Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks looked to put a whumping on the Canucks something like the Kings had done 23 hours prior, when they’d beaten them 5-1 and chased Ryan Miller from the crease after two periods.
They figured to be helped by two things: that Miller was not starting the game in Anaheim and that the layoff was not enough time for a Canucks team that had scrambled around all night Saturday to regroup.
Their coach, in fact, had had harsh words for them after the loss. “We’re not good enough right now. We’ve got to be better,” he said, citing the fact that his group had played a weak game in San Jose Thursday and that the team had thought before this four-game road trip (it began with a date in Colorado) that how they did might be a measuring stick.
Funny that he should say that on the heels of a start that had them win ten of their first 14 games. But that was on the strength, as I detailed last night for IH, of a goal-scoring outburst by Bonino, Vrbata, and Henrik Sedin which put the Canucks near the top of the league in goals for and goal differential.
That kind of crashed and burned in Los Angeles, and the question now was, “Where’s the trend line going?”
The tone was set right off the opening faceoff. At three seconds, Kevin Bieksa and Patrick Maroon fought. Why? Bieksa explained. “We’re two top teams in the league right now. We were both trying to get our teams going.”
His coach, Willie Desjardins, concurred. “It’s a tough building to come into. One thing you have to show is that you’re going to battle, and that’s maybe what he was doing, setting the tone. We’re getting dragged into the battle no matter if we like it or not, so maybe that’s good. What happened [last night, I assume] wasn’t the way we want to be, so it was good that we came out and played yard.”
Alexandre Burrows had just said essentially the same thing in the dressing room. “There’s not that many guys around the league that will go with him [Bieksa], so that was nice to see.” Whatever you think about fighting, the game proceeded with the Canucks matching and besting the Ducks in many areas of the ice. Perhaps the start was to be credited for that.
Again, Bieksa: “I thought tonight we played our game plan. I don’t think we played particularly well in San Jose. In LA we were sitting back, kind of thing. We were tentative, a little bit hesitant. Tonight, I thought we went right at them. I was the one who asked that one. I felt like it was a big game, and that you go in attacking, go right at them, and that was what that was about.”
Coming into the evening, the problem for the Ducks was that they were starting to look like a hospital ward. Corey Perry, who had missed a couple of games, now missed a third with the flu. The bug had also bit defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who was a scratch on Sunday. Also out from the defense was Cam Fowler, who left the game Friday night and did not return. Amongst the forwards, Rickard Rakell was scratched.
This, of course, meant constant adjustments, not the least of which started on defense. The six D in the game were made up of five familiar faces and one newbie. That guy was Mat Clark, making his season debut.
Clark is an Anaheim draftee, taken in round 2 of 2009. He was 37th overall that year. His size, at 6”3’ and 225lbs.. makes missing Beauchemin a bit less painful perhaps. He played a couple of games in 2012 for the Ducks, namely against Edmonton and Vancouver.
Boudreau played him with Clayton Stoner, though he also used Stoner with Hampus Lindholm at times. And Clark did fine, being invisible for the most part. The rest of the D weren’t so lucky. The Ducks had a horrible time clearing the puck out of their own zone, and as Vancouver figured that out they got better at pursuing and pinning Anaheim in their end. How many times Bryan Allen attempted and failed to clear would take more than one hand to count. Each time, his partner, mostly Vatanen, had to pick up and help. He was sometimes unable to, which explains in part the regulation shot totals of 34 for Vancouver versus just 22 for the Ducks.
The forward lines were the same as what they were Friday versus the Coyotes, with one minor exception. Rickard Rakell was scratched in favor of Dany Heatley. How’d that work? Heatley played with Jackman and Nate Thompson on line four. They buzzed. Heatley, some nights not a factor at all, was seen turning up some loose pucks, backing to the net looking for a shot to deflect, and pursuing and checking behind the Vancouver net.
Meanwhile, Vancouver stayed with Lack in net, though according to press reports, the intention all the way through this trip, which has seen the Canucks play four games in six nights, was to start him in this game. He faced more shots early than the guy at the other end, that being Frederik Andersen, but they weren’t as dangerous. This in part was because the Ducks were trying to pass the puck into the net rather than shoot it.
Witness Cogliano and Karlsson going into the offensive zone with the puck two-on-none (more or less). Karlsson should have shot and let the other guy seek a rebound. Instead, he passed it to Cogliano late, and let a defenseman get back into the play to render it nil. Beleskey and Silfverberg similarly went to the net, and the pass was too late and ruined the chance.
When the Ducks did shoot, the chances were not dangerous. Smith-Pelly, playing on the first line with Getzlaf and Maroon, zoomed in on the right side and put a wrister into the goalie’s gut. There was no chance that the puck would have gone in. He did the same thing Friday versus Arizona, and that time, too, one’s first thought was, “That’s neither going to go in nor produce a rebound, kid.” Someone will likely make that point to him in film tomorrow.
On the other end, Vancouver crashed and created scrambles, nothing nine shots in period one including one that floated up and over the net off of Andersen’s blocker and bounced out of the way. It was more nervous at this end of the rink than the other.
The last minute of the second period was perhaps the best of the game until OT, with chances on both ends. Jannik Hansen had a breakaway with Vatanen chasing. He got a shot off, and Andersen made a low leg save. On the other end, Beleskey took a wrister low from the point and saw it get past Silfverberg in front for a good chance and a leg save. And then Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin took a dangerous shot from the right slot and saw Andersen make a diving chest save that looked for all the world like one that Jonathan Quick has patented. Maybe Andersen was watching TV when Quick pulled this off in the second period against these same Canucks on Saturday.
But that last minute didn’t tell the whole story. In fact, the Ducks were gradually letting Vancouver take over as period two went on. The shots after one period were 11 Anaheim, nine Vancouver. At about halfway through period two, they were 14-14, and by this point, the game was tied up at ones. But as the period came to a close, the Ducks had notched just three more, and the Canucks had run their total up to 23. Andersen was good, great even. But the near-capacity crowd, which had mostly his saves and Anaheim penalty kills to clap for, had to be wondering what the immediate future—ie. the third period—was going to bring.
Neither team scored in the third, but the Canucks were all over the home team throughout. They had the Ducks scrambling and backing into Andersen, who held firm, including with one toe save that kept the game tied which happened midway through the third.
The game went to OT with the Ducks suddenly coming alive. Vatanen put a pass to Allen that he took a quick shot on. The Ducks had a second chance with a crowd in front. Cogliano stole a puck in the center ice area and streaked down the right side to put a wrister at Lack. Their shot total quickly was at 25, versus the same old 34 for Vancouver. But the Canucks nearly won it with a shot-rebound combo that Brad Richardson just missed converting on as it rolled under his stick in the right slot with Andersen diving at him.
The game went to a shootout, and the chance for poetry ensued. Kesler was up with the Ducks needing a goal to stay alive. He hit the post, and it ended 2-1 for Vancouver. After the game, the Canucks’ coach talked about what had gone right. “That’s a real tough team, a real heavy team. We took a lot of hard hits, but our guys wanted to play better. They weren’t happy with their last two performances, and they played hard.”
He also credited Eddie Lack. “He was great in preseason, and it was just too bad the way [the year] started for him.” By which he means, with a trio of losses. “I knew we’d need him tonight, and he played great. It was great for him to get the win.”
Lack was suitably proud of his win. “It’s a really big game for me. Two losses in a row, you starting thinking a little bit maybe, but when I got into game mode, I was able to focus on things that I could control, and just my technique and next puck, and I was really happy to get out with a win.”
Bruce Boudreau of the Ducks cited the lack of team scoring that’s hurt his team, but also said that despite not scoring they’re winning, crediting a good defense. He said that he has no idea what to expect about players who are out and who might be coming back or not. “I’ll just come to work on Monday and Tuesday and see who’s healthy, and we’ll go with who we have.”
They face the Kings Wednesday night at home.
Christmas present? How about my new book, Coming Down the Mountain: Rethinking the 1972 Summit Series? You’ll like it if you like hockey history.
In terms of schedule, the Ducks are a lot like the Kings in that they spend a good deal of time in November in the state rather than on the road. The Anaheim team hasjust three road games other than the one in LA this month, meaning that they’ll be home for 24 of November’s 30 days. They, again like LA, will be most happy about that later in the season, because in late January-early February, the team is away for eight eastern games, and then a couple more Midwestern ones, and then back to the east to end the month of February.
It’s a six-week stretch when they will play fifteen games anywhere from hundreds to thousands of miles away from home, and against a lot of awfully good teams including the Blackhawks, twice, and Montreal, St, Louis, and the Rangers. Yikes. But that’s for later. For now, they’re going to be sleeping in their luxurious OC beds and waking up to 75-degree weather, or perhaps warmer. As an NPR reporter said on my local station this week, “This being Fall in Southern California, you can expect temperatures anywhere from the 80s to the 90s all the way through the end of the weekend.” It hurts my Canadian soul to admit that I think that’s pretty OK.