Los Angeles Hockey: Curtis McElhinney

Ducks: Top line still doing damage

March, 27, 2011
Ducks (42-28-5, 89 points) vs. Colorado Avalanche (28-38-8, 64) at Honda Center, 7:05 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Three's a charm -- The top line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan teamed up for both goals Saturday night in a 2-1 victory in Chicago. The trio have been carrying the team the last 13 games, combining for 19 goals and 34 assists while helping the Ducks go 10-3-0 during that span. Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan have combined for 18 goals and 31 assists in 54 career games against the Avalanche.

2. Red-hot Duck -- Of course, no NHL player is hotter than Perry, who scored both goals against the Avs and has four goals in the last two games and eight in the last five. His last eight goals have come on just 25 shots, a blistering shooting percentage of 32%. Perry leads the league with 20 third-period goals. The last Anaheim player to lead the league in goals was Teemu Selanne with 47 in 1997-98.

3. Familiar foe -- In a bit of a scheduling quirk, the Ducks will be playing Colorado for the fourth time in 51 days. The first three meetings came while No. 1 goalkeeper Jonas Hiller was sidelined with vertigo-like symptoms. Curtis McElhinney shut out the Avs, 3-0, on Feb 5 but was traded to Tampa Bay three weeks later for Dan Ellis, who won the last two meetings against Colorado.

4. Cam's a winner -- Ducks rookie defenseman Cam Fowler scored the overtime winner Wednesday in Dallas, his eighth goal of the season. When Fowler scores that’s usually a good sign for Anaheim, which is 6-1-1 in games in games that he has hit the net. Folwer is also getting a better hand at the defensive end. He’s a minus-one in the last eight games, putting him at minus-25 for the season.

5. Avs injury report -- Colorado has been devastated by injuries this season and little has changed heading into the Anaheim game. Defenseman Ryan Wilson suffered a knee injury and center Mark Olver a head injury in a 4-3 loss Thursday against Toronto and didn’t play Saturday in a 4-1 loss against the Kings. Defenseman Matt Hunwick also missed the Kings game with back injury and Adam Foote is expected to miss the Anaheim game with a leg injury.

Ducks: Pieces coming together?

March, 10, 2011

ANAHEIM–The Ducks squeezed in a short practice Thursday morning, spending their last bits of time shooting at the crossbar in a last-man-standing competition.

After second-line center Saku Koivu absorbed some barbs for being the only player (goalies included) who didn't strike metal, the team hustled off to LAX for a flight to Denver in preparation for Friday night’s game against the Avalanche.

The coaches and players appeared in good spirits after defeating the visiting New York Rangers, 5-2, the night before at Honda Center, keeping them within two points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Ducks are certainly in a better position than they were a year ago with 15 games remaining. They were riding a five-game losing streak coming out of the 2-week Olympic break that put them nine points back of the final playoff berth. Heading into the break, they were just three points out.

With a number of Ducks playing all the way through to the gold-medal game, the experience seemed to take a lot out of the players, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

"Our Olympians were participating in a highly emotional and media frenzy environment," he said. "When you come back to your normal job, it was hard for us to develop that energy again."

That’s not to say the Ducks aren’t facing some distinct challenges during this stretch run.

Namely, All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller remains out indefinitely with vertigo-like symptoms that have affected his timing. Hiller has missed the last 10 games and has not reported any progress.

The good news is Dan Ellis had another strong game in his place Wednesday night, stopping 30 shots in the victory against New York for his fourth win in the last five starts.

After Hiller went on injured reserve and back-up goalie Curtis McElhinney gave up 23 goals over five games, the Ducks sent McElhinney to Tampa Bay for Ellis on Feb. 24. He lost his first start against Minnesota in overtime, but Carlyle said Ellis has since provided "a shot in the arm."

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Kings: A Wild return on tap at Staples Center

February, 24, 2011
Kings (33-23-4, 70 points) vs. Minnesota Wild (32-22-6, 70) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Home sweet home – The Kings probably won’t need to turn on the GPS to find their way to Staples Center tonight, but they might feel a little like the visitor when they walk into the arena. Thanks to the Grammy Awards and the NBA All-Star Game, the Kings haven’t played a home game since Jan. 26, a 3-2 shootout victory against San Jose. A lot has happened between then and now, most importantly they reeled off a 6-1-3 record in the ensuing road games and moved from 11th to sixth in the Western Conference standings.

2. Sitting pat? – While other teams around the league continue to trade players like they're at a baseball card convention, the Kings seem content to forge ahead with virtually the same roster. By comparison, a night after allowing three goals against on 18 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Kings, Anaheim goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney was promptly traded this morning to Tampa Bay for goalie Dan Ellis. If you’re keeping track, both goalies who practiced with the Ducks on Tuesday were gone by Thursday. The Kings have until Monday to get that high-scoring forward they so desperately need.

3. Little separation – No team has played the Kings as closely this season as the Wild. All three previous meetings were tied at the end of regulation, with the Kings winning the first in a shootout, Minnesota winning the second in overtime and the third in a shootout. In another sign of just how even these teams are, both teams enter this game with the same number of points. Nashville and Calgary are also sitting on 70 points to round out the top eight.

4. Defensive competition --Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell scored his second goal of the season Wednesday night against the Ducks and it proved to be a huge one, breaking a 2-2 tie seven minutes into the third period and holding up to be the winner. Mitchell has now joined in the unofficial competition among the other two veteran blue-liners, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene, to see who could score the most goals this season. Scuderi has two goals and Greene has one. All three scored on the recent 10-game trip.

5. Breaking the 20 --On the flipside, Ryan Smyth scored his 20thgoal of the season against Anaheim, putting him in a three-way tie for the team lead with Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. It’s the 11thseason that Smyth has scored at least 20 goals. Now, if Anze Kopitar (18 goals) and Jarret Stoll (16) can get to 20, it would mark the first time the Kings had five 20-goal scorers in the same season since 1993-94. Luc Robitaille (44), Wayne Gretzky (38), Jari Kurri (31), Mike Donnelly (21) and Rob Blake (20) were the team leaders that season.

Kings/Ducks: Much at stake in freeway matchup

February, 23, 2011
Kings (32-23-4, 68 points) vs. Ducks (32-24-4, 68) at Honda Center, 7 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Big game hunting – There hasn’t been a bigger game between the Kings and Ducks in a while. Both have the same number of points heading in, but the Kings are eighth in the Western Conference standings and the Ducks are ninth. The winner will be in the top eight by the end of the night, the loser won’t. In the grand scheme of Southern California sports, it would be neat if both teams made the playoffs for the first time ever, but it’s looking more like one will advance at the expense of the other. After tonight, they still play three more times against each other, including back-to-backs to end the season.

2. Strength vs. strength – Depending on how you look at it, the key match up in this game is either the Ducks’ high-flying offense against the Kings smothering defense, or the Ducks’ floundering defense against the Kings’ impotent offense. As has been well publicized, Anaheim had allowed 21 goals in the last three games, which just happens to coincide with the departure of All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller to dizzy spells. The club called up Ray Emery on Wednesday as a safety net for the struggling Curtis McElhinney, though Emery hasn’t played in the NHL since last season. The Kings, meanwhile, are coming off a 3-0 loss at the New York Islanders, who have allowed more goals than any team in the Eastern Conference.

3. Martinez gets a seat – Kings coach Terry Murray made another curious move with one of his rookies, delegating defenseman Alec Martinez as a healthy scratch for tonight’s game in place of Davis Drewiske, who hasn’t played since Jan. 6. It was just a few weeks ago that Murray was praising Martinez, even after he made poorly-timed turnovers in his own zone that led to tie-breaking, third-period goals. Some have speculated that the Kings are readying Martinez for a trade heading into Monday’s deadline. Earlier this week, rookie center Andrei Loktionov was returned to the AHL, even though the Kings are struggling to score goals and that’s his speciality.

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Ducks: Obstacles are aplenty, just not in goal

February, 22, 2011
ANAHEIM--With the return of All-Star goalkeeper Jonas Hiller still uncertain, a see-through defense that has allowed 21 goals in the last three games and now a gimpy Saku Koivu up front, the Ducks are carrying negative momentum heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Kings at Honda Center.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle tried to nudge the team in the right direction the last two days, holding a two-hour practice Monday and a 90-minute back-to-basics session Tuesday.

"With what’s transpired with our group in the last three games, there’s lots of areas in which we can improve," Carlyle said. "The first one is our work ethic."

The Ducks can’t afford to hit the pause button now. They begin Tuesday in 10th-place in the Western Conference, but with the same point total as seventh-place Minnesota. The ninth-place Kings are also one of five teams sitting on 68 points.

The Ducks have one thing going for them, however. They play the next seven games at home, where they are 17-9-1 this season.

"This late in the season you don’t get too many home stretches like this," said the team’s leading scorer, Corey Perry. "The points are going to be critical."

It’s still uncertain when Hiller will return. He missed the first four games following his All-Star appearance with lightheadedness, returned Feb. 13 to shut out Edmonton on 12 shots, then complained of similar dizzy spells following practice two days later and was placed on injured reserve. That’s when the defense went south.

The Washington Capitals had combined for three goals in the previous three games when they arrived in Anaheim on Wednesday and outscored the Ducks, 7-6. Two days later, they played in Minnesota and lost, 5-1, the only victory in the last four games for the Wild, who scored one goal in each of the losses.

Those were defensive gems compared to the game Saturday in St. Louis, when the Ducks lost, 9-3. How porous was the defense? The unit allowed two goals in seven seconds during the opening period.

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