The Ducks’ Dance Card is Empty

The key for the Ducks going into game seven against the Wings was simple: keep doing what you’ve been doing, as long as that means containing Datsyuk and Zetterberg. The only problem was, they hadn’t really been doing that all that effectively, and especially not on Friday, when the two had a hat trick between them.

In addition, they had to survive a Detroit defense which was renewed with the reinsertion of Carlo Colaiacovo into the third pairing. Before the prior game, the Red Wings’ coach, Mike Babcock, said that he wanted to find a way to move the puck better. Youngster Danny Dekeyser went out in game two with a broken hand. He had surgery late last week to repair that, with a plate and four screws put in, according to a conversation overheard amongst the team’s doctors. Brian Lashoff came in to spell him but was dispatched back to the minors after three games. Colaiacovo replaced him.

The Anaheim team also had to figure out a way to deploy their own speed. More on that in a minute, because that, and the mistakes their coach made in attempting to take advantage of his assets, was what would cost them their series.

The Ducks had come back from a 3-1 deficit on Friday to take the Wings to OT. The teams had played four overtime games to the point when game seven started, something that neither had ever done in a series before. Detroit had won three of them, totaling all their victories in the series. The Ducks might have been disappointed to have taken Detroit to the wire in Michigan and lost, but it also should have been a portent of things to come, because the Wings, down 3-2 entering that game, were better in the contest. While they let the lead slip away and had to regain it in extra time, they were better most of the night, as evidenced by the fact that only a late comeback by the Ducks pushed it as far is it went.

One advantage the Ducks had that was perhaps not accounted for before the series was speed. Perhaps a sharp scout from Detroit had seen Andrew Cogliano’s rejuvenation in Anaheim, noting his speed and, as I’ve said here before, his ability to take the puck off the righthand side boards exactly as Teemu Selanne does. But nobody thought that Emerson Etem would emerge like he has, he of the 38 regular-season games this rookie year which produced ten points. To the point of puck drop in game seven, he had four points on two goals. Before period one would end, he had another goal. And he ended the game on the ice, the only player who could force pucks deep. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any support in so doing.

So the attempt to capitalize on the speed: Boudreau started the game with a radical experiment in line mixing. His groups were as follows: Getzlaf, Selanne, and Etem. Perry, Ryan, and Bonino. The third line as normal (Koivu, Winnik, and Cogliano), and Beleskey, Steckel and Palimeri. The idea, obviously was to use Etem’s speed and recent success to perk up Selanne, and maybe to get Perry energized with a new center.

The experiment lasted but six minutes, and Boudreau was back to the lines he’d been using, the least effective of which was the second, Bonino, Selanne, and Beleskey. The night got no better for them, nor for any Anaheim forwards. But back to them in a moment.

Mike Babcock had said that he wanted his team, above all, to get off to a quick start. They did, scoring their first goal before the first two minutes had gone, and a completely Detroit-style goal it was. Datsyuk threw the puck to the net with Filppula crashing there. Zetterberg ended up shoving it into the cage.

Etem countered with a goal that saw him streak across the slot and fire a wrister past Jimmy Howard, but Detroit scored again in the form of Abdelkader, before the period ended. It was shorthanded, a breakaway on a steal that he shoved between Hiller’s legs.

The second period was raggedy at best for the Ducks. They had no offense, and the line most noticed on the ice was their third unit, whose job it was to contain the line of Zetterberg, Cleary, and Filppula. That was a matchup that Babcock had the other night said that he would take. Thing is, by the time the two opposing sets of lines had played what seemed like half the period, the Ducks’ trio was worn out, and it took nothing for the Red Wings to dig the puck out of the corner, feed it to Filppula in the slot, and watch while he backhanded it past Hiller who was, of course, on his knees.

On the evening, the power play was equally ineffective, and more, puzzling. It was like the Ducks were just rolling their regular lines, with Selanne, Bonino, and Beleskey making up the second unit. Later on, there was the mostly fourth line group of Etem, Steckel, and Palmieri out as a power play attack.

The crowd by this point was yelling back and forth, “Let’s go Red Wings” matched by “Let’s go Ducks.” What? No kidding, it seemed like there were as many Wings fans in the group of more than 17,400 as Anaheim supporters, and there were a lot of red sweaters. Makes you think that maybe fans, just like players, need to make their home building a tough place to visit.

OK, so to recap: the Wings started fast; they got production out of their top guys; and they were much better on special teams than were the Ducks. The Ducks tried an experiment to get speed going, but that didn’t work. In fact, it served only to get their forwards out of synch.

Anaheim’s other strength, their big line of Getzlaf, Perry, and whatever third member Boudreau might have been using (Ryan, Beleskey, etc.) was perhaps their only hope. Even they didn’t get it going, with one chance coming when Perry took the puck down the right wing and to the net. He went all the way around the other side, came out to the left, and shot it, fadeaway style, over the net.

The criticism of him, rightly so, before the game, was that he wasn’t going in the series. Producing only two assists will do that. He seemed sensitive to it, and his coach also, saying that things were going to break. They had to. He tried to make something happen, going behind the net on a play later in the second period and hitting Colaiacovo hard. Trouble was, that wasn’t where the play was, and when the shot came in hard and low from his point man, then bounced out on a long rebound, he wasn’t there to get it, but was chasing. The left side of the net was left wide open as the puck spun to the far boards. After, he expressed his frustration with how things had gone. “Frustrating. It’s not something that you think about, that’s for sure. You get the job done throughout the year, and you go out there and do things, that, it just didn’t seem to be there in the series.”

It’s probably not a good sign when your best players are in the face of the opposition before the faceoff, but that’s what happened with Perry et al later in the second frame. They were off their game, distracted, in other words, scrumming with the Wings and then slinking off to the bench, replaced by the fourth line.

The Ducks had a man advantage later in the period, and rather than get anything set up and going, they played with the puck in the Red Wings’ end. The Finnish Flash, playing in what might be his last game, went to the front of the net and crosschecked someone in the face to negate the man advantage.

Still, Boudreau was trying, moving the Getzlaf line around to face first Datsyuk’s group and later Zetterberg’s, in hopes of starting something. Or perhaps, to neutralize further damage. The Wings got another goal in period two, which ended 3-1.

For Detroit’s part, they kept rolling their big horses out there, and they shot the puck high on Hiller. Not kinda high, or oops! that went off my stick higher than I wanted it to, but up in his face. All night long.

Things for the Ducks were just as broken in the third, with Boudreau once again going with a salad mix of lines. Notable, perhaps, was Palmieri up with Perry and Getzlaf, and Ryan with Cogliano and Koivu. All good ideas, and things that on paper work because they offer speed and balance. But not sometihng that one tries with, potentially, twenty minutes left in the season.

In fact, that Cogliano line? Bobby Ryan was on the left wing. Left wing. One more time—Bobby Ryan was on the left wing. But once Boudreau hit on these trios, he stuck with them, though as the period wore on, it was only these two, and not Selanne and his group (by this point Bonino and Etem) who were seen most often. Late in the going, that changed, with Etem, Selanne, and Bonino being featured (in other words, the coach was in the try-anything mode), but again, not forcing the puck behind the Detroit defense.

Each team generated some shots in the third, but there was no sustained zone time, no pressure by the Ducks. To once more trot out Ryan’s expression from a week ago, it was all “one and dones.”

Symbolic moments were abundant on the evening. Selanne tried to feather a pass across through the defense. He ended up in the crease, on his knees, watching while the play went up the ice. After the game, by the way, he wouldn’t say what his plans were, though he came out and talked to the press. He likes to take time to think things through, he said.

Beauchemin had the puck to clear it at the end of period two, and with a couple of seconds left, he decided to try a slapshot. His stick broke in two in his hands, and he was left holding it as he skated off to end the period.

And in a final bizarre moment, Ben Lovejoy found himself in deep with the puck in the last minute, leaving Ryan Getzlaf out at the point defending. The puck came out to Getzlaf, who took a slapshot, but it came to nothing. Why? Well, if you read that sentence, it said “Ben Lovejoy found himself in deep with the puck. . . .” His season goal total, by the way, zero. His career total? Four, in 130 games.

In other words, since nothing was working, and Boudreau was trying anything and everything, so did his players. But hockey only seldom works like that, and only when it’s the most talented players who decide to get creative. When the lesser lights do it, it’s what it looked like on this evening—desperate attempts to fill a dance card that’s better just left empty.

Ducks Notes

The Ducks outshot Detroit by one, 33-32. They got a final goal on the power play, a lucky bounce that went from Beauchemin at the half boards to the front and in off a defenseman.

Hiller got an assist on the first goal.

Please follow me on twitter @growinguphockey. And watch this space for Kings coverage.

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