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The NHL Redux: The California alpha dogs and the real state of hockey

Jeff Gross / Getty Images Sport / Getty

From rock-throwing cavemen grappling in the primitive era, to present-day suburban squabbles, there's an inherent trait that motivates all of us to gain sovereignty over our surroundings.

The struggle for territory is a characteristic that has shaped our evolution, served as the antecedent to warfare, and now - under slightly more progressive and trivial circumstances - fuels what we love most about what we love most: a great sports rivalry. 

Discord is typically brought on and aided by championship-caliber competition, but the best rivalries are territorial. When both of these elements come together, you have something special. You have something that transcends the NHL brand. You have hockey in California.

The Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks are three NHL alphas, who, when sharing the same ice, produce the most entertaining and mean-spirited hockey at our disposal. And it can all be traced back to that basic animal instinct.

"The in-state aspect obviously has something to do with it," Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly told theScore. "The Kings and Sharks are two elite teams, and we're battling for the division nightly. Any time you get a chance to play them, whether its sending a message physically or beating one of them, it’s a good thing."

Those messages were sent at a high volume last weekend when the Sharks bullied their way into Anaheim and left with two points. The teams combined for nine fighting majors, eight misconducts and 165 penalty minutes in just the second of 15 tantalizing match-ups between California clubs this season.

It was old-time, line-brawl hockey, and while the rivalry may not spill into the parking lot like the olden days, cordiality is briefly set aside when California meets California.

"I know players on both (the Sharks and Kings). Once it’s off the ice, it’s off the ice. But when you tie up the skates and get out there though, there are no friends," Smith-Pelly said.

Market viability has never really been an issue in the southwestern corner of the NHL map. It's a product of high-quality teams concentrated in the area, and reinforced by the intensity with which these teams approach in-state matchups.

Smith-Pelly explained that no matter where the game is held, Ducks, Kings, and Sharks fans travel, creating a 50-50 in-rink atmosphere to fuel the chaos that unfolds on the ice. 

That passion on and off the ice is proof, it would seem, that hockey is becoming a major player in Calfornia's sporting culture, and will survive the typical ebb and flow hockey teams and their fan bases endure over time.

"It’s going to thrive regardless," Smith-Pelly said. "It’s been growing ever since the Ducks won the Cup in 2007 and is growing with the Kings winning the Cup twice in the last couple years. With a lot of players coming out of California now, hockey is here to stay. 

"Hockey in California will (always) be a big ticket."

Minnesota might hold the moniker, but the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks, and their authority over the NHL's best conference, have secured California as the state of hockey.

The Next 48

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild - Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

The Western Conference's most potent offensive attack will meet the league's most stringent defensive unit in terms of shots against for the first time this season in Saturday's marquee Western Conference matchup.

Just a point separates the Stars (4-2-3) and Wild (6-3) in the conference standings, but they've had far different starts to their respective seasons. 

Minnesota is playing like a legitimate Western Conference power, firmly defending home ice with a 4-0 record and leading the league in goal differential at even-strength. The Stars, meanwhile, have played shot-for-shot through nine games, combining with their opponent to produce a league-high 7.2 goals per game. 

Nashville Predators vs. Vancouver Canucks - Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET

Two of the NHL's surprise teams, the Canucks and Predators, meet in a matchup that could determine who sits atop the Western Conference mountain by Monday morning. 

Behind the resurgent Pekka Rinne, the Central Division-leading Predators are allowing a league-best 1.78 goals per contest and are beginning to find their offensive rhythm under head coach Peter Laviolette.  

The Canucks, with the fifth-best record in the NHL, are receiving vintage performances from the Sedin twins, who finally have a winger the opposition must game-plan for. 

Nashville and Vancouver will skate in winnable games before their meeting, so Sunday's nightcap could award league-wide bragging rights.

The Pylon

As the Sharks and Ducks lost their cool Sunday, Sharks defenseman Mirco Mueller briefly lost himself.

Unbelievably, Mueller's demonstrative glove-drop and ridiculous posturing proved to be the best defense mechanism, as the linesman was afforded enough time to step in and prevent Ryan Getzlaf from ripping his head off. 

Parting Shots

1) Marian Hossa, one of the more underappreciated players in the league, became the 80th player to reach the 1000-point plateau Friday night. The club isn't terribly exclusive, but, with quality years ahead of him, Hossa is piecing together a resume worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.  

2) Jason Chimera's nose now violates the league's standard for curves.

3) The longest winless streak in history was set by the 1943 Rangers at 15 games. The Carolina Hurricanes are without a win through eight. 

4) The otherwise ineffective Chris Stewart, taking a page out of David Clarkson's handbook, managed to avoid being beaten to a pulp in a fight with Milan Lucic - the highlight of his young Sabres career. 

5) Danny Briere was healthy-scratched by the Colorado Avalanche this week, setting an absolutely contrived and incredibly unofficial record for most press boxes occupied in a career.

6) The two teams being hit hardest by injuries, the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets, are also probably the heaviest in their respective conferences. Which is clearly correlated.

7) The New Jersey Devils won a shootout for the first time in 19 opportunities Friday night. That isn't on goaltender Cory Schneider or the skaters - it's on management for failing to evolve and address a clear need.

8) Signing Carlo Colaiacovo is the transactional equivalent of waving the white flag.

9) Seth Griffith's Bobby Orr was awesome.

10) Get well, Mr. Hockey.

The NHL Redux: The California alpha dogs and the real state of hockey
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