A year on, the social aspects of covering hockey are a lot of what I miss due to the restrictions currently in place.
Seeing the scouts, most of whom are former players, often men I idolized as a kid. Knowing the guys on the Anaheim Ducks Off-ice Officials crew, chatting with them about hockey, not Ducks hockey as much as the game at large. Eating pizza and candy at the press box goodies table. These are the small pleasures that Covid has taken away.
On the ice, the game grinds on, and that’s perhaps a good verb for these Ducks this year. One day things look mildly hopeful. The next they don’t so much. Take last week. The Ducks traded goals with the Kings all night long on Monday and came out with a 6-5 OT victory. A couple of nights later, they couldn’t crack goalie Troy Grosenick except for one time. And that guy hadn’t started an NHL game for nearly seven years. The Kings, meanwhile, ate John Gibson up for five goals and won going away.
Now here come the Sharks. Couture and Kane have done their damage against the Ducks, despite the general ineptitude of the San Jose squad, which, as we all know, got off to a horrible start because they couldn’t play at home.
They haven’t gotten a ton better, with their last five games featuring one win, two OT points, and two losses in which they notched exactly zero goals.
So they faced off at 7pm Friday night (quite a normal day and time for the Ducks), the two weakest and worst-performing teams in the West. They are also 25thand 27thin the NHL, with Anaheim being the first of those.
So what would one expect in this game? Kurtis Gabriel ran Kevin Shattenkirk before four minutes were gone. He had a 42-game career with 112 PIMs coming in, and you’ve got to think he was out there to set a tone. Too bad he wasn’t playing the other Kurtis—the Kings’ MacDermid who is also one tough man.
As it was, he danced with eight to go in the first against Nick Deslauriers. Why? Because Gabriel ran a Ducks’ defenseman, Jacob Larsson, in the Anaheim corner. “DeLo” was immediately on the scene. He smacked the heck out of Gabriel, though both of them ended up with what appeared to be visor cuts bloodying their faces.
The Ducks had two youngsters and one key defender out to injury. Sonny Milano was on the IR list as of March 3rd. Troy Terry was marked as out starting March 7thafter leaving the game versus LA. Josh Manson also left that game, this player with a lower-body injury. This is not the same thing that recently sidelined him for a long while.
On the IR list for San Jose are Sorenson and Meier, the former for Covid protocol and the latter with a listed lower-body injury.
Tomas Hertl was back for his second game after a prolonged absence from Covid. He was placed on IR with Covid protocol as the reason on February 23rd. According to the guys on the Ducks’ broadcast, he was sick for two weeks, as was his spouse.
So what happened on the ice? Couture rang a puck off the post in an early power play chance, not a shot on goal, but a wake-up for the Ducks, who buttoned it down until—Hertl. He got a puck just off the left post and whacked it one-time off the post and then off Gibson’s back and into the net. There were three seconds left on the PP. The Ducks have given up 13 PP goals in 13 games to the point of that goal. Hertl has four PP goals himself. No other scoring took place in period one.
The Ducks had their chances, though. Rakell took a puck through a defenseman and drew a hook while getting off a shot that Devan Dubnyk had to come up big on with the far side arm. Following him in was Getzlaf, who fired the rebound back to the goalie. Arm save again. The Ducks then had their two minutes with the extra player. Trevor Zegras stood around on the periphery right of the zone and spun his stick waiting for—what? The play to come to him? A one-timer? The Ducks either didn’t have the chance or don’t have the trust yet that passing to him is the smartest play in the circumstances. He did get a couple of pucks and feed them back to the point, then turned one over with a pass into the slot. Not yet, kid. You’ll get that goal eventually, though, and then everything will be alright.
The middle period saw the Sharks score at 37 seconds, and then the teams open it up a bit. The goal was Kane’s tenth of the year. The Ducks had allowed seven shots by the time of the goal, and swiftly were ahead 21-7 in that category. Dubnyk not only is huge, but he looked huge, and he turned the Anaheim chances back to the tune of 27 shots by the end of P2.
The fact that the Sharks had 16 by that point shows you that the game was more wide open than it had been.
Zegras, meanwhile, settled down and played a few effective shifts near the middle of the period. He passed back and forth with Sam Steel, then stole and held the puck at the right boards, then found his way into a seam in front of the net. The puck didn’t get sent his way. Nor did it come to him in the last five seconds, when he was down low after a teammate took the puck into the zone. Zegras was hoping for a jam shot just off the front of the crease. The puck didn’t get through to his stick.
In the third, the Ducks collapsed far further. They allowed four more goals, three by Gibson and one by replacement Ryan Miller, who took over about halfway through the period. This was exactly the kind of disaster that Eakins had called “going off the rails” after their poor performance on Wednesday night versus LA.
The shots were 34-27 for the Ducks. They also won in the faceoff circle, hitting at 53%. But the Sharks were two for two on the power play, and the Ducks got nothing on their only chance. They outhit San Jose by 26-23.
None of those numbers mean anything. The fact is, the team has given up 11 goals in two games with nothing much to show on their end. Blame the veterans if you want, but Getzlaf was noticeable at times, as was Henrique, who had four shots. Buzzing was Rakell, and he ended up with seven shots on the net. Blame the youth? Nah. The fact that they were down two defensemen, though, was perhaps of great significance.
Shattenkirk said the team needed to stick together, including in their defensive play. His coach was more direct.
Eakins explained the loss by saying, “We chose to play alone. Play outside the structure. Try to get two goals at once, and you can’t do that. . . . That shows you plain as day that . . . if you go out there as a subcontractor, [the puck] is going to end up in your net.” He was talking about what happened in the third period. He said everything had been fine through two, and that the two-goal deficit wasn’t enough to kill the team’s chances. “The game’s two-nothing; there’s still lots to play for,” he added later.
So that’s a bunch of ways of saying it’s not his fault. He had more: “We’ve got to get this together, and quit hanging our heads and feeling sorry for ourselves or whatever you’ve got going on. You’ve got two jobs—play for each other, and play to win . . . . Play within the structure and stick with it no matter what.”
Even down 2-0, “There’s still lots to play for . . . . Let’s get going. We had some individuals who decide to do it a different way, and their lessons are the lessons we all just learned. It will never, ever work out.”
The teams go at it again Saturday evening at 7pm. Miller will be in net. Eakins said after that he needed a break, because “You could argue that he’s our best player,” who “deserves more in front of him. That’s for sure.” He said in response to a question about a lineup shakeup that he doesn’t like making that kind of decision right after a game.
The cross-town Kings, meanwhile, were playing the Avalanche away. They lost, too, but not so badly. The game was 2-0 for Colorado.