Many observers seem surprised the Los Angeles Kings find themselves one point ahead of cross town rival Anaheim in late October - with one game in hand yet.
It should not be a surprise, and do not look for the trend to reverse any time soon.
The Kings feature a wealth of young talent up front, including Anze Kopitar, Michael Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, and Alexander Frolov. The defense is solid with a good mix of veterans, youngsters, and blueliners in their prime.
The only question coming into the season was goaltending, and Jason LaBarbera seems poised to step up as the starter.
After a 1-5-0 start, the Kings have won four of five games, and arguably outplayed Calgary in the lone loss. For the first time in several years, Kings fans have reason to be truly optimistic. Barring injuries, there is no reason this team will not make the playoffs.
It is a different story 30 miles to the southeast. The wheels are coming off in Anaheim, and the Ducks already face an uphill battle to make the playoffs, never mind repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
With a 4-7-1 record after 12 games, Anaheim likely needs 87 points over their final 70 games to grab a playoff spot. In other words, a 42-25-3 record would get the job done, but there is no indication that will happen.
Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne look more retired by the day, and without them, Anaheim is full of holes. Sure, injuries have taken their toll, but there is no reason to believe that will change.
Defenseman Mathieu Schneider is entering the twilight of his career, and injuries have bedeviled him the past couple of years. Still, his injury history pales in comparison to the team's other key free agent signing.
Todd Bertuzzi has struggled with back injuries the past couple of seasons, and he is currently out of the lineup with a concussion. Earlier this year, Bertuzzi told the media he is finding injuries he never knew he had.
Not exactly what you want to hear from a $4 million per year player.
Ryan Getzlaf is currently out of the lineup with an upper body injury, leaving Anaheim with a second line of Mark Mowers, Drew Miller, and Petteri Wirtanen.
To top it off, the Ducks are running their big horses as if it was game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Francois Beauchemin and Chris Pronger lead the league in ice time, each averaging about a half hour per game.
With the key players logging so much ice time this early in the year, the potential for more injuries is very real.
Meanwhile, things keep looking up at Staples Center. Cammalleri leads the league with 10 goals, two more than any other player.
Kopitar continues his progression as one of the league's young superstars. A top-notch playmaker, he also possesses a sniper's hands and is one of the squad's best defensive forwards.
Brown is among the league leaders in hits and provides the perfect complement to Kopitar and Cammalleri on a top line that is arguably as good as any in the league.
The reviews on free-agent signings Ladislav Nagy, Kyle Calder, Michael Handzus, Tom Preissing, and Brad Stuart have been mixed, but all have looked stronger in recent games. Nagy had a breakout game Tuesday against Nashville, while Handzus responded with a solid effort after being demoted to the fourth line Thursday against Dallas.
In fact, that fourth line of Handzus, John Zeiler, and Raitis Ivanans played a nearly perfect fourth line game against Dallas. Each player ate up more than 10 minutes of ice time and the unit created significant sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
With four lines clicking and six solid defensemen, the Kings are for real. LaBarbera is looking more comfortable between the pipes, and Los Angeles fans are optimistic.
At the moment, it is hard to find optimism in Anaheim. The team cut off season ticket sales at 15,000, but there are thousands of empty seats many nights. Fans arrive late and leave early -- one estimate put less than 5,000 fans left in their seats with three minutes remaining in a recent 3-1 Ducks win. Prime seats posted below face value are going unsold on the team's online ticket exchange.
It may be early to press the panic button, but with a couple of more losses, the Ducks find themselves facing must-win games as early as November.
In downtown Los Angeles, however, the opening of the L.A. Live development adjacent to Staples Center is not the only cause for optimism in the area.