Sometimes the better team is better on the stat sheet. I know that coaches (Sutter) don’t credit shots on goal with a lot, but in all honesty, in Anaheim Friday night, they were an indication of at least a little something, as the Pens came out to a total of 17 through three periods plus five minutes. What did the shots mean? That the Ducks were better than Pittsburgh. The home team, by the way, ended with 31 SOG.
But in the end, the result went to the visitors, 3-2 in a shootout. And that’s not to say that the Pens scored soft goals. In fact, at the time they had seven shots, the game could have been 3-1 for them, rather than tied at ones, as it was. That, by the way, was not partway through period two, but at the end of the first forty minutes.
Interestingly, afterwards Coach Boudreau said, “I don’t know if the shots were completely accurate, but anytime they’ve got only seven shots after two periods, you’ve got to think that they had some that we didn’t count. But you take away their power play, and I think they had ten or eleven shots, which is great. We followed our game plan to a T and lost in the shootout.”
And those forty minutes? All Ducks. They had the puck in the Pens’ end most of the game. They were running them around and passing like they do—long, risky, but with so much sizzle that they couldn’t be interrupted. Why was it tied? Because Fleury had stopped 22 of 23 that had come his way, and Hiller six of seven. Unfortunately, to go along with his sizzling spectacularity (including one save where he burst from right to left in a full splits and got a leg on a rocket from Malkin), he let in a low wrister from about the blueline for the visiting team’s first goal.
The Ducks had opened the scoring at just under four minutes, Corey Perry getting the tally. He would notch another one at the start of period three to put the Ducks up 2-1, but then while they had a guy in the box (Palmieri, for what looked like a kick but was called tripping), they let the Penguins tie the game. This came with almost half of period three expired. The rest was academic, though the shootout went six rounds and Teemu Selanne scored a must-have goal in the fifth frame to keep it going.
Perry also notched one in that extra skills contest, but the end came when Brandon Sutter scored on a deke backhand and then Getzlaf of the Ducks put the puck over the net. It was about the same place he’d fired it late in the shootout, up and over the net with Fleury coming over to challenge him.
What hasn’t yet been mentioned is that Crosby was held to just one shot and an assist on the night, but that he very well could have ended it at the start of OT. Fowler and Lovejoy were playing ticky-tack to pass the puck from one to the other near the blueline when old 87 stuck his stick in between them and rifled away on a breakaway with guys in chase. He got to Hiller, made and inside-outside move, and shot. Hiller was the equal with the save. It was lovely on both sides.
Perhaps the hush over the crowd to follow indicated that the air had gone out of the large Pittsburgh contingent’s balloon. They were vocal all night, and perhaps accounted for the announced attendance which amount to about 400 bodies over a sellout.
To put the game in a larger perspective, here are a couple of notes and observations.
First, the Ducks were using Rickard Rakell for the first time in months (since November) at forward. He played with Selanne and Beleskey on the second line. The first line, in the absence of Mr. Penner, off to Washington, was Perry-Getzlaf-Palmieri. The fourth line was Silfverberg, Bonino, and Maroon.
Next, new hire Stephan Robidas was in the house, spotted outside the Ducks’ room after the game. He’s been skating and will return from a broken leg to make his Ducks debut in mid-March. Who’ll sit on defense? Good question. One of the kids, probably.
On the Pittsburgh side, the penalties—four minors, same as Anaheim took—were a bit over the average. They’re second in the league on the PK, but what’s remarkable is that they don’t find themselves there often. Through 62 games, they had been shorthanded 192 times, fewer than any of the first eleven teams in PK effectiveness. Only they and the Rangers are under 200 in the top 15 on the league table.
And then there were the questions, two crucial ones on this night. First, how does the East-West style compare? IH asked goalie Marc Andre Fleury for his point of view. “They have a lot of big guys, a lot of guys going to the net, crashing the net. They get more shots, than in the East. It sometimes feels like they get more shots.”
The second question—do the shots on goal totals matter? “It depends on the scoring chances you get. Midway through we got some shots. There may not have been as many scoring chances, though.”
The Penguins were coming off a loss in San Jose, but they didn’t think that made any real difference. Fleury cited a bit of a slow start, but said, “We really picked it up in the end.”
One concern Boudreau voiced was for his power play. “We’re not a complete two-minute power play team yet, but we’re working on it. We’ll work on it Sunday and see how it goes comes Monday.” That is, against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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