LOS ANGELES – If they had been playing chess, you would say the Ducks sacrificed their queen, a strategy that was tough to rationalize in the moment.
Fortunately they were playing hockey, and the sight of Corey Perry fighting the Kings’ Wayne Simmonds with his team trailing 4-1 in the third period contained more action than a chess match. But the result was the same: The Ducks’ leading scorer was sent off the ice, the game all but over with more than 11 minutes left on the clock.
Simmonds had skated between teammate Michal Handzus and the Ducks’ Matt Beleskey.
“Perry came by and slashed me and asked me to go,” he said. “That was it. I was happy to oblige. He’s one of their better players. Any time you can get him off the ice for five minutes, it’s good.”
It was one of many lessons the Kings imparted in their 4-1 win over the Ducks in front of an announced sellout crowd of 18,313 at Staples Center.
The lesson had little to do with the first period, a familiar problem for the Ducks and one that seemed inevitable after their four-day layoff without a game or practice.
Instead, the Kings waited until the second period to outwork the Ducks and got goals from Simmonds, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown to completely deflate their rivals.
Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, getting his second start in December, needed only 18 saves for a relatively easy win. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller didn’t even make it out of the
fateful second period and headed for the bench after Brown’s power-play goal at 17:57 provided the final score.
Except for the goal by Williams, who picked the puck from Joffrey Lupul in the Ducks’ zone and smoked a wrist shot past Hiller, all of the Kings goals were the result of rebounds that angled perfectly to purple sticks.
Their ability to anticipate rebounds wasn’t an accident.
“A lot of it is being talked about in the group in our pregame meetings and between periods,” Kings coach Terry Murray said.
Beleskey, who returned from the American Hockey League to play his first NHL game since Dec. 7, scored the only goal for the Ducks (18-17-4). After Simmonds scored a backdoor goal 15 seconds into the second period, Beleskey re-directed a Toni Lydman shot 32 seconds later to tie the game at 1-1.
Kopitar re-directed a Marco Sturm shot at 9:10 to put the Kings ahead 2-1 and give Sturm his first point of the season. Sturm played 10:03, all at even strength, in his third game since joining the Kings (21-12-1).
“I don’t think he’s too comfortable yet, but he’s getting into the groove,” Kopitar said of Sturm. “It’s only been the first game since we’ve played together and Terry’s trying to get him into the game situations.”
The goals by Williams and Brown – directly off a rebound in the slot – resulted in Hiller being pulled from a start for the third time this season.
Backup Curtis McElhinney stopped all seven shots he faced in relief.
Even though the move resulted in fewer quality rebounds for the Kings, it did little to motivate the Ducks to victory. Bernier faced only three shots the rest of the game.
“You expect after four days off that they will be rusty in some areas,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said, “but there was one area we were rusty in and that was competing.”
The Ducks tried to revert to fighting to pull themselves back, but Perry’s scrap only helped the Kings. Kyle Clifford was game to fight George Parros in the second period with Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth getting a night off.
It was a strong statement for the Kings, who were shut out by Hiller in a 2-0 loss to the Ducks on Nov. 29, the first of six rivalry games this season. That game caught the Kings at the end of a miserable November in which they lost seven of eight.
“After our little slide we had a little meeting. We talked about it,” Simmonds said. “We can’t do things like that.
“If we have another one of those, we’re out of the playoffs.”
The Ducks, who have lost four of five, could take the lesson to heart.