A week ago it was all roses in Anaheim. Their top two lines weren’t scoring, but they were intact, their potential waiting to burst out. In the meantime, the team was winning in part because guys from the bottom two trios were contributing.
Then Jason Blake got cut, an injury which is scheduled to keep him out at least past Christmas, and the second line had to be shuffled. The first, of course, remains Perry-Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan. But on the second, along with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, now skates Brandon McMillan. He’s familiar from his time with the team last season, when he played sixty games with the team, scoring 11 goals.
Thus far this year, the Ducks’ third round pick from 2008 has played in all of the team’s games, with an ice-time high of 17 minutes and a low of seven coming into Sunday evening. Prized for his speed, the player is just 188 pounds, and does not measure quite six feet. He’s from Richmond, BC, and plays a clean game—just eighteen PIMs last year. Compare that to Teemu Selanne’s 49 in 73 games.
Forget numbers. The fact is, McMillan can make his career if he takes advantage of being with the two Finns. He’ll do that by showing that he can adopt their style of play, which is fast and, once, in the zone, shifty. There’s constant reinvention of space that goes on when the two veterans are on the puck. They wheel and whirl, and they don’t stand still for a second.
Selanne, particularly, likes to take the puck to the net on angles, firing his wrist shot from ten to twelve feet out. McMillan can be there for the rebound or loose puck if he does his homework and figures out how Selanne’s particular style of shooting combines with the bounces off the Honda Center boards. Goals will result.
But before this revelry goes to far, note that this line was not always stable with Phoenix in town, nor did they produce. At times, Matt Belesky played on it, and at other moments, mostly later in the game, Andrew Cogliano. Perhaps this has to do with the lack of production of Selanne and Koivu. They had chances, as when Selanne burst through the slot and fought off a stick check to get a shot. In period three, he made his way to the net on the righthand side on the power play and took the puck off the shaft of his stick, unable to corral it for a shot.
But that’s just one line, and for Anaheim, there are other lineup shifts going on. For one thing, they don’t always play enforcer George Parros, and when he’s not in, the fourth line changes as a result. Add that to the fact that on Sunday against the Coyotes, the team dressed seven defensemen, and you’ve got alphabet soup. Only with numbers. None of this was helped by the fact that the Ducks were alternately on the power play and penalty kill all night.
The third line, a key for the Ducks, was Cogliano, Smith-Pelly, and Andrew Gordon a week in the past. On this evening, it was almost impossible to pin down who played on this trio. Same for line number four. Whereas a week ago, the fourth line was Parros, McMillan, and Maxime Macenauer, on this evening it was a revolving crew. So here you go: at times, Cogliano was with Beleskey and Gordon. Other times, it was Beleskey, Gordon, and McMillan. Then again, you had Smith-Pelly and McMillan with Macenauer. And once, Smith-Pelly, Cogliano, and Bobby Ryan.
Are you seeing a name come up over and over? Brandon McMillan. He also played on the penalty kill, until in the third period, he blocked a hard slap shot.
On the PK, Devante Smith-Pelly toiled alongside Andrew Cogliano. The former player I profiled a week ago in my story on the team’s home opener. The latter you know because the name sounds familiar from his past four years, during which he played every game the Edmonton Oilers appeared in. He came to Anaheim in the summertime for a 2013 second-round selection.
Whatever the lines, the game was interesting in the early going. The Ducks surrendered a lead, then got a couple of goals back. They were ahead 2-1 for just 42 seconds before Phoenix tied it, so quickly, in fact, that the announcer hadn’t called the home team’s goal yet. He did, but not before he announced the Phoenix tally. Curious.
In period two, the Ducks went down 5-2 on a series of bad goals (the second had been a stinker, and now, in this frame, the same for the third, and fourth) and a final nail for the evening (the fifth goal) in Jonas Hiller’s coffin. The last one he had no chance on. In fact, he did a beautiful splits as the puck came behind the net from one side to the other, but the Coyotes’ Yandle put it in, and sent Jonas to the bench in favor of Dan Ellis.
Looking back at it after the game, Coach Carlyle said, “The flurry of goals in the second period, maybe sunk our hockey club. I’m sure that some of them Jonas would like to have back. Some went through him, and between his legs, and those are signs that your goalie doesn’t have it going that night.”
He also admitted that he should have pulled his netminder earlier, after the fourth goal. “But I thought our team had its fair share of chances. We just didn’t execute to the level that was required, and then we got frustrated.”
Then, having had a minute to think the Hiller matter through, he went another direction on his starter: “The goaltender, it’s easy to sit and criticize the goalie because he’s the last line of defense, and there’s a lot of things that happened in front of him, that they were shooting the pucks from some areas that they should have been checked [in]. Jonas has been a stalwart for this hockey club, and he’s probably been our MVP in a lot of games. It’s hard to point the finger, though I’m sure he’d like to have some of them back.” Note the plural.
Hiller himself hadn’t been willing to take all the blame for the loss. “We had a slow start again, then we found a way to get back up to one [down]. The second goal was my fault, it was a bouncing puck, a rolling puck, but I still should make the save. It didn’t look like we were finding our game.” He didn’t comment on goal three, which had seen him floating from one side of his net to the other and leaving the right side open. Nor the fourth, which went under him, a low wrister. It was shot 14.
When asked about the three quick goals allowed in period two (about three minutes in total), he said, “We did some bad mistakes, skated by pucks, and they just used all the chances we gave them.” So that kind of agrees with Carlyle, though not quite in taking all the responsibility for being leaky on this night.
The fact was, the Anaheim room was closed for quite a while after the game, and you can bet that Carlyle wasn’t spending long minutes berating his netminder. If there was any clue as to what was said, it was from the words of the captain, Getzlaf. He commented, “It’s tough when you’re not making the plays you normally would make, when you don’t have the effort and the mindset.” The remedy: “Tomorrow, we come to work. We’ll take tomorrow and work on our skills and get ready for the next one. Come to work tomorrow. It’s a travel day, but we’re going to skate when we get in there.”
In other words, skate and skate and skate? Nobody asked. But it’s not unlikely. Getzlaf also cited the chance to bond together as a group on the road. The team plays seven games out of town, from now until November 9th, when Nashville is in Anaheim. They go as far as New York, for the Rangers.
Back to tonight, though. Dan Ellis came on with some good glove saves, especially in the third period, where things were not at all out of reach thanks to Anaheim having scored again in the middle-late going of the second.
It was 5-3, and one comment I heard in the press box was that the game might well end up 8-6, with who knows who winning. Kind of like the World Series game a night before in Texas. Ellis kept up his end of the bargain, as with a flashing leg save in the dying minutes when Daymond Langkow drifted in with a surprise slap shot.
The Ducks maintained pressure, but Phoenix answered. Things weren’t helped by more Anaheim penalties, and with failure to score by Anaheim on a late power play after the Coyotes cleared a puck over the glass. Selanne flipped a puck to the slot, where Getzlaf redirected it for a save. Then Fowler took a hard wrist shot from the point that was somehow grabbed by the mitt of Mike Smith through a crowd and with Corey Perry practically in his grille.
By this time, the announced crowd of 13,240 had dwindled to probably half of that, and so they missed seeing Getzlaf take a pass off a steal from Visnovsky and move down the slot to beat Smith with a great wrist shot. 5-4, with 1:08 left.
The goalie came out after the Ducks won the resulting faceoff, but no further scoring took place. Phoenix Coach Dave Tippett described the game by saying, “normally you don’t give up four and call yourself a strong defending team, but we came in wanting to play a good road game, find a way to win. We got a decent lead, gave them a couple of penalties in the third that gave up momentum, but we held on for the win.”
He said that his game was line matching, especially to shut down the Getzlaf line. That didn’t happen, as the captain scored two even-strength goals, the second and fourth, but as Tippett summarized it, “Our guys competed hard tonight. We were looking to find a way to win, and we did.”
Brian Kennedy tells many stories from around the hockey world in his book Living the Hockey Dream.