Is there any point in concentrating on bouncing back from a loss when you’re just as likely to lose again even if you win the present game? This has to be on the minds of the Anaheim Ducks. Around American Thanksgiving, after posting a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers after three straight losses, the Ducks came out on the wrong end of a lopsided 5-1 game against Ottawa, their co-equal in futility and fellow cellar-dweller. They then lost at home again (Seattle) and then had a four-game road trip where, in one sense, they bounced back in two games by getting at least something on the board, but ended the road trip with only two of eight points and no wins.
The road-trip-bounce-back worked like this: first game, versus Nashville, OT point. Next one, Dallas, skunked 5-0. Then it was a shootout point versus Minnesota. Then a loss to Winnipeg. So each time a loss came, it was reprised with at least a single standings point. Is that bounce-back or up-and-down?
What accounts for the Ducks’ ability to not be completely out of the points chase on any given night? Perhaps they have internalized the lesson that veteran Kevin Shattenkirk voiced after the Ottawa embarrassment. “It’s hard [to build on a win], but I think the lesson there is that we have a young team. We have a lot of guys in here who are starting to realize how hard it is to win in this league. Coming off of a win against a team like the Rangers, that you feel is a big win for your team to maybe get you sparked. Coming in the next night against Ottawa, it should not matter where our team is in the standings or what you might think the team is like based on their past two or three years, or their [success]. That’s where we have to realize that every night it’s going to be hard to get a [win] in this league. We’ve seen that the entire first quarter of this season.”
Coach Eakins had voiced a similar opinion on Black Friday, when the Ducks took on Ottawa at home: “You want to kind of rally around it, and it doesn’t matter how you get the win, whether it’s an overtime win or your goalie steals one or you play a good game.”
That’s a plan, but it wasn’t one that Anaheim followed against Ottawa. Eakins explained why: “[T]hrough most of the first period until right to the end, it was like ‘Hey, we’re all feeling pretty good.’ Everything was good. Then it [an Anaheim mistake that turned into a goal] was like the quick dagger in the heart.” A dagger that kept plunging in until there was nothing left for Anaheim to do but give in. They did, to their credit, press to the end and demolish Cam Talbot’s shutout bid with just over three minutes to go. So little, so late.
A couple of nights later, Eakins was more stoic. “I will say this, through all of this adversity, challenges, they keep fighting. That says a lot about the men in that room. They don’t have much quit in them. It also shows that in this league, you’re never out of a game.”
That was after the Seattle loss. As a fan, had you kept watching that game, you would have seen the Anaheim team’s resolve after allowing an early lead to go to the other team. It was obvious, in the arena if not on TV, that they weren’t going to roll over. They kept rushing. They kept pace in shots. They attacked. And after two periods, the game was 4-4. This is Eakins at work. He just doesn’t let his team think it’s OK to give up or give in. They might not bounce back, but they aren’t going to bend. And the smallish crowd kept them in it, too, with loud and enthusiastic support. But in the end, it was a loss.
And so away to the road, where two points of eight possible were gained, as was said, and then back to face the juggernaut Carolina Hurricanes. This game, like the last few, was a series of ups and downs on the way to a Ducks’ win. It was almost like Eakins was channeling himself of a week or so ago, when he said, “When you’re a rebuilding team, every day there’s something that has to be worked on. Every day, we’re trying to fix every part of the game. Even nights when we play very well, there are still things that we could do better.”
The Ducks got an early goal but saw the lead erased almost immediately. From there, it was a series of bounce backs, to go with the theme, as three times in total, they were up by one only to see Carolina get it back. It culminated in OT, when Ryan Strome scored to give the Ducks the win, their first since before American Thanksgiving.
Strome commented to say, “We had a good first period, and we found a way to stick in the game. . . . We stuck with it, we played good defense, we bore down and found a way to win.”
Coach Eakins’ take on the game was that, “You want to be rewarded for good play, and for doing things right. We’ve had a couple of games where . . . you’re not rewarded at all. So to play an elite team like that and be able to swing back and forth with them . . . is certainly very encouraging. It’s good for our guys.” Bounce back.
“I think the biggest thing for me was that last six, seven minutes. ‘Hey, everything’s alright. Just play. . . .’ Just getting comfortable being tied, being up a goal late in the game is important for our group.” Only they weren’t up late. They tied it late and forced extra time.
Eakins added the biggie: “The thing we have to do every night is play the perfect game. That’s just part of the deal when you’re in rebuild mode, and it’s important, but that challenge is a good one. You have to know that every second of this game counts.”
Bouncing back demands exactly that. What we don’t know is if this is a lesson learned, or another moment in what is a discouraging season.