Ducks Slow Early, Better Late

The Ducks are human. Is that news? Well, given the way they’ve played in the early going of this season, to some it might be. Proof of that came in the form of their pitiful performance in the early going Sunday night against the visiting Avalanche, who had played the afternoon before in LA.

Maybe it’s the sunshine, because while the rest of the country has been freezing, out in the OC of California, it’s been 75 degrees every day for weeks, with barely a drop of rain. After the game, which the Ducks pulled out of the fire with a 4-3 OT win, Teemu Selanne blamed the team’s recent six-day layoff for their slow start on the night. “That six days,” he said, “We really didn’t like that. That never helps a hockey team. I say that, you know, we were all worried about tonight’s game. In the practice, you start doing little bad habits because there’s no hitting, and you don’t finish all the battles like the way in the game, so that’s why it takes time to get going. It was twenty minutes, that first period for us.”

The Avalanche were up by two goals to none at the 12:54 mark, the first at regular strength, the second on the power play. They had had, by that time, two power plays, and they were to get a further one before the frame ended. The Ducks, meanwhile, looked better in the second half of the period, and Daniel Winnik, who was to end the night with five shots and 18:33 of ice time, had a couple of good chances, both of which he created from nothing. The second of these came shorthanded, when he fought past a Colorado player toward the net. He was stick checked as he tried to switch the puck from forehand to backhand heading in on goal.

Captain Getzlaf was quite concerned with the start also, as he explained after the game. When asked what they might do to fix it, he said, “We’ll find out. We might try to change up a few things, change our warmup. You can’t do that in every game. It’s way too much work to come back. Some teams will put you away.”

Meanwhile, Coach Boudreau had both an explanation for the slow start, and a remedy, saying that on Monday against LA, his team would have to come out better. “Every team is coming out hard against us,” he said before contrasting this start to the season to the one the team had last year, which put them dismally in the hole.

Selanne, too, mentioned that, saying that it was no fun playing in those circumstances. The situation the Ducks are in right now is much more engaging, no matter what place a person has on the team. “Everybody is able to contribute now,” he said. For his part, he is now ahead of Phil Esposito in power play goals all-time after scoring one, the Ducks’ second. At the time, it tied the game at two goals with about halfway gone in period two. The Avs would go ahead less than a minute later, 3-2.

But we’re a bit ahead. The Ducks reprised their weak first period by storming to 22 shots in the second. Colorado, meanwhile, played a steady game, with 11 in the first and ten in the second. But the Ducks, as the first period wound into the second, were taking all the play. In the third period, the Ducks had seven shots and the Avs just one. Colorado had gained the lead midway through period two, but the Ducks tied it on the power play near midway in the third. It seemed like a foregone conclusion, because they were dominating, skating the puck, taking chances with long passes. Playing Ducks hockey, in other words. Meanwhile, the Avs were nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t that they were sitting back, exactly. They just weren’t getting to the puck, perhaps through fatigue beginning to catch their legs. The game they played against LA Saturday was just 22 hours before, with Sunday’s game coming at an early 5pm time.

The score was tied through regulation, but the Ducks ended it in OT, 4-on-3.

Their risky style of play paid off against Colorado, but it won’t be something they’ll repeat against the Kings on Monday. “Tomorrow, I’m expecting we’re going to be way better. We can’t afford to have a start like this,” Selanne said, “Because the Kings are good, and if you look how they play, they won the game against Colorado in the first ten minutes.”

Boudreau injected more of a note of dread into his expectations for the morrow. “I’ve watched every one of their [LA] games, and they’re just flat out good. Quick is good, and he’s playing like he’s the Conn Smythe trophy winner. We’ll see how we do against them, but they’re as good a test as you’re going to find in this game today.” Is he perhaps seeding the deck a little bit, hoping that the Kings players are going to see his comments on Fox Sports, where the postgame was being shown, this being a local game? You call it.

Getzlaf, for his part, put it succinctly: “We’ll get a good test tomorrow.”

The Ducks were not going home to sleep tonight, but leaving for LA directly from Honda Center. Jonas Hiller filled IH in on the routine. “We actually just go to LA tonight and stay there. It’s a little bit different. We’ve got four games in six nights, and rest is important.” He expects that Viktor Fasth will be starting, since there are a lot of games coming up.

The Ducks would have a tough go against the Kings if they had lost to Colorado on Sunday, because the psychology would have been doubly against them, playing back-to-back and having lost to a much inferior team. Coming on as they did and taking over after a poor start reassures them that whatever LA has for them, they can handle.

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