Kings lose Justin Williams; Ducks could gain Jonas Hiller
A playoff road that appeared difficult but doable became tougher for the goal-starved Kings, while the Ducks’ precarious hopes took a turn for the better.
Tests Tuesday found that right wing Justin Williams, among their most consistent and productive forwards, suffered a dislocated shoulder when he was checked into the boards during the third period of their 2-1 shootout victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday. Williams, the Kings’ second-leading scorer with 57 points, chose to try three to four weeks’ rehabilitation in hopes of avoiding season-ending surgery. If he can regain 80% of his strength he will be allowed to play while wearing a harness — and risk dislocating it again.
It’s a shame for Williams, who rebounded from a series of freak injuries in recent seasons, and a challenge for the Kings, who have scored two goals in their last three games and have nine games to solidify a playoff spot in the ridiculously tight West standings.
They’re expected to recall winger Oscar Moller, who had 23 goals and 50 points in 59 games for Manchester of the American Hockey League, and a goal and three points for the Kings during a four-game December summons. “Going up!” Moller said via Twitter message.
“He didn’t tweet me,” Coach Terry Murray said after practice in El Segundo.
Whatever the means of communication, there’s no understating how much the Kings’ sputtering offense will miss Williams’ speed and scoring knack.
“It’s hard to match the production. He’s had a good year. He’s played very well right from the very first day,” Murray said. “We’re just going to have to find a way here to get some scoring from other places.”
Such as . . .
“I don’t want to put anybody out there but I’d like to see Poni start to score more,” Murray said of Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has five goals in 52 games. “His resume shows that he’s a 20-, 25-goal scorer and I’d like to see that start to come together.”
Murray said that although Wayne Simmonds’ production has fallen from 40 points last season to 27, “the potential is there to put some goals in the net. Just other people have to start to chip in, from the forwards right through to the back end.”
Anze Kopitar, who centered Williams and Dustin Penner, felt sorry for Williams’ latest misfortune. “He was looking really good up to this point, so it stinks,” Kopitar said. “But that’s part of hockey and you’ve got to deal with it.”
Rugged left wing Kyle Clifford, out two games after getting a black eye in a fight last week, is scheduled to return Thursday against San Jose though he’s not likely to help the offense much.
Of the Kings’ last nine games only two — Saturday against Colorado and next Tuesday at Edmonton — are against non-contenders. “There’s no letup. It’s a playoff mentality every game,” Murray said.
The mind-set is the same for the Ducks, who on Wednesday begin a four-day trip to Dallas, Nashville and Chicago. Despite an 8-2-0 surge the Ducks are occupying a playoff spot only because they have more regulation and overtime wins than Dallas.
“It’s the biggest game of the year,” Coach Randy Carlyle said, repeating a familiar mantra after the Ducks skated at Anaheim Ice. “I know you’ve heard it before, however many times, but it is.”
For once, he’s right. Their season can turn on their results the next few days. “It’s been that way the last three or four games,” center Ryan Getzlaf said.
Unlike the Kings, the Ducks got good news Tuesday. Goaltender Jonas Hiller, troubled by vertigo and limited to 71 minutes since his All-Star appearance, practiced and traveled with the team. If he has no setbacks, “then we have quite possibly a decision to make in the next three games,” Carlyle said.
Hiller was optimistic. “I’m not getting that tired anymore and it seems to be more natural to follow the puck,” he said. “I’ve felt pretty good the last couple of practices and I’m definitely excited that it keeps going forward.”
The Ducks are 5-4-1 against the teams they’ll face on this trip. Overall they have 10 games left and only one non-contender — Colorado — among them.
“Our players have become a lot more desperate and have an understanding of how we have to play,” Carlyle said.
And like the Kings, they have an understanding they could be one shoulder ligament or case of vertigo away from being spectators during the playoffs.
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