ANAHEIM, Calif. — Two days before Anaheim visits the Los Angeles Kings for their high-profile showcase under the stars, the Ducks showed they’re willing to get just as gritty as their rivals to grind out a win.
Patrick Maroon scored the tiebreaking goal on a wraparound late in the second period, and the Ducks beat the Kings 2-1 on Thursday night in the prelude to the clubs’ landmark outdoor game this weekend.
Frederik Andersen made 30 saves and Dustin Penner scored a power-play goal in the 20th victory in 23 games for the NHL-leading Ducks, who dialed down their high-octane offensive game and matched the Kings’ usual grit in a hard-hitting, bad-tempered meeting.
Offence was scarce when the Southern California clubs warmed up for their visit to Dodger Stadium on Saturday, and the high-scoring Ducks didn’t mind at all.
"We can play any style," Ducks defenceman Ben Lovejoy said. "We can play with speed teams because we have that speed and skill, and we can match up with the big, physical teams like L.A. I don’t think we beat them at their own game. I think we imposed the kind of game we wanted in the second and third."
After a scoreless third period, Anaheim improved to 21-1-2 at Honda Center two days after its first home regulation loss. The Ducks are rolling into the first warm-weather outdoor game in NHL history with a five-point lead over Chicago in the overall standings and a 17-point margin over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division.
A few minor skirmishes in the third period suggested tempers will run high in the rematch — exactly the NHL’s intention in scheduling back-to-back meetings. The Kings and Ducks will hold separate workouts Friday on the new rink in the middle of the historic baseball park.
"There’s nothing we see out of them that we don’t already know," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "They’re a good, strong team that plays physical hockey … but we can play that, too."
Anze Kopitar scored early in the first period and Jonathan Quick stopped 19 shots for the Kings, who have lost four straight. Los Angeles hasn’t won since officials in Detroit blew the call on an obviously illegal tying goal by Niklas Kronwall in an eventual shootout loss to the Red Wings last Saturday.
"I think everybody in this room knows we can and we’ve got to play better," Kopitar said. "So the pressure is a little bit bigger, for sure, but we’re going to get through this together. … In the third, it was more like us — pressing, puck possession, spending time in their zone. But we came up short. It’s something we have to learn from. We can’t give up soft goals and easy goals."
Just 3:13 into this meeting, Kopitar ended a personal 10-game goal drought when the Ducks left him alone near the net to bang home a cross-ice pass for his 14th goal. Kopitar is the only NHL player on Slovenia’s first Olympic hockey team, and he leads the Kings in scoring for the seventh consecutive season.
Neither team mounted much offence in the first 30 minutes, but Penner hurt his former teammates by shoving home a rebound 10 seconds into another power play late in the second period. Penner scored 11 goals in parts of three seasons with the Kings before scoring 12 goals already this season for the Ducks, who re-signed him last summer.
Maroon then put the Ducks ahead, forcing a bad pass by Willie Mitchell before getting the puck down low and wrapping it around for his fourth goal — just his second since late October.
"We’ve got to try to take a few positives out of tonight and come back Saturday," Kings forward Trevor Lewis said. "We obviously need the points more than they do. After a loss like this, you always want to get right back after them, so it’s good that we’ve got them again in two days."
Until Winnipeg’s 3-2 victory on Tuesday snapped the Ducks’ 22-game home points streak to open the season, Los Angeles was the last visiting team to win at Honda Center, taking a shootout victory Dec. 3.
NOTES: The Ducks scratched forwards Daniel Winnik and Kyle Palmieri. Coach Bruce Boudreau also gave a day off to starting goalie Jonas Hiller, who acknowledged being distracted by the looming outdoor game in Tuesday’s loss to Winnipeg. … Los Angeles D Matt Greene missed his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury. … Andersen leads the NHL’s rookie goalies with 13 wins.