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NHL Roundtable: Can the Kings and Ducks continue to stay in the playoff chase?

Kings defenseman Matt Roy and Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale battle for the puck.
Kings defenseman Matt Roy, left, and Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale battle for the puck on Feb. 25 during the Kings’ 4-1 win at the Honda Center.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
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With just under months remaining in the NHL season, the Kings and Ducks remain solidly in the postseason race, hoping to be part of the 16-team field in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

The Kings (29-19-7) are currently in second place in the Pacific Division with 65 points. The Ducks (26-21-9) are in fifth in the Pacific with 61 points. The points gap between the second and 10th teams in the Western Conference was only nine.

In this roundtable moderated by Times hockey editor Hans Tesselaar, Times columnist (and Hockey Hall of Fame honoree) Helene Elliott was joined by Times staffers Curtis Zupke (former beat writer for both teams), Jim Barrero (a Kings season-seat holder) and Nick Leyva (a longtime Ducks fan) to discuss how the season might play out for the Southland rivals.

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We’ve asked this question all season, so let’s keep the tradition going. Are the Kings and/or the Ducks going to make the playoffs?

Elliott: The Kings appear to be in better position to make the playoffs than the Ducks are, though you’d never know it from the Kings’ last two games. Arthur Kaliyev has provided the Kings with much-needed offense.

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Zupke: I’ll stick with my earlier prediction that the Kings will get in. With the way the division is shaping up, I just don’t see both making it.

Barrero: I want to believe the Kings will be the team to make it based on recent play, the past two games notwithstanding. The Ducks seem to have too many other teams to overcome at this point. I wouldn’t have said this a month or two ago.

Elliott: The Edmonton Oilers are making up a lot of the games that had been postponed earlier this season, and while their goaltending is still weak, it’s difficult to imagine they won’t make it.

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Leyva: A few roundtables ago, I think most of us said the Ducks would make the postseason but not the Kings. I think at this point it might be the other way around. It was a nice win over Boston the other night but the Ducks seem to be losing steam. Plus, the teams they’re chasing all have two, three or four games in hand. The Kings just look built for the longer run.

The trade deadline is March 21. Do you expect either team to be active? And are they buyers or sellers?

Elliott: Nick, I’m wondering if new GM Pat Verbeek will consider a coaching change, or wait until after the season. I don’t see the Ducks being buyers; they have to decide if they will re-sign Hampus Lindholm. Rickard Rakell and Josh Manson, too. I could see them selling.

Leyva: The Kings will most definitely be buyers. Pat Verbeek will have a tough decision to make if the Ducks are anywhere near contention later this month. But they do seem like sellers to me too, Helene.

Barrero: I said this before, especially when it comes to the Ducks. There’s no need to make any drastic moves to make the team better now, but if someone comes along with an offer you can’t refuse, then perhaps. The Kings are in an interesting spot having moved up the standings the way they have, and sure, a scorer would be nice, but again, I’m not ready to mortgage the future for a chance now. If Alex Edler returns soon, that could be a boost on defense. Next season, this approach changes for the Kings.

Zupke: The Kings? Yes. The Ducks? I tend to think they’ve deserved to be given a chance with some help. But, as Helene and Nick point out, this is a big decision for Verbeek and lot of peripheral roster decisions to be made. That last Kings-Ducks game was telling: The Kings looked like they have an identity. The Ducks looked thin and not quite there yet.

Elliott: Good point, Jim . I think for the Kings, it’s important to make the playoffs to keep fans happy and also give young players some experience with the pressure of postseason play. Next year has to be the year for a big push. This year, get their feet wet.

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Kings goalie Jonathan Quick prepares for a shot by Ducks center Troy Terry during a game in November.
(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Who is the Kings’ No. 1 goalie? Is it two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick? Or Cal Petersen, who was expected to be the team’s top goalie at the start of the season?

Elliott: Admittedly, I haven’t been around the Kings very much this season, but I’m disappointed that Petersen hasn’t stepped up. He started their season opener, which seemed symbolic of a torch-passing. Instead, he’s gotten torched a few too many times.

Leyva: I think if the playoffs started tomorrow, you would have to go with experience and resume, and that means Quick. But I think the Kings would not hesitate to get Petersen in there if Quick struggles.

Zupke: A couple of years back, when Petersen briefly looked like the guy, there was a feeling of handing the baton to him. But management wasn’t convinced, and they were right. It’s still Quick.

Barrero: Well, the way both have played, they certainly haven’t made it easy to answer. Of course, it was Quick the first three months of the season, but I like what I’ve seen from Petersen lately. If the Kings make the playoffs, and if Petersen doesn’t have a severe drop-off, then perhaps he’s your choice, going along with the mentality that Helene mentioned about getting younger players’ feet wet.

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We mentioned Pat Verbeek a few minutes ago. He became the Ducks’ GM exactly a month ago. How do you expect his style to be different to that of his predecessor Bob Murray?

Elliott: Very good question. I’ve requested an interview with Verbeek to get a sense of what his philosophy will be and what his thoughts are. Bob Murray was old boys club, old school. I think Verbeek is young enough to embrace and use analytics.

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Leyva: So far, I haven’t seen him do much tinkering with what Murray had set up this season. He seems like he will be very deliberate in what moves he makes. Ask me again on March 22, and we’ll know more.

Barrero: It seems any time a new GM comes in, you’d think he’d want to make a splash. But Verbeek needs to be careful and not be too hasty in wanting results right away. The Ducks have so many good young players, it seems patience is required. And based on the contrasts between the two that Helene described above, I think Verbeek will be prudent.

Elliott: The Ducks do have a lot of young talent. There should be a Trevor Zegras channel. I’d subscribe.

Zupke: He’s worth the price of admission alone.

Zegras leads to the next question. Besides the top rookie-of-the-year candidate, name one youngster on either team who has stood out to you.

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Elliott: Does Adrian Kempe count as a youngster after waiting so long for him to fulfill his promise? Kaliyev has had some good moments lately.

Barrero: For the Kings, the obvious answer might be Arthur Kaliyev, who has played in every game, reached 10 goals for the season recently and is only 20. But I’ll add that Sean Durzi has been really fun to watch this season on defense. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he has some creativity in his game that has made me take notice.

(Kempe is only 25, so yes he counts.)

Zupke: Isac Lundestrom has started to come on and really be noticeable for the Ducks. I agree with Jim about Durzi. I didn’t see him coming in and grabbing a job on the Kings’ blue line.

Elliott: Good pick, Jim Barrero. I’d forgotten Durzi. I’m still jet-lagged from the Beijing Olympics.

Leyva: Mason McTavish, where have you gone? I guess there’s some underlying reason why they don’t bring him up, but the nine games he did play in Anaheim, I was really impressed. I was going to say Kempe, too. He plays like a veteran and always seems to be in the right spot at the right time on the ice.

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Elliott: McTavish did have a good start with the Ducks. I was hoping to see more of him at the Olympics but he didn’t really stand out.

Let’s go back to Zegras. After he went scoreless against the Kings and Islanders, his coach, Dallas Eakins, said: “I think Z is getting a lot of attention out there now. They’re playing very close to him and doing everything they can do to get him off his game.” In his next game, he had the game-winning goal and an assist against Boston. What did that tell you about Zegras?

Barrero: It tells me he’s the real deal. But I don’t think I needed to be convinced of that based on what he had already done. Great players find a way to adapt to the nuances of what other teams throw at them, and so far Zegras is passing those tests, and I imagine he will continue to do so.

Trevor Zegras of the Ducks takes part in the All-Star skills competition on Feb. 4, 2022.
Trevor Zegras of the Ducks takes part in the All-Star skills competition on Feb. 4, 2022. He wore a blindfold for the breakaway challenge.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Elliott: I think it says he finds ways to get past obstacles, that he’s confident in his game and very determined. A future team captain.

Leyva: That tells me he’s up to meet all challenges in this league. Zegras has that instinct for the game and I think that will prevent him from falling into any prolonged slumps in his career.

Zupke: Can we talk about his “Dodgeball” outfit at the All-Star skills competition? I just love this kid’s passion for the game. Beat writers used to joke that the Ducks are The Most Interesting Team, like the Dos Equis commercial. He really suits the Ducks in that way.

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Barrero: The “Dodgeball” outfit made me an instant fan.

Elliott: So true! I miss the days of Teemu [Selanne] and “same hand” ...

The Kings and Ducks have each missed the playoffs the last three seasons. Put your reporter’s instinct aside and tell me how much fun this season has been.

Elliott: There have been some spectacular (Zegras) moments. Some reasons to believe the Kings are on the right path. Both teams remain inconsistent, which reflects a lack of depth and maybe leadership, but it’s fun to think at least one of them will be playing when it matters.

Barrero: As a Kings fan, this season has been a pleasant surprise (despite the 7-0 loss to the Bruins that I endured in person). In the larger picture, it’s nice to see the local teams playing games against each other that mean something again. If we can guarantee that every season, it will always be fun.

Zupke: I look at it now as two teams with really exciting young players . (If I were still on the beat, I wouldn’t care for the restricted access that comes with the pandemic because you really can’t get to know a team that way.) Our local pucksters aren’t going to challenge, say, the Avalanche, but they’re making it interesting.

Leyva: When the season started, I came into it with very low expectations for both teams. I figured they might be battling for Pacific Division basement honors, to be honest. So this has been a breath of fresh air and a pleasant surprise to say the least. There’s hope yet for California hockey!

In their latest NHL roundtable, Times staffers size up where the Kings and Ducks are at and where they’re headed in 2022 amid the COVID outbreak.

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