ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks seek sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division, and keep the injury-depleted Los Angeles Kings from securing a share of the top spot, when the cross-town rivals meet Sunday at the Honda Center.
The Ducks, who have won five of their past seven games, took over first place Thursday night with a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. But the Edmonton Oilers moved into a tie for first by beating the Dallas Stars on the road Saturday night. So going into Sunday's game, the Ducks and Oilers lead the Kings by two points.
Enhancing the intensity of Sunday's game is the fact that Anaheim won 12 of the previous 16 against Los Angeles, including a 4-0 rout at the Staples Center in the teams' first meeting this season Nov. 1.
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“It's probably one of the best rivalries I've ever played in,” Ducks center Ryan Kesler told NHL.com. “It's always a fun game to play. Every game is hard-fought.”
Kesler figures to play a pivotal role. The 13-year veteran, who scored seven of his team-high eight goals this month, needs one more to establish a personal record for November. Regarded as one the NHL's best defensive forwards, Kesler also will be expected to stifle the Kings' top two centers, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter.
“His value gets increased if it's a Kopitar or a Carter,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said about Kesler to the Los Angeles Times. “As a coach, you feel comfortable playing him against those players. In big games, 'Kes' has a way to step up to the next level. He always seems to have a little bit more to give you.”
Like Anaheim, the Kings take a two-game winning streak into Sunday's game. Unlike the Ducks, however, Los Angeles has been playing without key contributors. Right winger Marian Gaborik has yet to appear for the Kings after breaking his foot while competing for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey. Kopitar, the Kings' captain, missed the past four games with a wrist injury and remains day-to-day.
With Kopitar out, Carter has become Los Angeles' biggest offensive threat. Carter leads the team with seven goals and 14 points, including five goals and nine points in his past eight games.
“Jeff has carried the team on his back,” Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter told LAKingsinsider.com after Saturday's 4-2 victory against New Jersey. “Every time he was on the ice, he either had the puck or was making sure we were going to get the puck back. He's shown a lot of leadership and has been a really, really good player for us.”
But the Kings' biggest loss has been in the nets. Jonathan Quick, a finalist for last season's Vezina Trophy, has not played since injuring his groin Oct. 12 in the season opener against the San Jose Sharks. Quick's backup, Jeff Zatkoff, missed 11 games because of his own groin injury. Zatkoff made his first start in 3 1/2 weeks Nov. 11 in Ottawa but pulled himself after two periods.
In their place, Peter Budaj has provided stability. The 34-year-old veteran has played in 17 consecutive games (15 starts) and amassed nine wins while compiling a 2.11 goals-against average.
Until this year, Budaj had not played a full NHL season since 2013-14, when he appeared in 24 games for the Montreal Canadiens. He spent the past two seasons in the AHL and played only one NHL game for the Kings last season.