Stock: Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29)

Almost Good Enough

One  team entered Friday night coming off a big 5-1 win, the other off an 8-3 loss. So one was saying “We gotta keep the momentum” and the other one “We need to turn things around.” The losers had been Colorado, the winners Anaheim, and here they were, in SoCal, to take out their emotions on each other.

There was no scoring until late in the second period, when the Avs’ Valeri Nichushkin roofed one past John Gibson on a redirect of a Ryan Graves pass. The play came with nobody covering Nichushkin, who cruised the slot alone. Where was Jamie Drysdale? Trying to pin a guy to the post. Where was Cam Fowler? Chasing a guy at the dot to his right. Where were Max Comtois and Chase De Leo? Stop asking these questions. They were reaching, too. Was this the classic case of not moving their feet?  Textbook.

Too bad, because the Ducks were the better team despite the no-score early on. Rickard Rakell was coming off of four games lost to a head injury, and his name was called repeatedly. Max Jones, who has thirty games under his belt this year, was aggressive and good with the puck. For the first period and a half, the Ducks had more shots. The  play  was contained, rather than being fast, which  probably favored Anaheim given the wheels Colorado has.

In terms of lineup, the Ducks were debuting one player, not for his career, but for the year: the aforementioned De Leo, who comes from a few miles from Honda Center, in La Mirada, CA. He has been in five NHL games now, going back to the Jets in 2015-16, when he got into two. He has one in each of the last three years for the Ducks. No goals yet, nor points. He’s a left-shooting center, 25 years old.

The Ducks were also continuing to watch Sam Carrick, 29 years old and finally getting a few games in a row in. He has a goal, and assist, and two fights, with the Club this year, all this week.

Ryan Getzlaf continues to be unavailable due to injury, so the top line was, I suppose, Henrique with Silfverberg and Danton Heinen. Or perhaps it was Rakell’s trio, with Comtois and De Leo? Going on down the lineup this way would show one thing at least: there are a lot of AHL players on this roster.

By the way, Trevor Zegras was also not in the lineup. He was demoted to the AHL (San Diego) earlier this week in a move that the club denied was a punishment. Rather, it was explained that he is actually ahead of their expectations, and so was being sent down to learn to play  center rather than remain in his natural wing position. He’ll be back with the big club asap, the Club claimed. Sounds like Orwellian double-speak to me, but let’s see what happens.

The Ducks had two good chances late in the second. On one, Alexander Volkov got off a backhand, stopped. Max Jones had a puck in a dangerous spot close in but fired it over the net. The second period thus ended 1-0 for the Avalanche.

The  third saw the Avalanche take over somewhat, but John Gibson was great, keeping the game 1-0. At the other end, Jonas Johansson was good enough, but not tested all that much. He would eventually record his first NHL shutout and potentially complicate the decision of his GM to go out and get a backup goalie for workhorse Philipp Grubauer, who has already played 34 games this year.

Johansson’s record in the NHL is 3-8-3 after this game, and though he played a good game and was tested bytimes, what does it mean that the win was posted against one of the worst teams in the league, statistically?

As the game wore down, the Ducks tried the goalie pull once before it was successful, but once the net was empty, they made a mistake with a puck that jumped Heinan’s stick at the blueline. Mikko Rantanen jumped on it and cruised it down the ice into the net. There were 33.6 seconds left.

Afterwards, Chase De Leo said all the stuff he’s supposed to, starting with his regret for the loss and highlighting that he had seen many games at Honda Center as a kid, and that he was fortunate to have done that. He said his parents had sacrificed a lot to get him to the NHL. He added that as a kid, he was pretending to be JS Giguere (who, like you don’t know, backstopped the team to two Finals appearances including the 2007 Stanley Cup).

Speaking about De Leo, Coach Eakins said after, “He got traded here, and he had to work, work, work, just to get to, here tonight, his first game at home.” His prior Ducks appearances have been away games.

The Coach also mentioned how disappointed he was that, despite their work and pride that kept them fighting to the end, the Ducks hadn’t been able to get “on the other side of that game.” He said that he thought his team had matched up well, especially the defense and goaltending, to keep MacKinnon mostly  off the board. “He’s about as dangerous as they get in this league,” he said.

The two teams go back at it Sunday at a rather peculiar 3pm start time.

 

Notes

With his assist on the empty net goal, MacKinnon keeps what is now an eight-game scoring streak alive.

Isac Lundestrom of the  Ducks had an emergency appendectomy Thursday after feeling discomfort. He is resting comfortably, according to the coach after the game.

Brian Kennedy is a credentialed NHL media member and member of the PHWA.