Flames Friday Black

I know what the mall is like on Black Friday. I went there a year ago when there was an NHL lockout on. Big mistake. Couldn’t park even in the remotest satellite lot. That’s bad, because while I normally do park there (car guy—gotta keep the wheels away from the plebes who ding the doors), even that part was full-up.

So I did what any sensible Canadian would do in the face of the monolith of American capitalism. I gave up and went home.

This year, no such decision was needed. The Anaheim Ducks rescued me from that by staging their traditional 1pm Friday game. It was against the Calgary Flames. That bunch hasn’t celebrated Thanksgiving in November since 1980, so they weren’t carrying around turkey weight like Anaheim probably was. (You get that, right? In 1980, the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary.) But being lean and mean, if that’s what the Flames were, didn’t help them.

Coming into the game, the Flames were skidding, sliding, and recovering from a loss against the Blackhawks. Of late, they have not done as poorly as they had earlier in the year, with a record of 2-1-1 in the past four games. But they were still in sixth place in the Pacific, and despite the fact that the records of most Western teams would put them amongst the top in the East, even that was not true for the Flames. They had 20 points, and would have been respectively seventh and last in the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions.

Meanwhile, their opponents the Ducks had lately fallen from their perch atop the Pacific and the West. They were sporting a total of 37 points, fourth in the conference and even worse taking into account that their schedule has had them playing more games than anyone in the league, at 27 (excepting the Jets).

On the ice, the Ducks are a somewhat changed lot at the end of the week. A week ago, my column here at IH detailed some of the multiple injuries the team has sustained and the resulting lineup switch-ups. They are too many to quickly review once more. Now, there are some other additions and subtractions to report.

The team is short of defensemen, which is what prompted them to bring Nolan Yonkman up from Norfolk. He has been in pro hockey for more than a decade, but has less than a season’s worth of games under his belt (76 after Friday) and has scored one goal in that time. His NHL debut came during 2001-02 with Washington. His career then continued through a tour with Phoenix and Florida, and now sees him with the Ducks. He debuted with Anaheim at Dallas mid-week, logging fifteen minutes. He improved his life total of eight points by one early on Friday, getting the second assist on the team’s second goal, a pass along the blueline to Lovejoy, who slapped it toward the net and saw Corey Perry tip it on the way in. The tally came less than a minute after the team had notched the first goal.

Another lineup change to note is that defenseman Alex Grant was recalled from Norfolk. He is a scoring defenseman who stands near the AHL lead in points among blueliners. He was born in 1989 and has, thus far, played entirely in the minor leagues. He was not in the lineup against Calgary, however.

The Ducks have also demoted two players this week, youngsters Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem. In their places as forwards are Patrick Maroon, the returned Koivu, and Beleskey, now back for six games. Maroon has been with the big club all year, playing in many games but sitting nine thus far. He found himself sitting once more on Friday, actually.

Why did these young guys go down? Smith-Pelly had played 16 games with eight points (one goal). Etem had gotten into 24 games, with ten points on six goals. Do the math, and you get the former with a 40-point campaign and the latter with about thirty. Not bad, but not up to their potential. As LA’s Nick Nickson said on a recent radio broadcast, it’s fine for a young player to start out well, but it’s how he ends up that matters, and the tendency for a rookie or early career guy is to wear down under the grind of the number of games the NHL season features. Wear down, that is, both physically and mentally. What I heard talking to people close to the Anaheim team is that the team simply wants to send Smith-Pelly and Etem a motivational message, and that the demotion is supposed to smart a little.

The Ducks, having returned Koivu to their fold, now feature first and third lines that are entirely familiar. That’s Perry-Getzlaf-Penner; and Cogliano-Koivu-Winnik. Their second line, always an experiment that tries to maximize the talents of Selanne, is now that player plus Mathieu Perreault and Beleskey. The other two guys have the speed to keep up with Selanne, and to feed him the passes he needs to break in on the wing and score, and you could see Beleskey looking for exactly that play on several occasions against Calgary, a team that doesn’t tend to play as much defense as they could. (That and the aforementioned sucky goaltending could have something to do with the 87 goals they had allowed coming into Friday, second only to Edmonton in the West, and the league).

The fourth line for Anaheim, to round out that discussion, is a catch-all of Bonino, Tim Jackman, and Kyle Palmieri. What’s their identity? Beats me. They’re sort of fast (Bonino and Palmieri) and sort of tough (Jackman). One thing you can say—they didn’t play much on Friday, with Jackman netting under ten minutes while Bonino led the line with about 15, five of which came on the power play.

Of note though of no immediate consequence is that Bonino signed a three-year extension with the Ducks this week. He has played about 140 games with the team to date, and stands among the team’s leaders this year in points, with 16 coming into Friday (7-9-16). The money side of the deal, according to local press reports, amounts to $5.7 million over the term.

Jackman, of course, was lately a Flame. He played most of the last three seasons there after an up-and-down career that saw him spend at least equal games in the minors as in the NHL. His former teammates were more than complimentary to him in the press coming into the game. The best line about his departure from Alberta came from the Calgary Herald’s George Johnson: “The departure . . . didn’t exactly create a frothing tidal wave of controversy around [this town].”

Why’d the Ducks pick him up? Simple, again from Johnson: “Jackman alone wore the tin star ‘round these parts, was left to keep the peace, stand up for the citizenry.” To the moment he was traded, he had played in ten Calgary games and notched one goal and 41 PIMs. He’s listed at 6’4” and 220, and it’s a chiseled 220 pounds of nasty.

But to focus on the more significant parts of the Ducks’ offense on this afternoon, the biggest cheer during introductions was reserved for Saku Koivu, returning from a concussion that put him out of the game for fifteen contests. The cheers got louder mid-way through the first period, when he assisted on the Ducks’ first goal. It was started on an aggressive drive into the Calgary zone. The pass went from down low up high to Vatanen, who took a slapshot into a half-open net. Why? The Calgary netminder, Reto Berra, dove out to his left to stop what he thought was going to be a shot by Cogliano. One thought immediately came to the sell-out crowd: “It’s not soccer, dude. You can wait to see where he shoots it.” Berra is relatively new to the NHL, having played in eleven games now. He came into the afternoon with a .890 save percentage and a 3.31 GAA. You read that right, and no, life hasn’t flashed back to the 1980s somehow. But you might think so looking at the Flames’ other goalie’s record, which shows a .882 save percentage and a 3.59 GAA.

Anyway, the fans cheered Koivu, and he expressed his feelings about being back in comments he made after the game. “I felt, physically, surprisingly good. Coming back from a concussion, this was the first time for me, and I was a little hesitant in the first period. Then in the second half, I felt a little more confident. . . . Tonight I felt fine.”

Sometimes shots on goal can be a misleading stat. Numbers, or volume, not telling the tale. But in period one of this game the Ducks dominated after a brief early flurry by the Flames. Granted, the Anaheim team had the advantage of two power plays, but even when each side was skating five plus the keepers, the Ducks were better. The shots were 14-6, but the play was almost all in the Calgary end. When the Flames did get the puck in, they penetrated mostly with one player, and the chances were quickly broken up. The Ducks, by contrast, held the puck in the zone, cycled it back to the defense, and putting it either on net or into the area high in the slot that Calgary seemed willing to concede to them.

Aside from Vatanen’s goal from the defense and Koivu’s, the Ducks got three more by the end. Penner had two of them, one on the power play, and Cogliano had the other. The home squad dominated in the game with the exception of brief flurries by Calgary. The Flames could never get the game closer than 4-2 towards the eventual 5-2 end. The shots ended 42-21, but that was only because the Ducks started to drop back and play some defense in the third period, and thus limited their own chances. Hartley did pull his netminder after goal five. After the game, he said after that his team just couldn’t counter the big bodies of Getzlaf’s line up front.

The Ducks summed the game up in the fashion you might expect. Penner will often bust out something that is not a cliché, but on this afternoon, there was no detail in his comments. Witness this: “We want to get some confidence to take into the next week. We face some pretty stiff competition, and we need the team feeling as confident as possible.” Regarding his goals, he said, “It’s been a while since I had output with any consistency.” He then moved on to the fact that he’s always had the same mindset. He then talked about Koivu, and finished with “It’s huge when you can roll four lines and score one on the power play.”

Getzlaf said, “We were in a position when we needed a rebound game. They’re a good hockey team. They come out and skate hard, but we just had to get back to our game at home.” He didn’t say much about his line until the end of his comments. “Dustin’s playing great. He’s put the work in. When he came here, he wasn’t necessarily ready to start the season, and he knows that. He’s done everything he’s needed to do to play his twenty minutes a night. He’s playing properly, and we’re working really well.”

They got on a plane late Friday afternoon to San Jose, where they play on Saturday. Then it’s the Kings in Anaheim on Tuesday night. The only break—LA will have played Saturday but also Monday night.

pond-hockeyNotes

Please buy my new book, Pond Hockey, a novel, for your hockey-loving friend this Christmas.  Here’s a quick overview:

A middle-aged man moves back to his hometown in rural Quebec because of his mother’s illness. While there he is drawn to the pond where he first learned to play hockey. He remembers Robert, a retired NHLer, who taught him and his friends the rules of the game and by extension, the rules of life. Robert has since passed on, and the pond where they played and the shack where they warmed their frozen hands is derelict. The story is peppered with facts about the development of the pond hockey movement in North America.

I’m on twitter @growinguphockey.

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