Los Angeles Hockey: Luca Sbisa

Kings/Ducks: Plenty at stake in this Freeway Faceoff

March, 16, 2012

Kings (33-25 -12, 78 points) vs. Ducks (30-30-11, 71 points) at Honda Center, 7 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. New identity – After a strong push that began in early January and carried into March, it looks like the Ducks have finally run out time to climb back from their dismal start. It's not mathematically official, but all signs indicate they've taken on the role of spoiler. Anaheim fans would like nothing more than to see their team put a dent in the Kings’ playoff hopes, and you can bet they'll loudly support such an endeavor. Just two days ago, the Kings had the same number of points as eighth-place San Jose. As they sat idle, other contenders added to their total, dropping the Kings three points back of the final playoff spot with 12 games to play.

2. Howdy Doughty – Following his worst four-game stretch of the season, and quite possibly his career, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty played his best game Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory against the Red Wings, getting a goal, an assist and finishing with a season-high plus-3 rating. He was a combined minus-6 in the previous four games. Of all the teams in the league, Doughty owns the best plus-minus rating against the Ducks (plus-10), yet they’re also the only Western Conference team he has not scored against during his four-year career.

3. Mr. Big Shot – Kings center Jeff Carter has been good as advertised since coming over from the Blue Jackets last month in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson. After failing to register a point in his first three games with the Kings, he has five goals and two assists in the last six. Carter’s presence has been especially noticeable on the power play, where the Kings have scored on six of 20 man-advantage situations for a lofty 30 percent success rate. Carter has two of those power-play goals. He also started his recent hot streak against the Ducks, scoring two goals in a 4-2 victory on March 3.

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Ducks: Jonas Hiller doesn't hide his anger

December, 4, 2011

ANAHEIM -- Even a mask probably wouldn’t have hid the frustration overflowing inside Jonas Hiller.

The Anaheim goalkeeper was at the mercy of another spotty effort by his defense Sunday night, and he held little back after the Ducks lost for the 18th time in the last 21 games, 5-3, against the visiting Minnesota Wild at Honda Center.

“You can see why we’re not winning,” said Hiller, the only Western Conference goalie to make an All-Star team last season. “Guys always seem to get inside, walk through two guys and suddenly get a 2-on-1 out of nothing. … Even though we have guys back [on defense], it seems like we’re just too cute. I don’t know if we think we’re the best team out there.”

Hiller was speaking in generalities but was also disturbed with the ease in which the Wild scored the winning goal with 5 minutes remaining. Cal Clutterbuck brought the puck down the right wall with Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman on his hip. He found enough room to get off a centering pass toward Nick Johnson, who was crashing the crease with Luca Sbisa in pursuit. Johnson used his momentum to redirect the puck off a skate and past Hiller for a 4-3 lead.

"I should have stayed inside of him, kept him behind me and not let him go to the net like that," said the 21-year-old Sbisa. "It wasn’t the best play on my side, but I have to learn from that and it won’t happen again."

Especially frustrating, the Wild don't exactly perform well in high-scoring games. They came in 26th in the league in scoring and produced five goals in just one other game this season.

But this was against the Ducks, who have allowed at least four goals in seven of the last eight, all losses. The organization took the drastic step of firing coach Randy Carlyle after a rare victory last week and bringing in Bruce Boudreau, who's quickly learning that the Ducks won’t be an easy fix.

“We have to play 60 minutes,” he said. “We played about 12 good minutes in the first period, then we stopped playing. The second period we just stood around and watched and felt a little bit sorry for ourselves.”

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Ducks 2, New York Rangers 1 (SO)

October, 8, 2011
Ducks 2, New York Rangers 1 (SO)

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: Bobby Ryan scored the only goal of the shootout, putting an off-speed shot high into the corner of the net against goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist, lifting the Ducks to their first victory of the season Saturday night at Ericcson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.

THE STAT: Ducks goalkeeper Jonas Hiller faced only 15 shots against the Rangers, stopping 14. He also saved two attempts in the shootout.

TURNING POINT: The Ducks took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period with some strong forechecking by their third line. Andrew Gordon dumped the puck into the New York zone and fellow rookie Devante Smith-Pelly jarred it loose along the boards. Gordon collected the loose puck and passed in front of the net, where Andrew Cogliano was in position to poke it past the goal line.

HOT: Luca Sbisa also had a solid all-around game for the defense, delivering four hits, blocking two shots and accounting for a takeaway. Fellow defenseman Cam Fowler played a team-high 28 minutes 38 seconds and blocked six shots.

NOT: Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf continue to be in training camp mode. The high-scoring forwards are still looking for their first points of the season. They went scoreless against the Rangers, yet combined for two trips to the penalty box. Good thing the youngsters have been stepping up for the Ducks

GOOD MOVE: Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has been showing a lot of confidence in his young players. Smith-Pelly, Gordon and Guenin each played double digits in shifts against the Rangers and all three have a point through the first two games, unlike the top line of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan.

BAD MOVE: Ducks defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky had the puck on his stick in his defensive zone but couldn’t clear it. Instead, it went to Ryan McDonagh at the blue line who found Brad Richards down low. Richards skated in and beat Hiller with a nifty shot high in the net with 2:15 remaining in regulation.

NOTABLE: The Ducks have allowed just 15 shots on goal in the last four periods.

UP NEXT: Friday vs. the San Jose Sharks at Honda Center, 7 p.m.

Ducks: Season Preview (Act III)

October, 3, 2011
Maxime MacenauerJeff Gross/Getty ImagesMaxime Macenauer continues to impress the Ducks and could have a major impact this season.
Each day heading into their season openers Friday in Europe, ESPNLosAngeles plans to take a closer look at the Ducks and Kings. What are their strengths, their weaknesses? Which rookie will shine, and which is destined to be returned to the American Hockey League for more seasoning? We put the Ducks back under the microscope today and attempt to answer a few key questions regarding their least experienced players.

The rookie who will have the biggest impact? Though he’s not a prototypical fourth-line center, Maxime Macenauer knew coming into training camp where to find his best shot at making the team. He lasted until the final cuts a year ago, and the 22-year-old from Laval, Canada, used that knowledge to better his chances this time around. He passed every test. In the first four exhibition games that he appeared this fall, the Ducks went 3-1 and Macenauer was a plus-three with an assist. Just as important, the 2008 third-round draft pick went 31-19 on faceoffs, a valuable asset on any line. There’s no guarantee how long Macenauer will stick around with the Ducks this time, but he has definitely displayed the required skills to make his mark this season and for many to come.

The player who will reach double digits in assists for first time in his career? In his first extended stay in the NHL last season, defenseman Luca Sbisa had two goals and nine assists in 68 games. The Italian-born 21-year-old also appeared in all six playoff games against the Nashville Predators. Sbisa combines a physical style of play with solid puck-moving skills and has shown he can produce offense in the past, totaling six goals and 27 assists in 62 games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL in 2007-08. At the end of that season he was drafted 19thoverall by the Philadelphia Flyers, who a year later included him in a package for Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger. In March, the Ducks showed their commitment to Sbisa, signing him to a four-year, $8.7 million deal. Look for Sbisa to reward the Ducks with solid play on both ends of the ice.

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Ducks: Jason Blake's goal ties score, 1-1

April, 22, 2011
Western Conference quarterfinal

Game 5 (series tied, 2-2)

After the 2nd period:

Ducks 1, Nashville Predators 1

The good: The Ducks began pecking away at Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne in the second half of the period and finally got one by him on a power play with 6:21 left. Brandon McMillan, who set up the winning goal in Game 4, started things off by making a nice one-on-one move around Shane O’Brien and drawing a tripping penalty. The Ducks didn’t have much luck on the power play until Luca Sbisa sent a blast at Rinne from the point. Rinne made the stop but couldn’t control rebound and Ducks forward Jason Blake kept swatting away at it until it went through the legs of Rinne. Just as the puck was getting close to the goal line, Blake made one more stab through the legs of Rinne and pushed it by to tie the score, 1-1.

The bad: The Ducks spent a lot of energy killing back-to-back penalties early in the period. George Parros went to the box for high sticking and Nashville kept the puck in its offensive zone for the first 75 seconds. Patric Hornqvist missed a golden opportunity to give the Predators a 2-0 lead during the man advantage, missing the open side of the net on a perfect cross-pass from Sergei Kostitsyn. In between penalties, Corey Perry missed his own glorious scoring opportunity, but Rinne gloved his shot from the doorstep. With about 1:20 left in the period, he stopped a point-blank shot from Bobby Ryan, who took a pass from Perry from behind the net.

The in between: The Ducks had just eight shots on goal at the midway point of the period, compared to 16 for Nashville. But the Predators have just an 18-17 advantage heading into the third.

Ducks: Predators score first for 1-0 lead

April, 22, 2011
Western Conference quarterfinal

Game 5 (Series tied, 2-2)

After the 1st period:

Nashville Predators 1, Ducks 0

The good: Ducks goalkeeper Ray Emery kept the score close in the opening period, stopping nine-of-10 shots, including a couple real good looks by the Predators. The team that has scored the first goal in the previous four games of the series has also scored the second, so Emery has avoided that trend, for now. The Ducks out-hit the Predators, 9-1, in the opening seven minutes, so they definitely set the tone. With just one power play in the opening period, the referees appear to be letting them play, which should favor the Ducks as the game continues.

The bad: The team that has scored first has also won every game of the series. The Predators did the honors in the opening period as a Ducks defenseman Andreas Lilja turned the puck over in the offensive zone, leading to a 2-on-1 going the other way. Jordin Tootoo carried the puck with teammate Kevin Klein to his right and Luca Sbisa defending. Tootoo faked a pass to Klein, causing Sbisa to go to the ice in an attempt to break it up, but Tootoo held the puck an instant longer and then slid it to Klein who was just outside the crease by then. Klein got enough of the rubber to redirect it into the net 8 minutes into the game. The Ducks looked like they’d go on the power in the opening two minutes when Teemu Selanne appeared to get tripped from behind by Nashville defenseman Jonathon Blum as he cut into the offensive zone a stride ahead of the defense, but it went as a no call. When the Ducks did go on the power play with about six minutes left, they did absolutely nothing with it. They were out-shot in the period, 10-6.

The in between: Ducks fourth-line enforcer George Parros might have had the best scoring chance of the period. With about 2 minutes left, he got on a shift with top-line center Ryan Getzlaf, who stole the puck in the offensive zone and flicked a backhand off the chest of Pekka Rinne. Parros was right there for the rebound but whiffed. The crowd would have blown the roof off Honda Center if Parros puts that one away.

Ducks: Jonas Hiller doesn't last long in his return

March, 24, 2011
Nashville Predators 5, Ducks 4

Eight keys to game:

THE FACTS: Ducks goalkeeper Jonas Hiller didn’t make it through the opening 12 minutes in his first game back after missing 19 of the last 20 because of vertigo-like symptoms. Hiller gave up three goals in nine shots against the Predators, and the Ducks couldn’t make up the difference in the loss at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

THE STAT: The Ducks could have jumped three spots in the Western Conference standings with a victory and a loss by the Kings against San Jose later tonight. Instead they’ll remain in eighth, one point ahead of ninth-place Dallas. Nashville, meanwhile, leapfrogged the Kings and Chicago with its fifth consecutive victory and now sits in fifth place.

TURNING POINT: Hiller made four saves in the first two minutes but was bitten on the fifth shot on goal by the Predators, a wrist shot from five feet by Sergei Kostitsyn at the 2:04 mark. About nine minutes later, the Predators scored two goals 19 seconds apart. Hiller was done for the night and the Ducks were in big-time catch-up mode.

HOT: Take your pick between Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne. Perry scored two more goals to give him 42 on the season and move to within one of Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay for the league lead. Perry also had an assist to give him 13 points in the last eight games. Selanne scored the other two goals, giving him four in the last three games. Unfortunately, the Ducks drew within a goal with just 27 seconds left, not enough time for Selanne to score the tying goal late in regulation for the third consecutive game.

NOT: Anaheim rookie defenseman Luca Sbisa was a season-high minus-four for the game with a team-high three giveaways.

GOOD MOVE: To get an extra attacker on the ice, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle pulled Dan Ellis from goal with just under three minutes remaining and the Ducks trailing by two. He got the goal he wanted, just too little too late.

BAD MOVE: What was Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter thinking as he kicked the puck out of the air in the final minute? He ended up booting it over the shoulder of his goalie, Pekka Rinne, cutting the deficit to one. If Rinne doesn’t win the Vezina Trophy for top goalkeeper honors this season, Suter won’t be getting a Christmas card. You have to also question whether Hiller was ready for this game.

NOTABLE: Both of Selanne’s goals came on the power play, giving the Ducks five extra-man goals in the last three games and Selanne has three of them.

UP NEXT: Saturday at Chicago, 5:30 p.m. PT

Kings/Ducks: Goal by Simmonds disallowed

March, 19, 2011
After the 2nd period

Ducks 1, Kings 0

The good: Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is keeping his team in the game. He had just eight saves in the second period but a few were the stand-on-your-head variety. Other than that, not a lot of positives for Los Angeles the last 20 minutes. At least the Kings will have another 36 seconds of power-play time when the third period resumes, but they haven't exactly taken advantage of the first 11:24. The Kings have wiped out three Anaheim power plays, running their streak of successful kills to 29.

The bad: The Kings had a goal taken away on a bad call by the referees. Kings left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky drove to the net on a 90-degree angle and tried to cut in front of the goal but was shoved into goaltender Ray Emery by defenseman Luca Sbisa. Just as Ponikarovsky and Emery tumbled to the ice, Wayne Simmonds tapped the unsecured puck into the open net. The referees immediately waved off the goal, however, saying Ponikarovsky interfered with Emery, even though it was clear Sbisa was the one who caused the contact. Kings fans let out another round of boos, but this time it was in support of their team. The Kings are 0-for-5 on the power play thus far. If they don’t come back to earn points out of this game, the power-play unit will be the main culprit. That and the really crummy ice conditions that are likely the result of the Clippers game played on the same floor earlier today.

The in between: Emery has 21 saves and seems to be getting sharper with every stop. He has received some fortunate bounces, however. The Kings directed four shots at him on their first power play of the period but none on the second. Not only that, but Emery showed Kings right wing Justin Williams a lack of respect with nice shove in the back, causing Williams to turn and stare him down nose to nose. Now, if Williams can just direct some of that anger at the net, the Kings might get their first goal in six periods.

Ducks trying to establish uniformity in their play

November, 24, 2010
The Ducks will don their third different jersey in franchise history Friday afternoon against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. Seems like a good time for a change, considering they’ve played like two different teams through the first quarter of the season.

Are the Ducks the same group that won six consecutive games earlier this month? Or the team that’s currently riding a five-game losing streak?

The disparities aren’t difficult to identify.

"There’s another level that we’ve been playing to," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of the team’s recent slide. "It’s very simple, we just have to play harder."

Carlyle pointed out some flaws that have arisen during the current losing streak, such as players allowing themselves to get boxed out rather easily in front of the opponent’s net, or not fighting hard enough for the puck during one-on-one battles. Carlyle said he planned to show video to his players after practice Wednesday to point out their deficiencies.

"Our urgency needs to go up," he said. "Those are areas that are going to be improved upon."

The players recognize that they’ve lost some of their win-at-all-cost attitude.

"We need that swagger back," said forward Corey Perry, the team’s leading scorer with 23 points. "One good period, one good game, one good shift, it can all turn the momentum...we just need that spark."

After losing four of their first five games and then trading wins and losses the remainder of October, the Ducks got the push they needed in a 3-2 overtime victory against visiting Tampa Bay on Nov. 3. That set off a string of six straight victories, one shy of a franchise record.

"We played some good hockey to get us back in a good situation," said Ryan Getzlaf, third on the team with 21 points but goal-less in the last five games.

The Ducks (10-10-3) went on the road following a 4-2 victory against Dallas on Nov. 13, then saw their winning streak halted two days later against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, who scored the winning goal with 28 seconds remaining in overtime.

They’ve since lost at Dallas and Minnesota, and at home against Columbus and Edmonton, despite out-shooting the visitors, 90-54.

"We’ve been putting up a lot of shots but we’re not scoring any goals," Perry said. "We’ve got to find a way to score goals."

Three years after winning the Stanley Cup, the Ducks seem caught between rebuilding and contending. They have a core group of young players to build around. Getzlaf and Perry, the team’s leading scorers the last three seasons, are each just 25 years old, and Bobby Ryan, third among forwards in scoring the last two seasons, is 23.

Cam Fowlermade the team this season as an 18-year-old defenseman and is already drawing comparisons to a young Scott Niedermayer, who anchored the Ducks’ blue line for 4 seasons before retiring this summer.

However, the Ducks also have seven players age 34 or older. Teemu Selanne re-signed a one-year deal this summer, shortly after turning 40. He hasn't played a full season since 2006-07 and is currently sidelined with a groin injury.

Trying to rebuild while retaining veterans for another playoff run can be a difficult tightrope to walk.

"With Scottie [Niedermayer] gone, it was a big turnover for our back end," Getzlaf said. "Filling those shoes, you’re not going to do it with one guy, so we’re in between a little bit, but we’re still pushing, we’re still contending."

The good news is more help is on the way.

Joffrey Lupul, who scored 53 points as a member of the Ducks in 2005-06, is close to returning from back surgery that sidelined him since last December. Lupul was traded away for defenseman Chris Pronger in July 2006, then traded back to the Ducks in June 2009 for Pronger, defenseman Luca Sbisa and two first-round draft picks.

"I’m just going to keep taking it day by day, but had no real setbacks," he said. "I feel good, I feel strong, I’m definitely confident that I can jump back in whenever we decide that date is."

Kyle Chipchura, a former first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, is expected to return to his fourth-line centering duties Friday. Chipchura has been sidelined since Oct. 30 with concussion symptoms.

A slight break in the schedule might also do Anaheim some good. For the first time this season, the Ducks are getting four days off between games. Carlyle didn’t have the team practice on Monday and Tuesday "just to kind of get away from this rink a little bit and kind of refreshen everybody."

Now, it’s just a matter of which team will show up against the Blackhawks.