Don’t Let the Snowball Form

It would be easy to say that the Ducks had to win their game with the Sharks Monday night. They just came off their season-worst streak of two games, both losses, the first time since the lockout that they had dropped a pair in a row.

The first of those was a bit of a drubbing, 5-1, versus Detroit. The Wings stayed in town a couple of days and they got it on again Sunday. Anaheim lost 2-1.

But when that’s your biggest problem, you really don’t have a whole lot to worry about, especially sitting just a few points out of the top of your conference, which was Anaheim’s position coming into the game. One thing to be noted, however, was that the Hawks had a game in hand on the Anaheim team, and that shortly after the Ducks-Sharks got things going, the Hawks lost to the Kings, 5-4. Thus the Ducks had the chance to pull within a point of the lead in the West, though still having played one more than Chicago.

But the mood of the team should also be noted, with Coach Boudreau commenting in the media to the effect that the atmosphere around the team was miserable after Friday for a couple of days. That, and the fact that he had practiced the team hard on Saturday were, one would think, enough to get them righted after a strong end to the game on Sunday. They scored on the power play at the end of period two. Then with the clock winding down in period three, Cam Fowler fired a puck from the slot that Jimmy Howard had to save with his chest.

The thing was, the Ducks lost their cool as that game wound down. In the last minute, before the Fowler chance, all of the following got misconduct penalties: Getzlaf, Selanne, and Perry. Selanne’s was added to with a game misconduct, though of course, he wouldn’t have been seen again, even if the game had been tied and gone into OT.

And there’s the thing. The griping was prompted, if that’s the word, by Getzlaf’s taking a tripping penalty at that same 19:26 mark when all the meltdown calls were made. So the cycle, if you’re keeping track, was slow start, good play later, and frazzle at the end.

Thus far this season, those micro-meltdowns have not happened with the frequency they used to. Anaheim was noted for coming from behind requently a couple of years ago. Not so much last year, when they dug such a huge hole to begin the year. But always, their hallmark was penalties. Lots of them. And everyone knows that with that as a habit, the numbers are going to catch up with you.

This year, Anaheim is in the middle of the pack when it comes to times shorthanded, 108 coming into Monday, so while their PK is just 77.8%, that’s a lot fewer goals than it would be were they up in the range of the worst offending teams, like Dallas, with 127, and a handful of others lingering around 120.

But what really happened Sunday was that the Wings frustrated the Ducks all evening, as they had Friday night. In fact, their coach commented after Friday’s game that the opposition had held the puck all night, citing Datsyuk particularly as the one who had put on a clinic in puck possession. He intimated that they would not be allowed to do it again, but Sunday night roughly the same situation prevailed.

So coming into Monday night, you might think that the team would say “lesson learned,” and play a more disciplined game. A “harder” game, to use a word with more meaning than it might seem. As Coach Boudreau described their ideal game in his post-Monday comments, “A tight checking, grind it out along the boards [game], that doesn’t allow a lot of offensive plays in our zone.”

They didn’t do it. Instead, again in his words, “We were giving them chance after chance and giving them plays and not doing anything. And it’s not just one, it was a lot of us. That’s just part of what not being ourselves is.”

He elaborated, “We didn’t play very well. We knew that they were sitting there waiting and that they would come out in the first period. We knew all of these things, and we didn’t come out and meet their push. It’s something we have to address. Lately, they aren’t ready at the start of the game. We have to figure that out, why.”

Corey Perry said of their start, “We didn’t play our game for the first period and a half. We didn’t start well, and eventually it caught up to us.” In fact, “eventually” isn’t it. It caught up to them right away. By the end of the first period, the Sharks were ahead 2-0. The Ducks had taken two minors, neither one a needful penalty.

Interestingly, neither of the San Jose goals was scored on the power play. In fact, the visitors’ PP was awful. They iced the puck. They got no shots on either power play. The Ducks had no trouble killing them off.

The goals, instead, were prompted by Ducks’ mistakes. On the first, the puck got turned over to Brent Burns via a mistaken play behind the net that Joe Thornton jumped on. Burns wristed it up and over Fasth’s far shoulder, into the right side of the net.

The second goal, scored at 7:10, was unassisted after Corey Perry was cross-checked in front of his own net and gave it up to Pavelski. He scored on a quick shot. When asked about it after, Fasth smiled, and said, “The guy shot it, and it went in. That’s what happened.” It’s about as sarcastic as he’s been, but he relented after and said, “There’s a lot of mistakes on every goal,” and that was that.

In the meantime, the Ducks were not sustaining an attack. They went about six minutes in the middle of the period without a shot. The period ended with the shots at 10-8 in San Jose’s favor.

You might guess that the Ducks would come on in period two, since all of that spoken-of pent-up anger from losing to Detroit twice would be magnified by seeing the Sharks come out with two goals in frame one Monday. No such luck, and before a minute had gone by, a long slapshot had been kicked out into the slot by Fasth and Martin Havlat had put it in. He was unguarded in the slot, with Perry on one side of him and Palmieri on the other.

Period two saw the Ducks come back by a goal, but the Sharks kept pressing. The shots, which were more or less in balance in period one, went way crazy in the middle period. By the end, it was 31-17 for San Jose. This was partly exacerbated by the Sharks having a power play that they actually capitalized on, at least in the form of three shots. The penalty was to Ben Lovejoy, but it was about as essential as you’ll ever see, with him holding Tommy Wingels as he broke in and across the crease alone.

The lines started to show some variety in this period. Late in the going, Selanne and Ryan were out with Peter Holland. Earlier in the evening, Ryan was with Cogliano and Koivu, and Selanne was with Holland and Winnik. Not clear, at least to me, is why Boudreau is mixing quite like this. Winnik, Cogliano, and Koivu had been working splendidly as a third line, and not just in a shutdown role.

To jump ahead to what you already know, period three ended 5-3, with the last goal going into an empty net. But before then, Anaheim got a wrist shot goal by Beauchemin and a late marker by Corey Perry, his tenth, to make it 4-3. The good news is that in the league now, the 4-2 deficit they had faced did not seem impossible. When the third goal went in, the crowd got crazy. So many times this year, the Ducks have answered in these circumstances.

The fourth San Jose goal, and obviously eventual winner, was again scored on a giveaway by the Ducks, this time by Bryan Allen. So if you’re counting, that’s three of the four on clean mistakes by Anaheim. If any part of their game could be cleaned up, that would be it.

Boudreau was playing his lines like this: Selanne with Etam and Holland. Selanne with Cogliano and Koivu. Getzlaf, with Perry and Ryan. In other words, the top four players put in a lot of ice time in the last period. The offense put ten shots towards Niemi against eight for San Jose in the period. The chances came in the later going, with Perry dropping a pass backwards between his legs to Ryan, whose shot was deflected. Later, Koivu put it to Selanne in front, but he tipped it wide. The empty netter went in with 27.7 seconds left, sealing it.

The ending saw the Sharks’ coach happy. “We weren’t perfect, but we played a darn good game,” he said. “We skated well. We scored first, which was big for our confidence,” Todd McLellan said.

Sheldon Souray talked about how his team might recover from their slide after. “We’ve got to get a sense of urgency back in our game. We’re starting these games thinking, possibly thinking, that it’s going to be an easy night. But we’ve got to realize that we’ve played in a way all year that other teams are going to be ready for us. We should have a little bit of a swagger for sure . . . but we’ve gone into games and started to feel our way around in games, and we’ve been down in every one, at the start.”

The question is, is going on the road a good thing, or a bad one? Leaving with the taste of three losses on the tongue might offer the Ducks some drive. Or it could drive them downwards, into a funk. After all, nobody will be around to scrutinize their play. The one redeeming quality migh be that the next game, the first of four away, is against these same Sharks. The idea that they could pay them back by embarrassing them in their own building must be a motivation. Souray said, “We’re going on the road, great. We’ll get away from any distractions that might be at home, but same thing as Detroit, we get to play San Jose again.”

Fasth said, “We’re looking forward to the next game, on Wednesday, so we’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Boudreau also commented on the Sharks, but his opinion more measured, like he’s already thought ahead to what’s to come. “When you’ve got to go into San Jose and Chicago, Columbus, and Dallas in the next four games, you’d better to be ready to play, or all of a sudden, a little snowflake could become a pretty big snowball. Whatever this is we’re in, we have to get out of it in a hurry.”

Corey Perry put it simply. “It’s a little adversity. You’ve got to deal with it. . . . As quick as possible, you start climbing back in the right direction.”

The Ducks now leave for a week and a half, as noted. Their next game is Wednesday in the Bay area.


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