THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:
NHL: KINGS at DUCKS
Details/TV: At Honda Center in Anaheim, Sunday at 6 p.m., NBCSN
Not so long ago this NHL season – let’s say right around Groundhogs Day – the Kings were getting sized for a Pacific Division championship crown. It wasn’t as if their heads were getting too big. Coach Darryl Sutter had instilled a new sense of urgency. What if we don’t wait until the last week of the regular season again to sneak into a No. 8 spot. Didn’t work so well last year, did it? Claiming entry-level status early for a change and generating momentum toward a third Stanley Cup in five years might be a new way of going about things.
Then the Zamboni got a little sideways. The two-week road trip that the Kings were sent on because of the Grammy Awards hit a few sour notes. Aside from Anze Kopitar getting knocked out with an injury, the Kings’ double-digit lead over next best in the division shrunk noticeably. Which coincided with the Ducks taking flight.
Bruce Boudreau, whose job was in peril just a few months ago when Anaheim had the worst record in the Western Conference right around Christmas, is now being mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate as his team has won 11 of its last 13 going into a Sunday night meeting with Calgary. Included in that run was a 4-2 nationally televised triumph over the Kings on Feb. 4 where the Ducks chased goalie Jonathan Quick.
On top of that, Anaheim has won nine of the last 12 regular-season meetings against the Kings – not counting the Kings’ four-games-to-three playoff series win in 2014.
“They’re the team to beat,” Sutter said after the last loss to the Ducks. “Just ask most of the people in this room. They’re supposed to win the Stanley Cup. They’re supposed to win the division. We’ve got to look at it like we are in a series with them, and we are 1-1 (for the season series).”
By the time this week plays out, the Ducks may have pulled even with the Kings and even overtaken the top spot. The meet on the night of the Academy Awards, but still, this Freeway Face-Off Series has two more off-ramps, both at Staples Center, on March 5 and April 7 (the latter as the next-to-last game of the regular season). It’s a long way from being settled.
Also this week: Kings vs. Calgary (Staples Center, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., FSW); Kings vs. Edmonton (Staples Center, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., FSW); Kings vs. Buffalo (Staples Center, Saturday at 8 p.m., FSW). The Ducks’ schedule includes home games as well against Buffalo (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., FSW) and Edmonton (Friday, 7 p.m., FSW).
THE REST OF THE WEEK:
UCLA and USC basketball have games in the Bay Area against Cal and Stanford. The Bruins have the Bears on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN2), while the Trojans are in Berkeley on Sunday (5 p.m., FS1) … The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is on the NFL Network each day at 6 a.m. starting Friday … The Clippers start the week at home against Phoenix (Monday, 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket), while the Lakers’ road trip continues in Milwaukee (Monday 5 p.m., TWC SportsNet) .. The rest of the week will be at this link.