Ducks Still Saying the Right Things

There’s nothing to say about the Ducks right now that you haven’t heard before. That didn’t stop the team’s captain and its coach from saying the usual after their 5-3 loss against the Kings on Thursday night, however.

Randy Carlyle: It’s always tough playing from behind, and we played from behind most of the night. But we got fired up in the game in the third period. We started playing with that emotion, skating, doing some of the things that, uh, we have to get hit over the head to get to that point. And, you know, we got ourselves back in the game. We got a goal, and then . . . we made a pass into the middle, and their guy, I think it was Kopitar, chipped it into the middle. We have a four-on-two if we complete the pass. It was all set up to work . . . and that’s what happened.”

He’s referring to final goal of the game, an empty-net marker, but he could as easily lament the play when the Ducks got pinned in the offensive end, and Kopitar brought the puck down the ice for the Kings, sweeping around behind the net right to left. He put it in front on the backhand, then got his own rebound (although only one shot was credited on the play). It went behind goalie Dan Ellis for a 4-3 LA lead with a second over three minutes left to play.

It wasn’t the deal-breaker, though it ended up being the winner. The crusher was scored by Mike Richards, from just outside his own blueline, with the goalie out of the Ducks’ net and the Kings shorthanded, with about a minute and a half to go.

Until that point, it was entirely conceivable that Anaheim could tie the game, as they had with about three minutes left in the teams’ first meeting of the season a day earlier. Richards crushed that hope, his third shot of the night going down the ice so straight it might have gone in the tiny hole in that board they put in the net between periods in the contest to win a car. The crowd, which had been pro-Kings a lot of the night, had been taken over by Ducks’ supporters with about five minutes to go. That goal, which made it 5-3, killed that and saw fans of both stripes run for the exits.

Shortly after, the final buzzer went, the game became history, and all the work of finding the story was still undone. By the time the press was let into the Anaheim room, the place was empty. But Getzlaf was made available to us. He was calm and nonchalant in his answers. “We showed a lot of good things tonight. We have to be able to continue to build on those things,” he began, “And things will go our way. I’m confident in this group that if we keep working the way we are, we’ll turn things around.” He’s said this before, of course.

Carlyle later added, “We need offensive contributions from everybody, and our power play did score two goals for us, but . . . they were better on the special teams than we were tonight, and it probably won the hockey game for them.” It’s as if it were only a matter of statistics, or one element of the game.

Getzlaf said further, “It wasn’t for lack of effort. But for a few bounces here and there, that’s the way the game went.” And he finished up by saying that he has concerns, that every time you step on the ice, you have to, to be thinking about winning. “We don’t want to dig ourselves too deep a hole,” he summarized.

True, or not true?

From an outside point of view, things are bad. A losing streak of six games punctuated by a win and now three more losses (albeit with three of those nine losses going to OT, hence netting the team a point), and the cellar in their division leaving Thursday night. But from another point of view, it’s a team which is not incapable of playing well. But for some really solid netminding in the Kings’ net (Quick, back-to-back from last night, again well on his way to being thoroughly exhausted by the time the playoffs come) and a little luck, the Ducks could well have won this game and closed to within three points of the cross-town rival.

The bright spot in the loss is that the Ducks are not standing still. They have recently made several changes. They grabbed Niklas Hagman off of waivers from Calgary. He was credited with a good effort by Carlyle, who added that the player probably hadn’t had a lot of good (high-intensity) skating for a while, so he didn’t quite have his legs under him. Still, the coach used him on his third line early, with Brandon McMillan and Devante Smith-Pelly, and later moved him up to line one, alongside Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Of his new linemate, Getzlaf commented briefly, “It felt good. Hags went out there and did what he was brought here to do. He worked hard and I think created a few chances and stuff, and that’s all we can ask of him.”

The team has also secured the services of Ben Maxwell, who has bounced around some but got in four games with the Jets this year; Jean-Francois Jacques, who has had a mixed AHL-NHL career and is on the roster for size and toughness; and Nate Guenin, who has been in pro hockey since 2006-07 as a defenseman but has appeared in only 19 games, with four teams.

What will the Ducks do now? Carlyle said, “We’ll do an assessment of areas of improvement as you always do when you’re going through struggles like we’re going through.” He mentioned special teams particularly, along with defensive hockey.

They’ll likely continue to evaluate Hagman, to see whether he belongs up with the first or second line (Cogliano makes it hard–how can you demote him from the second, where he was with Selanne and Koivu, after he scored two goals in the game?). Perhaps it will turn out that Hagman is fine playing on line three. Maybe he even has some two-way potential, if the thought is to convert that line into a checking line, as Anaheim has done with its third unit in the past.

For now, the Ducks lament a close loss that could have gone their way; now they await Detroit on Sunday.

Notes

How to know when you’ve asked a stupid question: when the captain laughs and says in response to a query about why Andrew Cogliano didn’t shoot the puck at the three open holes he had on a chance in the first period, “Is that what you saw from up there? Gee, it must be easy up there.” I didn’t ask it; I swear.

The big story going around the press box during period two: the cops say they’re going to open up the Natalie Wood drowning case after two or three decades of dormancy. And who cares, exactly?

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