Almost Out of Ideas

“Every minute of the game is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s the last minute, the middle minute, the  first minute. They’re all critical,” said  Ducks’ coach  Dallas Eakins Saturday night. “There were a number of minutes when we were certainly not our best,” he  added, talking about the disastrous game his team had just concluded.

Surely that was never more true than on that day, when the Ducks gave up three goals in just over two minutes.  The question with only 23 hours elapsed to Sunday’s rematch with St. Louis was, “Will the Ducks start faster on  Sunday evening?”

Eakins promised they would: “Right away, tomorrow, it’s got to be about pride, to be able to flush  that game away and  not continue to be in it, but  at the same time to feel the heat  a bit, to not feel real good about  yourself or our  play.”

He carried on, saying, “The opportunity is in the moment . . . .  There’s lots of lessons to be learned there, and hopefully we have a prideful group. I guess we will see tomorrow whether  it’s good or bad.”

Sunday, the team responded, but they still lost. Sunday’s game developed with  an early power play goal by  Jacob Silfverberg. The Ducks also dominated play through one period. For the longest time, the shots were 7-2 for the  Anaheim team. They ended the period up 7-6 in shots and 1-0 on the scoreboard.  Their coach had  to be  happy.

But that’s the  highlight reel as far as the  Ducks’ side is concerned. As the game wore on, the Blues scored  four more goals, and the Ducks answered with no further scoring. In the end, if you  count scoring by periods, it was Ducks 1, St. Louis 2. The Blues got two markers each in periods two and three, to end the game up 4-1.

The Blues, understanding that a two-game sweep was possible, were quick to shut the  game down after they got  the lead. That happened on a tying goal at about  halfway through the second period and the  go-ahead, eventual winner  by Blais with about  five minutes to go in the  second. The Blues scored two more goals, both  early in period  three, and were cruising from there.  The Ducks never got any traction; they were no threat.

The Blues launched 23 shots at John Gibson, and the Ducks took 26 on youngster Ville Husso. Husso exhibited two flaws throughout the game: lack of rebound control and scary loose play  when he tried to play  the puck. Neither ended up hurting his team’s chances. He got his first NHL win.

Each team had two penalties, and each scored one SHG. For Anaheim fans, there was hope, and encouragement that the evils of Saturday were erased in the early  going, but in the end, for nothing. And that  brings us to  post-game.

As Cam Fowler said in his post-game comments, “In the end, we’re close, but it’s not happening.”

Dallas Eakins cited luck by St. Louis as a  factor in the  game, and lucky bounces on goals. “I don’t think it’ll be tough on their [his team’s] confidence. I actually thought  the guys played with much more of it tonight.”

He  went on:  “I thought our energy  was great, and they  had obviously spoken as a team with each other. . . .  I had very little problem with most of them.”

This is pure strategy, or as they  first called it  in 90s US politics, “spin”.

Early in the week, he had been acting tough, especially with his veterans. Saturday night, he must have been as embarrassed as anyone in uniform, and he responded by benching Adam Henrique and downplaying the loss.

He said Sunday night that “You lose a  game you lose a game” but he  also made the  point that  his players were better, and more positive, on Sunday evening. But you know what, he’s right—a  loss is a loss. Good play matters less than what the scoreboard says, and by that measure, the Ducks are in trouble, having now played ten games and won three. If Eakins doesn’t find some answers in a hurry, he, and the season, are in jeopardy.

So what’s his remedy? A good guess: he’s not sure. But  as I alluded to above, he’s trying to get control over his veterans. Adam Henrique was a healthy scratch on Sunday, a situation that could have happened to as many as five players (Eakins said), but a lesson for him and others for what happened Saturday night.

“They want discipline and they  want accountability,” he said of his team, and that’s why the benching happened. “It was time to send a message that we are going to continue to have accountability here,” Eakins said, while being clear that the Saturday game was in no way Henrique’s fault. So he kind of undid his message, in the  end, or appeared completely arbitrary  by  picking on one guy for the sins of several.

Plainly, the Ducks are in trouble. They aren’t scoring. They got embarrassed on Saturday. They played better on Sunday but in a futile effort when they got only one goal. And their vets are having their butts kicked by a coach  who is getting towards his last card in the  deck, because when you’re benching your $5.825-million dollar player, you’re almost out of ideas.

Notes

The Ducks play in LA on Tuesday night, taking on the Kings in what is still being labelled the  “Freeway  Faceoff.” Maybe we could improve on that. How about  the “Work  At Home War”?

Brian Kennedy is a credentialed NHL writer and  member of the  Professional Hockey Writers Association. During the pandemic, he reports on the Kings and Ducks using NHL- and team-supplied media information.