A Life Without Perry?

Imagine for a second Corey Perry is not in the Ducks’ lineup. What would Coach Boudreau do without him? What would his teammates do? The reality is only as far away as his GM not resigning him, yet the day has finally come when the decision has been finalized, as most Ducks’ fans know. Long-term, Corey Perry will be an Anaheim Duck.

The announcement came just after period one ended on Monday night with the Ducks and Sharks tied 1-1 after San Jose came out hard early, sat back and ran around in the middle of period one, and then surged at the end of the period with a slapshot rising from the blueline to the top of the net three seconds after the announcer said that the period had but a minute left in it.

But in order to get a sense of what the future might have looked like had the Ducks not sealed up Mr. Perry, witness the Ducks of this last stretch of four games (ending Wednesday), when Perry has been suspended due to a hit he made on Minnesota’s Jason Zucker last week. The names are somewhat familiar, but the combos are all over the place.

The lines in the kid from Peterborough’s absence looked like this on Monday night: first trio, Selanne, Getzlaf, and Palmieri; second trio, well, really what’s been the third trio—Cogliano, Koivu, and Winnik; third trio, Etem, Holland, and Beleskey; and fourth trio, which was rarely seen in the early going, Ryan, Staubitz, and David Steckel.

Fourth? That can perhaps be put down to Ryan’s having suffered an injury after colliding with the Blues’ Vladimir Sobotka in the late going on Saturday night night. He described the collision after by saying that he had gotten the wind knocked out of him. His minutes in period one Monday were less than four.

And on the other two who played with him, just to fill you in, Brad Staubitz has just come back from having missed four games with a facial laceration. Steckel is newly over from Toronto in a trade that saw Ryan Lasch and a 7th-round pick in next year’s draft go North.

Steckel is a center, a position desperately lacking in this organization, and he’s a stable veteran, if not much of a producer. He started with Washington and played four seasons-plus there before getting in the end of a campaign in New Jersey and then going to the big TO. In Toronto last year, he played 76 games with eight goals. In his career, the totals are 400 games, 32-42-74 points.

But back to Monday night. On seeing that lineup, you probably got the feeling that it’s not just alphabet soup, but a kind of mishmash of names that don’t quite gel with each other. That’s exactly the feeling you get when a team that has had a steady lineup forever suddenly doesn’t feature that steady set of trios. Logically, of course, the absence of one guy should not make that much difference. But perhaps this is not about logic but about the psychology of change and familiarity which binds players to players and fans to teams. Without Perry, it seemed, any set of three players was possible.

In fact, just a little bit after the game began, those lines were obsolete, and Boudreau was playing the first line as noted but the second as Beleskey, Steckel, and Staubitz. It only got more strange after that.

And anyway, by period two, all bets were essentially off. The first line was as noted, Selanne, Getzlaf, and Palmieri. The second became Koivu, Ryan, and Cogliano. The third was Winnik, Etem, and Holland. Huh? And throw in there also Steckel, Beleskey, and Etem, and you’ve pretty well got everything and everyone playing everywhere. Except Staubitz, who seemed the odd man out and had just six minutes through two periods. He would end the game with 7:59, the lightest total on the Ducks’ squad. Contrast that with Cogliano’s 21 or Koivu’s 19, and you have the picture of how little the guy was used.

Did any of that matter? Not really, since the Ducks were ahead 4-1 by late in the second period. It started to matter a little bit when the Sharks scored late in the second to make it 4-2. Late as in in the last minute, which was the same time they got their first goal, in the first.

Then San Jose came out in the final frame and took it to Anaheim, racking up shot after shot and drawing it to 4-3. Why did this happen? Because the Ducks stopped skating and instead played in a tiny little box in their own end, waiting for something to happen. They rarely got the puck out of their zone, and they had almost no scoring chances in the final frame. The shots in period three were 16-6 in favor of San Jose, and they pulled to within a goal with 6:48 gone.

The Sharks could have tied with half of the period to go when Fasth took a slapshot off his chest and then dove out to get the rebound, which was directed at him by a diving Tommy Wingels. He made the save, and as the period went on, held steady while his Ducks faltered in front of him. The last goal, however, was not on San Jose’s side, but Anaheim’s into the empty net with 46 seconds remaining.

It wasn’t pretty, and the Ducks had little explanation for it after the game. Captain Getzlaf came the closest when he said, “What we want to do down the stretch is to keep winning our home games, and get as many as we can on the road.” He didn’t comment on the play of his team, other than to say of the third period, “We’ve got a 4-1 lead going into the third, or 4-2 whatever it was. We got scored on end of the period there. It’s one of those things. You talk about it every game, not sitting back, nobody wants to make that one mistake that costs it. We’re OK with that. We played a decent hockey game tonight, and we got our two points.”

So let’s look at that lineup from the opposite perspective. What’s wrong with it? For one thing, the only line familiar is line three, and they didn’t even play together consistently all night. For two, Selanne and Getzlaf may be a young-old dreamteam, but concentrating them on one line weakens the potential second line. It also orphans Ryan. In short, without Corey Perry, the Ducks don’t look as much like the Ducks as they nornally do.

We’d all like to think that our job couldn’t go on without us, that the office deprived of our presence wouldn’t function. In fact, most of us would make no bigger ripple with our departure than the proverbial stone tossed into a still pond. Heck, maybe even a ripply pond. But it’s not the same with a team.

Identity starts with stars and goes out from there, and Corey Perry is a star. Now, he’s going to get about $65 million dollars richer over the next eight years, and he’ll do that alongside the Ducks’ other eight-million-dollar man, his captain Getzlaf.

Getzlaf said after the game that he was “less worried than anybody else” because he had talked to Perry over the past week or so. He and Perry both, he said, were the beneficiaries of good management and ownership who understand what it takes to be a winning organization.

Now that Perry’s coming back, though not until after Chicago is in Anaheim Wednesday, things can go back to normal. Good thing, because the new normal represented by the line mixing absent of Perry is more difficult to keep track of than a bunch of kindergarteners who won’t hang onto the rope when wandering around a zoo.

Notes

Emerson Etem of Long Beach scored his first goal, the Ducks’ third, on a feed from Winnik. He got close to the goalie and roofed it. After, he said it was not his go-to move, but when he ran out of racetrack, he knew he had to put it up and over. Fortunately, it worked out. He indicated that he was glad that the pressure to get the goal was now off, and said that he hoped to return to his scoring ways of his junior days while also focusing on his two-way game. He was a visible presence all night in getting 13:39 and also assisting on the shorthanded winner by Getzlaf.

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