne’s Masterton Line alongside Blake and Saku Koivu—all three have won the NHL’s Masterton Trophy—is complementing top-line stars Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.
“We had a couple of mistakes, but Jonas was like a wall out there,” Selanne said. “Everything is about confidence, and that means so much right now.”
Selanne returned from a three-game absence with an injured groin, and defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky played through back spasms. Both assisted on Fowler’s goal midway through the second period, breaking a scoreless tie.
The Kings have plummeted since a 12-3-0 start put them on top of the overall NHL standings earlier in the season. Los Angeles hasn’t won in regulation since giving up six goals in a loss to longtime Pacific Division ruler San Jose on Nov. 15.
“We’re too good of a team not to win games,” said Jonathan Quick, who stopped 17 shots. “We’re going to start winning soon, and I think we’ll be a better team for having gone through this. Our confidence level, and what we think we are as a team, hasn’t changed one bit. We still know we’re a great team.”
Although coach Terry Murray has shuffled lines, Los Angeles has just four goals in its last four games. Even worse, mistakes by Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the Kings’ cornerstone young defencemen, led directly to the Anaheim goals.
“They need to be better,” Murray said. “The only way you get out of anything is with your best players taking charge, and we need the two kids on the back end—Doughty and Jack—to be A-plus every night, and certainly right now.”
Anaheim finally connected when Doughty took a second tripping penalty just 8 seconds after getting out of the box, giving a second straight power play to the Ducks. After Selanne won the ensuing faceoff, the 18-year-old Fowler teed up a pass from Visnovsky for the second goal of his promising debut season.
After Johnson’s failed pinch resulted in a 2-on-1 for Blake and Selanne, Blake punctuated a strong game by scoring his second goal in two games.
“I think it was probably the best 60 minutes we’ve played through this so-called slump we’re going through,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “We had a lot of chances, but they had a good goalie. That’s how it goes sometimes when you’re in a slump like this.”
NOTES: Anaheim shut out the Kings for the first time since Nov. 16, 2008. … Fowler has a four-game points streak, but hadn’t found the net in 13 games since scoring his first NHL goal Oct. 17. … Before the game, the Kings recalled tough RW John Zeiler for his season debut. He spent parts of three season with the Kings before spending all of last season with Los Angeles’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, where he has five points and 46 penalty minutes this season.