You wouldn’t normally think of the Anaheim Ducks and the Toronto Maple Leafs as having much to do with one another. But on Friday night with the Canadian team in town, the crossovers were hard to miss.
Mike Babcock, the Leafs’ coach? Took the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003. Randy Carlyle, the Ducks’ bossman? Took Toronto pretty much nowhere between 2-12 and 15. And, he played for the Maple Leafs during his 1000-game NHL career.
Jonathan Bernier, in goal for the Ducks with John Gibson sidelined for several days with a muscle strain, played for Toronto during the 2013-16 era, winning 59 games. Curtis McElhinney? Played a mostly forgettable role with Anaheim during the 2009-11 era, winning 11 games.
The backups, Jhonas Enroth and Frederik Andersen, had history with the opposite team as well. Enroth played in six Toronto games, winning exactly none of them. Andersen was the franchise goalie for the Ducks until last summer, winning 57 games over two years. Between Andersen and Gibson, by the way, the Ducks were awarded the Jennings trophy last year for allowing fewer goals than any other NHL teams. It’s like they flipped and flopped around until each team got the personnel they wanted.
All an interesting set of curiosities, but except for the question, “Did you buy property here before you moved, ‘cause if so, you must have made a lot of money?” none of these interplays really signify much. The teams don’t have a rivalry, have never met in a playoff game (series), and with 18 games left each aren’t really fighting for their lives right now, though Toronto’s certainly closer to that than Anaheim is. The Ducks came into the evening with a points tie for last East wildcard on paper. Should they win, it would put them in eighth in the East and the Isles in ninth.
The Ducks entered the night in third in the Pacific, and only two points ahead of Calgary. Hard to believe, though Nashville was a point behind Anaheim, giving them a playoff buffer in the hope not to drop into wildcard contention. Calgary had played one more game than the Ducks, note. The problem: the Ducks have just had their four-day layoff, allowing the other teams around them to catch them up. Speaking of which, it feels a lot like 2006 again, with the team ahead of the Ducks being, you got it, Edmonton.
Remember last year when no Canadian teams made the playoffs? Yeah, me neither, because right now, if it started, four would, another would be barely out (Toronto), and one more (Winnipeg) would be right behind the “in” crowd. Only Vancouver seems a bit hopelessly back of making it.
And aside from those old-but-familiar faces in the opposite lineups, each team had a new toy in the lineup. For the Ducks, that’s Patrick Eaves, lately come from Dallas and in his second game with the Cali team. He played against the Kings on February 25th, gaining 16 minutes and taking five shots. He’s on a line with Getzlaf and Kase, the latter being the latest-greatest attempt to get scoring from a first-line trio as put together by Carlyle.
The Leafs had Brian Boyle, who looks about the same in Toronto blue-and-white as he did in Tampa colors of similar hue. Big. And good with the puck. The Toronto papers this week called him a “fourth-line grinder,” and he was playing with Matt Martin and Nikita Soshnikov as if to prove the point. And in return, Carlyle put out his fourth line against this group in the persons of Thompson, Logan Shaw, and chris Wagner. Boyle’s maturity is in part what the team wanted. They got Boyle along with Eric Fehr.
The latter arrived mid-day Thursday in LA, where the Leafs played that night, and he didn’t play. Neither was he in the lineup Friday. Again with him, Babcock cited a veteran presence, the guy being a good pro who might spark maturity in a room that’s pretty young. Hard to do when you can’t lead on the ice, one might remark.
Boyle said after the game that the team had done all they could to make him feel welcome. They are flying his family up to Toronto Saturday, as well. (The Leafs next play at home on Tuesday.) When asked about the adjustment, he said, “You have to put your chances in. You’re going to make mistakes no matter what. That’s part of the game. That’s why we’ve got a team full of guys. There’s really no excuse [for not knowing what to do despite being new to the systems]. It’s hockey. It’s hard work. You get the chances, you’ve got to bury them.
The game proceeded with the Ducks scoring first in period one, and the Leafs evening it by the 16-minute mark or shortly after that. The home team survived being penalized twice to Toronto’s once.
Period two saw the visitors, coming off a 3-2 shootout loss in LA, getting a goal up, but the Ducks taking two back in the time it took to score, drop the puck, and score again.
Babcock took a timeout right after the second, and for good reasons: his players needed their butts chewed. Each goal was the result of a lazy turnover. The first one came when Kesler stole a puck lazily put backwards across the Toronto blueline. He flipped it out to Silfverberg, who shot, followed the puck in, and got his own rebound to the left of the net. He backhanded the puck past McElhinney.
The second goal, just 16 seconds later, was a puck that was grabbed on the Toronto blueline as it was tossed out to the point by the Nick Ritchie on a steal. Lindholm whipped it back in with a hurried flick, and it was saved by McElhinney. But Rakell was there for the rebound. He took it wide to his right, the goalie’s left, and put it into that open side he had created.
The period ended not that long after, with the shots at 27-24 Ducks. The second had featured several more penalty calls, including two to Corey Perry to make his night’s total—to that moment—six.
The Ducks have had discipline problems before. That’s an understatement. They have been perfectly capable of playing sloppy, lazy, undisciplined games in the past, and that habit started to creep its was into their game in period two. Those two goals to put them ahead kind of stemmed that danger. But no doubt Perry had a bit of a sit-down with the coach coming in the morning.
The third period began with the old, boring question—would the Leafs start to show the effects of having played the night prior? They are a young, fast team that by many accounts should have beaten the Kings—in fact, did, except for bad puck luck that put a goal in off a defenseman’s head amongst other things. But would the legs hold up against a Ducks team that’s nothing but fast?
Well, they put on a bit of a show in the early going. Toronto burst past two Ducks’ defensemen in the first minute and got a shot that was saved but yielded a rebound that looked to be dropping into the net, except that Manson whipped it away from behind Bernier.
The other way, the Ducks forced a turnover at Toronto’s blueline and forced the puck to the net. It ended up in the corner, where Getzlaf chased it down, standing straight up and looking. He spotted Vatanen coming in and sent a pass flat on the ice to the opposite dot to the defenseman. That man one-timed it and was flat on the ice from the effort as his shot sailed into the net to make it 4-2.
Another one would almost go in a few minutes later when it hit the goalie and then went out and hit the Toronto Dman’s skate only to bounce straight back to the crease and almost in. McElhinney reached out a glove and stopped it six inches from the goal line. He had dropped his stick to sprawl, Hasek-style, on the play.
But between those chances, Toronto again showed a burst. William Nylander stole a puck and whipped a shot after beating a Ducks’ player in the slot. Nothing to credit on the play, scoring-wise.
The mid period saw the Ducks ahead in shots, 32-28, but Toronto slowly pushed back until exhausted. This meant, in fact, that the Ducks would end up outshot 39-36, but the only remaining goal to be scored was an empty netter. Eaves got it, his first, obviously, as a Duck.
The message that the Leafs are being fed is pretty obvious when you listen to player comments after a loss. Tyler Bozak said, “You know it’s going to be a tough trip coming out here. We got off to a good start, but they got some opportunistic goals.”
Hunwick added, very tersely, “We’re going to have to move on. Coming with one point on this trip is disappointing, and we’ve got a lot of ground to make up now. We made a lot of mistakes, and a veteran team capitalized on those.”
And Morgan Rielly said, “We had too many mental lapses. Too many breakdowns. They’re a good team, and when they get good chances, they’re going to bury them. We had to answer with a good push, and I think we did that. We started to play out game, but you can’t wait for the opportunities.” He said they were hoping for more wins on the Western trip, which has, in fact, yielded them none. He finished, “We’re looking for a good month of hockey here, when we’re in the mix.”
The Leafs’ coach was as terse as Hunwick, saying that, “We did tons of good things, but I didn’t like the three goals we gave them. The National Hockey League is too good a league to think you’re going to outscore your mistakes. You’ve got to take care of the puck, check right, and know what you’re going to do with the puck. Tonight on three goals, we didn’t.”
He said that the youth on his team can’t be to blame for their losses or mistakes. “To me, we know better than that, so let’s be better. The other thing is simple, you do things a team way, and you have to do it to be successful. It’s not as fun as playing in an exhibition, where it’s loose and you can fly all over the rink, but it’s just the nature of the National Hockey League. It gets more competitive as the year goes on to the playoffs, so you have to play right.”
You can just see the players saying, “Yes, Daddy.” But let’s not do psychoanalysis just now. Let’s just say that the Leafs better do what they all give lip service to, but which has now yielded five loses, in a row, albeit with three OT points in those losses: play a mature game.
The West Coast continues to be the burial ground for teams from the East, and every one of them says it when they come out to play here.
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