The only streak the Anaheim Ducks had going into Friday night’s game with the Pittsburgh Penguins in town was three losses in a row to start the season. After that, it had been all win-loss-win-loss, with two losses thrown in late last week.
But Wednesday night, they came back to win in OT against league-leading Tampa Bay.
Sidney Crosby and company came to town next, and the Ducks made it two wins in a row with a 3-2 triumph. Notable in the game, aside from Crosby scoring two goals, was one significant change in the Ducks’ lineup. heir fourth line, deprived of Kyle Chipchura, Dan Sexton, and Matt Beleskey, all of whom had played there (along with staple George Parros) at various times in the still-new season, is now made up of Parros and two youngsters, Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri.
Each had been in NHL camp this fall but found himself sent to Syracuse to start the season. Each notched nine points there, and each, at the same time, was recalled to the Ducks to play on Wednesday night.
For Palmieri, it was his NHL debut. Bonino had played nine games with the club last season. In that span, he had two points on a goal and an assist. He was originally drafted in the sixth round by San Jose, back in 2007.
Palmieri scored a goal in less than eight minutes of play in his debut, tying the game with the Lightning. His stock as he began his career was perhaps higher than Bonino’s, having been picked in the first round last year, 26th overall. Last year, he played with the US Junior team which won the gold medal at the WJC. His goal came on three shots, but what is more impressive is that he and his linemates were out there with less than five minutes remaining in the third period Wednesday night.
They were also out late on Friday against the Pens, and after, IH got to spend some time with him to find out what it felt like to play at a crucial time of the game.
“In that situation, I think definitely Coach is starting to gain trust in our line a little bit more each day, and it feels good to have your coach’s confidence in your style, the way you play and it helps you gain more confidence,” Palmieri said. His accent marks him as American, for those of you keeping track. He was born in New York state, but his home state is New Jersey.
The transition to the NHL has been a bit of a whirlwind for Palmieri, who at 19 years nine months old is the fifth youngest Ducks’ player, ever.
“It’s been exciting for me and my family the last couple of years, but I’m starting to settle in and get a little more comfortable out on the ice. It’s been a great experience,” he commented. “We [he and Bonino] were playing well together [in the AHL] and we were on a bit of a streak, but we had the opportunity to come up here and help this team win, and that’s what we’re trying to do, whether it’s on the scoresheet or plugging away with their [opponents’] third and second lines, it’s just playing our role, giving it our best effort.”
He is aware of the feeling of awe that playing in an NHL arena inspires, but he has it under control.
“Obviously the NHL is everybody’s dream and there’s not that many people that dream of playing in the A [the AHL],” he explained. “If you are, you’re just settling. It’s a high level of hockey. It’s right below the NHL, but guys my age, you can’t really ask for much more [than being in the NHL].”
And as for playing opposite somebody like Sid the Kid, he says, “Obviously, it’s an unbelievable experience being out there with somebody like Sidney Crosby. Just watching him growing up, on the ice it’s unbelievable, to go out there and play against him. But I don’t want to psyche myself out, go out there and see him as somebody he is not. He’s one of the best players in the NHL, and you have to have respect for a guy like that. You have to be responsible for, not shutting him down obviously, since it’s not an individual game, but you do your best to keep him in check.”
What’s the prospect that fans will see more of the young center?
“As long as we play well defensively day by day, we’ll see a little bit more trust,” he said of his line. Carlyle and he have had a couple of conversations, Palmieri reports, “Basic things. He hasn’t said anything about change or anything like that, and I know how he expects me to play. Just going out there and doing what it takes to give this team a win, playing my role is what he expects me to do.”
Palmieri is described as an agitator by Hockey’sFuture.com, but his size isn’t what makes that work for him. He’s listed as variously 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11, but the latter is unlikely. As for his body size, he’s 190lbs. on the NHL official stat list, but looks smaller in person. On the other hand, that’s not an issue for a player like Selanne, and it’s all about fitness.
“Whether you’re playing at Junior hockey, midget hockey, or the professional level,” he says. “You go through a routine. You learn some keys coming up about how you treat your body and what you put into your body, and how you prepare for games. It’s something you really learn as you go along. I’m also really learning a lot from the guys in this room.”
His year last year included time at the University of Notre Dame, where he played 33 games and got 17 points. At the WJC, he played in seven games and had nine points on a goal and eight helpers. With Syracuse, those nine points were the opposite of that, seven goals and two assists.
Any way you look at it, then, this kid is likely to work his way up the lineup as he stays with the Ducks. The trouble right now is that he’s on a team that has pretty good first and second lines, including a first line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan which has already notched 43 points, and boasts one of the leading scorers in the league in Getzlaf, with 17 points. But given the volatile nature of the game and the reality that the Ducks’ second line — Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, and Jason Blake — is great right now but aging, it’s likely that the new kid will have his moment if he stays patient and keeps doing what has made him successful at every level so far.
Carlyle always says he doesn’t critique wins, and he said it again after the game, but there are a couple of things he mentioned as issues. One is that his goaltender, Jonas Hiller, needs to learn to handle the puck on dump-ins and to put rebounds off to the side. Friday night, Hiller stopped two or three shots with his (right) catching hand open, punching the rebound right into the slot.
Brian’s book Living the Hockey Dream entertains you with stories of players from around the hockey world.