Pity the Vancouver Canucks, who met much the same fate Sunday night in Anaheim as they had 22 hours prior in LA. That is, they outshot their opponent and yet made a mistake (Saturday night it was two) which cost them a game that they might otherwise have won.
If there was one thing that the two games shared from a Vancouver point of view other than that, it was that their first line failed to deliver much. In LA, they were essentially benched in period three, not as a punitive measure, but to rest them for Sunday. In Anaheim, they just didn’t put up the points, and their coach addressed this after the contest. His tone was matter-of-fact, descriptive, as he said that they were not putting up the numbers, but that this was just something they would work out of. “We know what kind of people they are. We know what kind of players they are,” Tortorella said in comments brief and cut short by his press handler.
Newspaper reports from Vancouver question whether Tortorella’s strategy of playing the Sedins and his other top players as much as he has been—using them in more situations and for more minutes than they had been used in in the past—is working for them. But it seems at least a little bit premature to be talking about players being overworked when the season is not one-fourth of the way done.
On the other hand, when a team has a long stretch of road games, as, for instance, both Vancouver and the Ducks have had already, it can be draining, at least on the mind. Nick Bonino said this after the game Sunday, citing the fact that his team, the Ducks, seems to have been away quite a lot and saying that Boudreau, their coach, is already talking about January and February, when they will get a break. “But that seems like an awful long way away from now,” he commented.
Perhaps Vancouver, which has already made a nasty seven-game trip that took them to the far East coast, back to Columbus, and then to the coast again, is feeling it. This current stretch of games, by the way, is four away from home, and they started out with an OT loss, then a win, and now, as documented, two straight losses. Saturday night in LA it was 5-1. Sunday, 3-1.
A big part of Vancouver’s problems is the defense. Or goaltending, depending upon whom you blame for goals allowed. They now have scored 54 on the season while letting in that same number. That is the worst differential (zero) of any of the top five teams in the Pacific, and near the low in the conference.
As for the Sedins and their numbers, they saw about 21 minutes of action apiece (Henrik a little more than Daniel) and were responsible for just three of the team’s eventual 36 shots. Henrik was amazing in the circle, winning 73% of his faceoffs. But three shots? The Ducks’ top two players, Corey Perry and, just to take one of his linemates, Dustin Penner, had five of Anaheim’s 23.
The Ducks, meanwhile, are keeping pace even with their best past iterations. Note, for instance, that their 15-3-1 record matches their record for their best start in 19 games, set a year ago. And at the same time, their 66 goals, which leads the NHL ties their best past performance, from 1995-96.
Further, comparing them to the rest of the league, they have the best nine-game standings point streak going and the league’s longest active win streak, at five games.
And they’re doing it with guys going in and out of the lineup in crazy fashion.
Teemu Selanne got a stick in the chops and missed three games. Dustin Penner was scratched early on for a game and was injured for five, but he’s got a plus-18 rating in his 12 games and is sitting on 12 points as well. Defenseman Luca Sbisa has played in just four games after starting the season on IR, and Ben Lovejoy sat a game at D. Jakob Silfverberg, late of Ottawa, was hurt in that city and is expected to miss three more weeks with a hand injury. Koivu is suffering the lingering effects of a head injury. Goalie Fasth is suffering a leg injury and, while skating and practicing, is not yet fit enough to play.
In place of some of the veteran forwards, youngsters Patrick Maroon and Rickard Rakell have stepped in, both taking on important roles. Maroon is with Selanne and Bonino on line two. Rackell is with Etem and Palmieri on an amazingly agile and fast fourth line.
In one final twist, Ryan Getzlaf was missing on Sunday night. Why, it is not entirely clear. One reporter confided in me that it is being said he was hurt in the morning skate Friday, but further said that he or she hadn’t seen anything amiss in that skate. And Getzlaf did score a hat trick Friday night. But he was not available on Sunday, and when Corey Perry was asked about it, he did a quick head move that said, “I’m not going to tell you what I know.” Then Coach Boudreau was vague about things after the game, commenting that Getzlaf and he had talked just before the game and decided he should not go.
The funny thing was that the coach later mentioned that other guys, including Jonas Hiller, the scheduled starter in net, were dealing with the flu. But he didn’t include Getzlaf in that number. So what’s up with the Captain remains a mystery.
In his place, the top line consisted of Perry, Penner, and Mathieu Perreault, who has played all but one game this year and has 14 points, third on the active roster on Sunday night. That number would also put Perrault in a tie with Ryan Kesler on Vancouver for third behind only the Sedins (Henrik at 20 points and Daniel at 17).
The scoring came from Perry, Bonino, and Cogliano (empty net), again reinforcing the depth and diversity of the effort. Perry also had an assist to lift him into the top five in league scoring. His goal went in off his helmet and was briefly reviewed.
The arena was full and a sellout was announced. There were a lot of Vancouver sweaters, particularly in the lower bowl.
Thanks to Josh Brewster for having me on his Duck Calls postgame show.
Please grab my new book, a novel called Pond Hockey.