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Rookie Kopitar Shines In Debut, But Can’t Do It Alone

by Gann Matsuda

October 7, 2006

Andy McDonald scored at 13:27 to start a three-goal outburst that was capped by Chris Kunitz’ game-winner at 9:00 of the third period, leading the Anaheim Ducks to a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in front of a sell-out crowd of 17,147 fans at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

The game was the season opener for both clubs.

The Ducks got an early two-man advantage for 1:42, but the Kings put in a strong penalty-killing effort, led by strong play in goal by Kings goalie Dan Cloutier and a goal-saving blocked shot by Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom.

The Kings wound up dominating the period, outshooting the Ducks after killing off the two-man advantage, 17-3 and 22-10 in the period.

Ducks forward Corey Perry was credited with a goal at 4:49 of the second period after Kings defenseman Rob Blake knocked the puck off his stick and then past Cloutier to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead.

Kings rookie center Anze Kopitar scored a dazzling, highlight-reel goal at 9:14 of the second period, and then was credited with his second goal of the game when Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin knocked the puck into his own net at 11:26.

But that was when the Kings lack of skill up front began to really show itself—very few of their shots were dangerous, and those that were at most somewhat dangerous wound up being shot right into the chest of Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who looked sharp, stopping 41 shots, even though maybe half of them were challenging.

Then the Ducks decided to show up for the game and took over, scoring the next three goals, with McDonald’s goal, followed at 6:45 by Ryan Getzlaf and then Kunitz’ game-winner.

Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky would bring the Kings to within a goal with a power play marker at 14:53, but that would be it for the Kings, who were clearly outclassed by the Ducks in terms of offensive talent.

Cloutier made his Kings’ debut in goal and looked sharp, making 28 saves. He had no chance on any of the goals he allowed in the game.

The Kings also appeared to be experimenting with line combinations in this game, as head coach Marc Crawford shifted forwards around on different lines throughout the game.

But for the Kings, the bright spot despite the loss was the debut of 19-year-old Anze Kopitar, their first round pick (11th overall) in the 2005 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

The highly-touted, 6-4, 220-pound native of Jesenice, Slovenia—the first Slovenian ever to play in the NHL—dazzled fans, scouts, coaches and other front-office types in the Pacific Division Shootout (rookie tournament) in September, and in the exhibition season.

And he was, by far, the Kings’ best player against the Ducks on this night. He was a threat on every shift, made his teammates better when he was on the ice, and displayed poise well beyond his age.

And to top it all off, Kopitar did it all while playing against Samuel Pahlsson, the Ducks’ top defensive center and their top defensive pair—superstar defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, both of whom are Norris Trophy winners as the best defenseman in the league.

Indeed, despite being up against the Ducks’ best, Kopitar more than held his own. In fact, the Ducks found that they had to play him carefully and with a lot of respect because he was so good with the puck and very strong on it.

Kopitar ended up with 22:16 of ice time on thirty shifts. Only Visnovsky had more ice time for the Kings.

Kopitar also led the team with seven shots on goal.

On the downside, the Kings got poor efforts from star defenseman Rob Blake and winger Alexander Frolov.

Blake was a non-factor for the Kings, and was on the ice for two Anaheim goals, the first of which was a fluke goal that he batted into the Kings’ net. The second came when he failed to clear the zone, leading to McDonald’s goal.

Despite saying that he knows he has to shoot the puck more, Frolov once again passed up a number of chances to shoot on quality scoring chances. Instead, he chose to make the extra pass, usually resulting in the loss of a scoring opportunity or the puck going back in the other direction. In the end, Frolov wound up with three missed shots and no shots on goal.

The Kings were 1-for-7 on the power play, while the Ducks were 1-for-5.

The Kings outshot the Ducks in the game, 44-32.


SCRATCHES
Los Angeles: Tom Kostopoulos, Oleg Tverdovsky, Mike Weaver (all healthy)
Anaheim: Not reported


KINGS FORWARD LINES
Alexander Frolov - Anze Kopitar - Brian Willsie
Michael Cammalleri - Derek Armstrong - Dustin Brown
Patrick O’Sulllivan - Craig Conroy - Jeff Cowan
Scott Thornton - Sean Avery - Raitis Ivanans


DEFENSIVE PAIRS
Lubomir Visnovsky - Rob Blake
Mattias Norstrom - Brent Sopel
Kevin Dallman - Aaron Miller


GOALIES
Los Angeles: Dan Cloutier
Anaheim: Jean Sebastien-Giguere


OFFICIALS
Referees: Michael McGeough, Ian Walsh
Linesmen: Shane Heyer, Pierre Racicot


FIRST PERIOD

No scoring...the Ducks had the advantage early thanks to a two-man advantage for 1:42. But the Kings came up with a stellar penalty-killing effort, led by solid play in goal by Cloutier and a goal-saving blocked shot by Norstrom below the right circle.

After killing off that two-man advantage, the Kings dominated the play, outshooting the Ducks the rest of the period, 17-3. But Giguere was solid in his own net, keeping the Kings off the scoreboard.


SECOND PERIOD

The Ducks got a gift to open the scoring...

1. ANAHEIM. Corey Perry 1 (unassisted), 4:49

Perry carried the puck down left wing and below the left circle, he turned towards the net. Blake knocked the puck off his stick, but in the same motion, backhanded the puck towards the net. The puck slipped past Cloutier between his right leg and the left goal post.

And then it was time for oohs and ahhs from the crowd...

2. LOS ANGELES. Kopitar 1 (Brown, Cammalleri), 9:14

Cammalleri picked up a loose puck along the left wing boards in the Kings’ zone and pushed it ahead to Brown, who was below left point. He chipped the puck off the neutral zone boards and Kopitar chased it down at right point in the Anaheim zone. With speed and with Pronger back, Kopitar shifted to another gear and blew past him. Kopitar moved through the right circle and then in front. He waited for Giguere to make the first move and from just outside left crease—almost along the goal line—Kopitar lifted the puck from a severe angle over Giguere and into the net—a breathtaking move for the rookie’s first NHL goal.

3. LOS ANGELES. Kopitar 2 (Dallman, Cloutier), 11:26

On a rather innocent-looking play, Kopitar carried the puck down right wing. From the right outer hash mark, he backhanded the puck towards the net. Beauchemin was in front of the net and tried to knock the puck away with his stick. Instead, the puck deflected off his stick blade and beat Giguere through the five-hole (between his leg pads).

The Ducks then asserted themselves in a big way, and the Kings could not respond...

4. ANAHEIM. McDonald 1 (Selanne, Kunitz), 13:27

Blake failed to clear at left point, with Kunitz keeping the puck in the Kings' zone and passing to Selanne in the left circle. McDonald was alone below the right circle with only Visnovsky covering the front of the net. Selanne passed across to McDonald who had an easy one-timer into a gaping right side of the net.

Kunitz outworked Blake at left point to set-up this scoring play.


THIRD PERIOD

The onslaught by the Ducks continued...

5. ANAHEIM. Getzlaf 1 (Sean O’Donnell), 6:45

Kings enforcer Raitis Ivanans had the puck below left point in the Kings’ zone, but got hit hard by Anaheim winger Todd Fedoruk and was knocked off the puck. O’Donnell picked it up at left point and passed to Getzlaf, who was alone at the left inner hash mark. He spun and fired a wrist shot that beat Cloutier top shelf, upper right corner of the net.

6. ANAHEIM. Kunitz 1 (Scott Niedermayer, Selanne), 9:00 POWER PLAY

Cammalleri was in the box for hooking at 7:25 when Sellanne got the puck on right wing. He moved into the right circle and passed to Scott Niedermayer in the middle of the slot. Niedermayer quickly passed to Kunitz on the door step, and he whacked it past Cloutier, beating him through the five-hole as he moved across his crease.

7. LOS ANGELES. Visnovsky 1 (Avery, Willsie), 14:53 POWER PLAY

With Ducks center Todd Marchant off for holding at 13:16, the Kings worked the puck deep in the Anaheim zone until Avery got the puck along the right wing half-wall. He passed to Visnovsky at the top of the slot, just inside the blue line. He took a short wind-up and fired a quick, low shot that beat Giguere over his right leg pad with heavy traffic in front.


THREE STARS (OFFICIAL)
#3 - Giguere; #2 - Kunitz; #1 - Selanne

KINGSHOCKEY.COM’S THREE STARS
#3 - Giguere; #2 - Kopitar; #1 - Kunitz

For more information, including more interviews with the players and coaches, we invite you to check out:

OFFICIAL SCORING AND STATISTICS
NHL Scoresheet
NHL Superstats

WIRE SERVICE REPORTS
ASSOCIATED PRESS Report From ESPN.com

LOCAL NEWSPAPERS
Daily Breeze
Ducks Clip Kings In Back-And-Forth Affair

Daily News
Quacked Up: Ducks Defeat Kings

Orange County Register
Giguere To The Rescue

Press-Enterprise
Ducks Open Season In Style

Los Angeles Times
Ducks Live Up To Their Billing
Ducks-Kings Report: Moen Finally Finds A Place In The Lineup
No Big Surprises After One Night


NEXT GAME: The Kings play their home opener on Saturday night when they host Bill Guerin, Manny Legace, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and the St. Louis Blues. Game time: 7:30 PM PDT. Televised in the Los Angeles area on FSN West.

Gann Matsuda, who has been writing about the Kings since 1986, is the News Editor for Kingshockey.com.
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