Ducks Definitely Need a Thaw

“Gourmet leftovers,” these the words of friend John, suggesting that Friday would be a good time for us to get together with them for yet more turkey.

“As soon as I get back from Anaheim,” I replied. I knew he had to be thinking one of two things—either “they got good Black Friday deals down there?” or “you Canadians and your hockey.” Why else would I not be part of the shopping extravaganza happening in L.A. and head thirty miles south? It was hockey.

When I got there, the buzz was not good. “It’s time to do some housecleaning.” I overheard that in the parking lot. Keep this in mind when you think about the Ducks’ recent record: 2-10-4 in the past sixteen games. Something’s gotta change. Some people are talking about the coach, as I suspect was the case in the example just cited. Others are saying it’s time for the GM to bet busy. At the least, the team needs to move its AHL-calibre players back and forth more often.

At the moment, they have a few youngsters who go up and down (or in and out of the big team’s lineup), namely Nate Guenin, Matt Beleskey, Nick Bonino. Throw Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon into the mix, along with Dan Sexton. Recent draftee Devante Smith-Pelly hasn’t made a trip to Rochester as of yet, but he might be next. But would that solve anything?

When the team gets out to a bad start, it generally loses despite often coming back and tying or nearly doing so. When it jumps out to a lead, as it did Friday, often that is squandered, as it was Friday.

After the games, the players say what they’re supposed to. The coach also. These days, his language has tended more toward words like “compete” as in, “we’ve got to compete at a higher level,” according to a recent newspaper story. In fact, he used four different versions of the word in one paragraph.

Because the Ducks are all saying what they need to, you might rightly conclude that nobody’s given up yet. So why the need to change anything? Did you look at the record cited above? Have you looked at a league standings table of late? That reminds me of something else I heard in the parking lot. “They’re nearly down to where the Islanders are,” the voice said, “and pretty soon that’s exactly where they’ll be.” What else can be done?

Fire Randy Carlyle. I’m not saying that’s my idea. But it is what people are thinking. What people? The heartless buggers who have forgotten their history. Carlyle has been beloved since he led the team to the Stanley Cup in 2007. It’s not just for his success, but also for his candor. He handles the media (and by extension communicates with the fans in a way that’s unique in the league. Simply put, he’s not going to shine you on with cliches, but rather gives at least one meaningful comment—sometimes a jab at a player, sometimes a specific compliment—every time he talks.

Yet at some point, that means nothing unless the team wins some games. Friday, they came out flying and scored the first two goals against Chicago before three minutes had elapsed. Then they steadily gave it back, first in the form of a goal by Patrick Sharp which was really the result of Captain Jonathan Toews’ hard work coming from the left boards to the slot to knock a loose puck back to Sharp after the latter had hit the post with his first attempt. Then the Ducks gave back the momentum by taking a couple of penalties, in a row, and letting the Blackhawks close the shot differential.

It might have been a tie game but for the Hawks taking a penalty of their own and allowing Finnish assassin Teemu Selanne to cruise to the low right slot, tee up a puck, and fire a slap shot off Duncan Keith’s stick and up over Corey Crawford’s shoulder. It was Selanne’s second point of the game, his 21st of the year.

The Ducks took another penalty with 4:01 left in the period and the shots at 11 for them, seven for Chicago. By the end, it was nine, and the last one was a goal. The puck came to Dave Bolland from a pass off to the right of the net. Bolland had put the puck into the space behind the cage to start with. A few seconds later, it came off of Andrew Brunette to Bolland to bury in the left side of the net.

So it was 3-2 Ducks after a frame, and they’d blown an early two-goal lead. They’d taken penalties right and left. They’d done, in other words, everything they know they ought not to do, and everything they keep saying will not be their pattern anymore.

At some point, see, it can’t just be about what they say. What must matter is the actions on the ice. And this team is seemingly bent on undoing whatever good they do nearly as soon as they do it.

Period two was more like it should have been. While Chicago steadily took over in terms of shots on goal, the scoring was restricted to what the Ducks managed to do, which was to pot another one to lead 4-2.

It all went to heck in period three. The Hawks by the time there were six minutes gone had pulled out a 34-17 advantage in shots. The Ducks hadn’t had a shot in the period, and they had registered only five in period two. But they managed to surrender three goals, unbelievably enough. These came in the first 3:33 of period three. On the third, by Patrick Sharp, the hats flew. In fact, one hit Jonas Hiller on his way to the bench. And there were only about ten or twelve of them out there.

The Blackhawks added one more near the midway point, and the Ducks put on a push to end the game, with Bobby Ryan diving through the crease to chase one and just putting it wide, but there wasn’t enough there, and with the other side having gotten up by two by that point, it was out of reach. The Ducks did add a goal with 7.2 seconds left, though after the game, Carlyle said, commenting on what had gone right for his team, “We scored four goals, well, that last one made five, and we should have protected that lead.”

In other words, what the Ducks did in trying to come back was a bit too little, way too late.

Jonathan Toews had a career-best five points on the night, though he said, “You don’t keep count of them while you’re out there; you just know when you’re down that you’ve got to go get another one” and he added that he had been glad to have beaten the Ducks’ top line.

In fact, his line scored the one that had tied it and also the fifth one, both against Getzlaf’s line. Bobby Ryan admitted to that being unacceptable in his post-game comments. “It’s amazing how quick the tempo changes,” he began. “They scored two goals, and we kind of accepted our fate.”

He also added what might be the most telling comment of the evening: “We’ve addressed it to exhaustion in here, and we’re obviously not taking out of the room what we’re supposed to take out of here.”

Coach Carlyle, I had hoped, would come out and make some kind of a comment that would either make sense of things or make light of them. It would even have been OK to use sarcasm. Nothing of the sort came out of his mouth. “If we had the answer, we’d be trying to correct it right now.” He then cited energy and consistency, talking about what his team had done right early. But in the end he made a diagnosis: “It was like we were freezing up, like we don’t want the puck. It’s unbelievable from a coaching standpoint that you can’t get through the neutral ice on a simple trap.”

He talked some more and went back to the freezing up metaphor. A couple of times, in fact. Is that the key? The Ducks better thaw out by Sunday, when Toronto comes to town.

So back it was to I-5 for me. You’ve likely gathered that the game Friday was not an evening affair, but a matinee. 1pm local time, after the Ducks spent part of Thursday serving American Thanksgiving dinner to thousands of people at the arena. So in fact, I did make it back up the freeway for those leftovers, and despite that word not having the best connotations at other times of the year, on this day, they were superb, even if they hockey hadn’t quite been.

Notes

Bobby Ryan left the ice near the end of period two Wednesday night against Phoenix with a hip injury. He showed no signs of pain on his goal Friday afternoon, storming across the crease following his own shot and getting the rebound, then sweeping it past the goalie. His coda: going to the right glass and jumping into it with his chest in celebration. It was his tenth point of the season on six goals.

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