Less than a year ago, Dustin Penner and Slava Voynov were teammates who shared the goal of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
When they faced each other Tuesday at Anaheim, with Penner wearing a Ducks uniform and Voynov in the Kings’ colors, Penner spun Voynov around by the neck and dumped him like a sack of potatoes behind the Kings’ net. He inflicted the same indignity later on Anze Kopitar, formerly his linemate.
Penner and Jarret Stoll were teammates before Penner left the Kings to sign with the Ducks as a free agent last summer.
They were friends, no doubt sitting at the same dining tables and in the same section of the team bus.
That relationship was put on hold Tuesday while they battled for every inch of ice and yapped at each other in the heat of the teams’ first encounter this season, a 3-2 shootout victory by the Kings in nine tense, dramatic rounds in the renewal of a rivalry that has reached its highest heights.
“It was a great hockey game. Start to finish it was a great pace,” said Stoll, who praised Penner and said his own verbal and physical jabs at his former teammate were made in a joking manner.
“The first 10 minutes I don’t think there was maybe one whistle. Power plays, some great goaltending and it went right down to the ending. It was kind of a fitting way to end the game.”
Kings goalie Martin Jones made 26 saves in his NHL debut and was perfect through the shootout, giving Ben Scrivens a rest after Scrivens had made 10 consecutive starts.
“Nice for Jonesy to stand on his head like he did,” said Kings winger Dwight King, whose glove-side goal
on Jonas Hiller was the only successful shot either team mustered in the shootout.
King was so tired after the lengthy shootout and second game in as many days for the Kings that he didn’t even know how many rounds the shootout had gone. He thought 10. Nine, he was told.
“Nine? Way up there,” he said.
The Kings (18-7-4) now have 40 points, one behind the Ducks (18-7-5) with one game in hand. Both teams have had solid starts this season and the Ducks remain the only NHL team that hasn’t lost in regulation at home (10-0-2).
But for much of their shared history, the two teams seemed to be heading in opposite directions. When one was successful the other inevitably was struggling.
The season the Ducks won the Stanley Cup — 2006-07 — the Kings missed the playoffs. The season the Kings won the Cup — 2011-12 — the Ducks missed the postseason fun.
Rarely have they met when both teams were playing well enough to rank among the league’s top 10, as both did Tuesday. They entered with a combined record this season of 35-14-8, a .684 winning percentage, the best combined record they ever had when they played each other. The Kings have won 53 of their all-time meetings and the Ducks have won 49.
It doesn’t get much closer than that or much more hotly contested than it was Tuesday.
Scrivens had said the game would be “a good challenge for us, a good measuring stick for us,” but that applied to both teams, not just the Kings.
Both teams had trouble on the power play — the Kings were scoreless in five advantages and the Ducks were one for six — but both had strong penalty killing. Neither lacked for emotion.
“It was intense for sure,” Jones said of his first experience with this rivalry.
“I wanted to make sure I was as prepared and focused as I could be and try and enjoy it a little bit if I could. It was an intense game, and a hard-fought game and we’re happy with the extra point.”
The Kings and Ducks will meet four more times this season, including the first-ever outdoor game in Southern California at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25.
The only way this rivalry can be any better would be if they met in the playoffs, and the excellent level of play both have reached this season, the resilience they’ve shown in finding ways to win games despite injuries to key players, bodes well for them to both continue at this level and lead to a playoff confrontation with each team’s season on the line, not just bragging rights for a week or two.