Ducks Dig a Hole Too Deep

“Clink. Clink. Clink.” That’s gotta be one of two things in the spring of 2014. Either it’s someone in Flanders digging a trench as part of the WW1 centenary exhibit, or it’s the Anaheim Ducks digging yet another hole as they start a hockey game.

Take the latter bet if you’re headed to Vegas. In fact, on Monday night, they engineered their biggest come-from-behind win after going down to Winnipeg 4-0. Wednesday, it was Edmonton, and the deficit was 2-0. Friday, Nashville was in town, and like these other teams who had nothing to play for, they stuck it to the Ducks early, jumping out to a 3-0 and 4-1 lead.

There has to be a reason for this. Do the Ducks just not get their sea legs going until late? Do they not care, or do they just believe that no matter what, they can come back?

The problem with adopting this as a habit is that no teams that they play starting in mid-April are going to be as unbalanced (notice I didn’t say “weak”) as the squads they’ve been toying with, and eventually beating, of late. The Kings. The Sharks. Minnesota or Dallas. OK, maybe one of those latter two would show some weakness, assuming that they straggle into the playoffs to start with. But none will have been as underachieving as the non-playoff teams that Anaheim has met of late.

So this practice, one might safely say, really ought to stop. But nobody’s saying it, or none of the Ducks are listening if anyone (Mr. Boudreau), is saying it. Nashville was ahead 1-0 after about five minutes, then 3-0 with two quick goals between minutes 13 and 14. Anaheim came back to make it 3-1 at exactly fifteen minutes, but Nashville got another one at 17:05. All of this happened in period one, which means that there was more scoring in 20 minutes than there are in most Predators games, period.

The second period looked even less like Nashville hockey, with the game opening up and Anaheim’s defense finally deciding to punch the clock and make some good individual plays. The shots slowly turned from what they had been in period one, where Nashville was ahead 9-8. By the end of the frame, the Anaheim team had 24, while the visitors sat on 16. But the score hadn’t changed its differential. The Ducks had gotten a goal early on to make it 4-2, but then Nashville potted one more to make it 5-2.

Their cause wasn’t helped by two disallowed markers on one power play. The first was whacked in by Bonino, but the referee immediately said no—the play had been whistled dead. The second one appeared to be knocked in by Corey Perry, but the only real reason the paying fans thought it went behind Rinne was that the players reacted like it had gone in, but it didn’t look like they even knew on the replay. The last sighting of the disk was off the leg pad of the netminder, and then out in front of the goal line in the crease. Perry took a whack and it disappeared, but the goalie’s leg was shoved into the net at the same time, so who knows? It was one of those “physics goals”—where else could the puck possibly have been but in? But the referee was off in the corner when it happened and couldn’t see it, and the replays showed only the leg pad being forced past the line, but no puck. So no goal.

The Predators had to be giggling going into the dressing room, not the least because they’ve scored only 190 times in 76 prior games. What’s weird, though, is that seventeen times this year, they’ve put in four goals. Several more times, they’ve gotten five, six, or seven goals. How can that math work out? Lots of nights, they get only the one. Or None. They’ve been shut out eight times. Sixteen times, they’ve scored just once.

The picture that paints is of a team that’s either very good or very bad. Thus the picture it paints is not the one you’d imagine it to be, which is that every night, night after boring night, Barry Trotz’s system works to perfection in creating the dreaded 3-2 game.

In other words, Nashville is less a defensive team than a team with an identity more shifting than in the past. But they do have some ability to score. Weird, then to look at their roster and see that coming into the night, only two guys had 20 goals or more. And the more was Shea Weber with 21. Exiting the evening, Mike Fisher had joined the double-deuce club, with two on the night to land at 20 for the year.

IH asked Coach Trotz about the team’s offensive production over the course of the year, which sees them spotted with four-goal games and more, to which he responded with a bit of a chuckle. “It is a big surprising. But we’ve been giving up a lot more goals this year, as well. You look at the last ten years, and we’ve been in the top, at least the top ten every year in goals against. This year, it’s a little bit different. That is probably a little bit of youth served in net and on the back end, you know. You get eight or nine games into the season and your goaltending tandem has one NHL game under its belt. It was a little bit difficult.”

He put the cap on that with, “There’s been a lot of growth in this team. I like their growth a lot, and obviously the strength of our team is on the back end. I like us on the back end.”

Period three saw one thing notable for its lack. The Ducks were down 5-2, and Coach Boudreau didn’t mix his lines at all. His team did not come on late, unlike in past games. They had just five shots in period three, and none of them were dangerous. Most of the momentum was on the Nashville side of things, and the Ducks ended a futile night with a couple of penalties to make any chance of a comeback moot.

IH asked Trotz whether he had to warn the team that the Ducks are comeback masters, and he said, “They, they know. They have been following it. The only thing I mentioned is that the second period, they [Ducks] are like a plus-35 in the second period, and that to me was the real tipping point for the game.”

Also of note—Jonas Hiller came out to start period three, and no backup was on the bench. He had been pulled in frame number one after letting in four goals on eight shots (he eventually faced nine). The Ducks announced early on in P3 that Anderson was out with an upper body injury. He never did return to his backup spot. Naturally, I tweeted the Ducks to let them know that I’m the official backup backup goalie in LA (see my book Living the Hockey Dream for the details, and yes, this is true). They didn’t need me, though, which in the end was probably a good thing. Though I doubt I would have let in four goals on eight shots, as Hiller did to start off the night.

After the game, Pekka Rinne, who missed about fifty games earlier in the year with injury, and has now set the team record for wins, said, “Hopefully, there’s plenty more to come. My personal goal would be to finish strong. Obviously being healthy is the main thing, and then, so far, since my comeback, I’ve been, there’s been ups and downs, and I haven’t found a really solid consistency, and that’s the one thing that I want to feel comfortable. Comfort on the ice and on the right track. That’s my goal for these last few games.”

He later said, “You want to finish strong. It’s going to carry over for the whole summer, and you don’t want to be feeling sorry for yourself. You don’t want to finish on a negative note.” He cited the fact that the team gets another crack one night hence, in San Jose. That game will see them having won five of their last seven contests and gained a point in the other one. If only it could have begun a little bit earlier.

“We’ve been I think 5-1-1 in the last seven,” Coach Trotz reiterated, “And there’s no quit in the dog, if you will. We looked a little rusty in the first five minutes, and I thought that Pekka had some dangerous pucks bouncing around. But he got us rolling the right way. We managed the puck and were able to capitalize on our chances. I thought we had pretty good response [even when they scored].”

Perhaps the biggest statement of all: “In the third period, I didn’t feel at all threatened, which I thought we would, because Anaheim’s been really great at coming back last couple of games.”

“Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh.” That is the best I can do to replicate the sound of the dirt being shoveled onto the Anaheim coffin for the night. No comeback in this one.

Notes

Hiller’s stock perhaps went down with this performance. I am not alone in this estimation.

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