They can let the other team score first. Even get up by a couple. It doesn’t matter. They win anyway. That’s the Anaheim Ducks. Want proof? They were down against Nashville on Thursday and scored four unanswered goals. This against a team that is notoriously stingy. Not so much this year, though, as Nashville has allowed more goals than all but a few teams in the West.
Then again, it’s not hard to win, no matter how you start, when you score four or more goals a game, as the Ducks had done for six straight games coming into Sunday night. The production has been spread out, too, with most of the goals coming off the sticks of forwards, and even people who have come off missing games due to injury (Dustin Penner) have potted goals on their return.
Fourteen times in their first 48 games, Anaheim has scored five or more goals, in addition. Hard not to win with those numbers in your favor.
Looking at the goal differential, the Ducks are better than plus-40, and their goal output at 159 is second best in the conference, behind Chicago at 171. That number, incidentally, is also second in the league, with the wild, wild West apparently where all the run-and-gun play is happening this season. The best team in this department in the East is so far behind, it’s not funny—Pittsburgh with 148.
And as has been well documented, the Anaheim team is also reaping the benefit of great goaltending in the form of Jonas Hiller. It has been noted, of course, that he’s in a contract year, and that, further, his current salary of $4.5 million is looking rather a bargain.
Hiller has played all but five games since Nov. 20, and he hasn’t lost a game without at least getting a single point since Nov. 26. What’s also interesting is that in that time, he has had zero shutouts, until Sunday night against Detroit. But neither has he allowed more than three goals, and most nights, it’s two. Just put that into perspective with the Ducks’ production of close to four goals a game, and you’ve got the math about right for a team that’s not going to lose all that many times.
Against this juggernaut, the Detroit Red Wings, as I documented in my story on their win against the Kings on Saturday night, fielded a team that is much depleted. Further to their woes was the fact that at the end of the game Saturday evening, starting netminder Jimmy Howard was hurt. He finished the game, but Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said he’d start “the next available guy” in Howard’s place on Sunday. The only thing—no backup was available, and so with Petr Mrazek in net, Howard sat backup. Could he have come in if needed? Perhaps, but the injury as cited by his coach was a hip flexor. Probably not something to be fooled around with.
The Ducks, meanwhile, made wholesale line changes in dealing with the absence of their captain. Ryan Getzlaf blocked a couple of shots late in the second period against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday and was hurt on one of them. No specific word as to his return was offered by the team, but with him out the lines moved around to look like this:
Top line: Perry-Beleskey-Bonino
Second line: Selanne-Perreault-Maroon
Third line: Winnik-Palmieri-Penner
Other line (which one can hardly call the “fourth”): Cogliano-Koivu-Silfverberg.
In fact, if you look at it, it’s almost hard to number any of those lines.
The first had just one former first-liner, Corey Perry. The second had two guys who have played together, with Patrick Maroon the distant other. The third had just Daniel Winnik from the former third line. The fourth, or remaining one, was two members of the first line, plus Silfverberg.
What was the idea in doing so much mixing, rather than just bringing someone up to play with Perry and Penner in Getzlaf’s absence?
Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t comment on this after the game, but he did say that Getzlaf’s leadership has been important in the recent run (which, to be correct about it, he did not credit as a run. He said the team takes things a day at a time, one game after the other, rather than looking at things as a string). His words: “We make it a daily, one day at a time club. Next Tuesday, when we come in on Tuesday, we’ll look at Vancouver [Wednesday’s opponent].”
On Gretzlaf, Boudreau said, “He is a really good leader, and he keeps everyone even keel. We don’t get too high on the highs.”
Perhaps one secret to Anaheim’s success is that they make changes when they need to. Witness that even the above-cited set of line schemes didn’t last, as during the second period the trio of Palmieri, Koivu, and Cogliano was out. They had a couple of good shifts around the middle part of the period, the second of which resulted in the game’s first goal. Koivu forced a turnover by a defenseman coming though the Detroit high slot. Palmieri grabbed the puck and put it to Koivu going down the wall, and Koivu fed Cogliano in front of the net for his 15th goal of the year, a tap-in.
Meanwhile, the Wings played something like they had the night before, perhaps the only way they can play now. Instead of being strong into the zone, they were raggedy, and not one time did it appear that they had full control of the puck to work their will with. Last night, at least Bertuzzi was in front of the net crowding Quick a time or two. Maybe Zetterberg once also. But against the Ducks, there was no such pressure.
While the Wings had fired 26 shots and gotten three goals the previous night, a similar low shot total on Sunday at 22, yielded no goals.
An interesting note to that is that it was the first shutout for Hiller on his current streak of 14 wins. This ties the second longest streak by an NHL goalie in a single season. The last goalie to win this many in a row was Pittsburgh’s Tom Barrasso in 1993, when Hiller was eleven. The longest goalie wins streak is by Gilles Gilbert of Boston. He set this starting on Boxing Day of 1975 and concluding on Leap Day of the next year. Hiller, if he ties the streak, would do so in St. Louis on Jan. 18. He would break the record against Winnipeg in Anaheim on Jan. 21.
The game, in fact, had only two flurries when the Wings were actually able to get the momentum. The rest of the game, either the Ducks controlled the play or neither team did. That is, both moved the puck through the neutral zone only to lose it and then saw the play going the other way do the exact same thing.
Was this a mark against the Ducks? Was the loss of Getzlaf hurting them? Did they not bear down as they might have? The shot total would perhaps suggest the latter, given that in their last 10 games, just once have they had fewer shots (20 against Boston) than on Sunday and only three times have they been under 30, including games of 28 and 29 shots. Seven times this season, they’ve been over 40 shots on goal.
The Wings did pressure and open up the game, stretching their passes and often connecting when the time grew short in the third period. They also rolled a puck through the crease with about four minutes to go on a play when the Ducks and Wings both were scrambling in the Anaheim zone.
Saku Koivu said after Sunday’s 1-0 win, “We’ve been winning a lot of games lately where you get down a couple of goals early and then get four or five goals to win, but I think that this type of game is the type our team has to learn how to win. Good defensively, maybe not playing our best, but scoring enough goals to win the game. This game felt good, but it probably wasn’t pretty.” He summed up, “We played a good team defensive game, and one goal in the end was enough.”
The Wings thought that they’d also played well. Henrik Zetterberg commented, “We played one of our best games tonight. I think we fought hard. We played good enough to win but couldn’t find a way.”
“We competed hard and our goalie played great,” Detroit forward Patrick Eaves said of Mrazek stopping 22-of-23 shots. “There weren’t many chances. As you can see, there weren’t a lot of shots from either side. They got one on us. We hit the post there in the third.”
Actually they weren’t the only ones. The Ducks hit a post going from left to right in the zone across the crease, and then, shortly after, Perry fluttered a wrist shot at the net on the same power play chance and hit the point where the crossbar and post meet.
Finally, Babcock noted, “Normally the Ducks beat you 5-1. It was tight, but they didn’t have much room either. Neither goalie had to be very good to be honest with you.”
He was right. One time, Mrazek made a sweeping glove save, but it was more for effect than anything. In comparison to the night prior when Howard was really incredible in the loss and faced 45 shots, this game Sunday was mostly played, as was indicated, between the blue lines.
It was a “Finns in the Sin Bin” night. Koivu took three minor penalties in just over a period, and Teemu Selanne took one at the end of the game. Obviously on none of them did the Wings convert.
The team has a tough schedule upcoming, with Vancouver, Chicago, and St. Louis, then Winnipeg. They then roll two versus LA, one in Anaheim and the other at Dodger Stadium.
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