Ducks’ Third Line Rolling Along

When what you have to talk about is how much your favorite team’s third line has changed over the summer, you know you’re likely to enjoy a good season.  That’s precisely the position Anaheim Ducks fans are in.  The two first trios—Ryan, Getzlaf, and Perry; and Blake, Koivu, and Selanne—are intact.  The goaltending is back to where it was at its best last year, with Jonas Hiller having recovered from a months-long bout of vertigo and Dan Ellis ready to back him up.  And the defense is mostly what it was last year.

But the third line, which at the moment consists of Andrew Gordon, Andrew Cogliano, and Devante Smith-Pelly, is where the news is.  This matters precisely because that line, whoever populates it, has always been crucial to the Ducks’ success, going back to their Stanley Cup year of 2007.  So who are these guys?

Gordon is what might best be described as a reclamation project.  Drafted by the Caps in 2004, in the seventh round, he never caught on with them, playing just twelve games over the years since.

Mostly, he was with the Hershey Bears after having played college hockey at St. Cloud State for three seasons (2004-07).  The Caps gave him cups of coffee in 2008-09 and 2009-10 (one game and two games, respectively).  He got a little better shot last season, but it still amounted to just nine games.  During his tenure with the Caps, he had a goal and an assist.

Coming into Friday, he had played both games of the Ducks’ young season, and he had one assist to show for it.  In case you’re wondering how he got to Anaheim, it was via free agency, with his signing taking place on July 2 of this year.

That’s not to say that his potential to score is lacking.  With the Bears last year, he saw action in 50 games, and he totaled more than a point per, with the numbers split between goals and assists, 28-29-57.  Perhaps more important, and what leads the Ducks to put him on their third line, is that he was a plus 20.

The prior two years, by the way, Gordon played almost all of Hershey’s games, and in 2009-10, he recorded 71 points in 79 contests, again, about half of them goals.  This year, in the Ducks’ first two games he averaged about 11:25 on the ice.  Early Friday evening, in the team’s third game, at home against the Sharks, he was used on the third line, but also got time on the penalty kill, alongside another newcomer, Maxime Macenauer.

Gordon is a right wing.  At center on line three is Andrew Cogliano.  He came from Edmonton in July, also via free agency, albeit with a more secure pedigree than the one Gordon features.

Cogliano was drafted in the first round, 25th overall, in 2005.  He then played two years at the University of Michigan before handing in four full 82-game seasons with the Oilers.  Over those 328 games, he scored 57-89-146 points, and with the Ducks, in two games coming into Friday, he had kept up that exact statistical average, having potted one goal.

Oddly enough, the compensation back to Edmonton for this player was simply a second-round selection in the 2013 Entry Draft.  His numbers on offense aside, perhaps one downside of the player is his +/-, which was -23 last year.  On the other hand, the team he played with wasn’t exactly stellar, recording 193 goals for but 269 against.  A lot of players in blue and orange were in the negatives last year.

The streak of now 331 straight games Cogliano has appeared in makes his streak the fifth longest amongst active NHL players.  One additional note about the center is that he was first in faceoff wins for his team last year, with 461, and was first in shorthanded goals as well, scoring three.

On Friday night in a Ducks uniform, he was featured on the PK unit, spending time alongside his even-strength linemate Smith-Pelly.  Two kids killing penalties in the first period?  They were joined by Macenauer, as mentioned above.

The final member of line three for the Ducks at this point in the season is Devante Smith-Pelly.  A second-round draftee by Anaheim (42nd overall) last year (the year they snagged surprise Cam Fowler, who was never supposed to be around when the Ducks got their first shot at 12th pick), he was born in Scarborough (a Toronto suburb) and played his Junior hockey with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.  Over the three years from 2008-11, he increased his point totals from 25 to 66, and brings size with him, at 211 pounds.  Perhaps a better indication of why the team has had the faith in him which has kept him around out of camp is that over the three seasons in Juniors, he has gone from a -4 to a +27 to a +49 last year.

He also has surprisingly low penalty minutes for a player in the OHL, with just 16 in 67 games last year.  Of course, that also means that he’s not a scrapper, and the Ducks typically like a little bit of nasty in their players.  It will be interesting to see how he does against the players he’ll meet in the NHL.

In the early going on Friday evening, he took a penalty, for interference (it could as easily have been holding) behind his own net as a San Jose player tried to scoot by to the puck.  He also played about a minute on the PK to balance that out.

In the second period, he gave up too easily chasing a puck into the left corner, but redeemed that by getting a stick on a loose puck in the slot on the same shift.  He did himself one better defensively a couple of minutes later, when he back-checked as the puck came around behind the Ducks’ net, then popped into the slot with Andrew Desjardins going for it.  Smith-Pelly got to it first, then held it and skated it on his backhand with the San Jose player pressuring him.  A turnover may well have meant a goal.

The question is, of course, will he stay “up” (actually down, if your thing is geography, but you get it, right?).  The team could be using the rule that allows them a nine-game look at a young player before sending him back to his Junior team.  Smith-Pelly is just nineteen, and thus could play in Mississauga (out near the Toronto airport) again this year.

Part of what will determine the fate of these two less-established players, Smith-Pelly and Gordon, is how they work together with their center, and how they do as time goes on when they get time killing penalties.  Late in period two, with the Ducks ahead 1-0 after a goal at 13:59 of period one, both Cogliano and Gordon again were killing a penalty, although not at the same time.  This was true also in period three, very late in the going.

Through two periods, Gordon had about nine minutes, Smith-Pelly eight, and Cogliano ten.  The latter was 1-1 on faceoffs.  By sixty minutes, they averaged about thirteen minutes each.

Coach Carlyle said after the game that “we’ve played them all training camp there [on the PK], so why would we change now?  That’s the way that we’re going to enable them to get some minutes, not on the offensive side but on the defensive side.  Once they accomplish that and they get comfortable doing that, then their offense will come.  They have offensive instincts behind them.  They used them in Junior and the lower levels where they’ve played.  This is just kind of a baptismal for those young players.”

Just to finish the thought about who’s going well on the Ducks.  The lone goal was scored by Macenauer with an assist from Parros.   The first and second lines totaled 16 of the Ducks’ 23 shots, with no points.  In the end, it didn’t matter, as the fourth-line goal stood up for the win.  Carlyle was happy about that, but not so much with the lack of offensive production from his first two groups, which are devoid of points in three games.

“It’s not just offense, though you do have to be able to provide that.  What’s particularly concerning for us, and will be, is that we’re not getting the offense right now.  Our big guys are not scoring, and our power play hasn’t delivered a goal yet.  Those things are the game within the game.”

The Sharks had 31 shots, and at least two, one by Thornton and one by Couture, the latter with a couple of minutes to go, that should have gone in.  Eventual first star Jonas Hiller stopped both.  The second was so dangerous that the crowd was already ooh-ing like it had gone in before they realized that the save had been made.

The Ducks host the Blues Sunday night before returning against San Jose up north Monday, making it three games in four nights after coming back from Europe.

Ducks Notes

Here’s a fun thing: the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana is hosting Anaheim Ducks Week from Oct. 15-23.  The museum has a large “Science of Hockey” exhibit which was largely funded through the generosity of the Ducks and the Samueli Foundation.  They will have a mobile exhibit at the team’s game Sunday afternoon (5pm faceoff local time; 3-5pm for the fun zone).

Sunday is also Corey Perry Night at Honda Center.  Fans will have the chance to take photos with the Hart Memorial and Rocket Richard Trophies.  They’ll also get a commemorative poster and puck for attending the game.

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