You stand in goal and hold your team in the game. You look fantastic. Your team wins because of you. This happens twice in a row. The second time, you get a shutout and they win despite having provided the slimmest offensive output possible, 1-0. Your reward? You don’t play the next game. You don’t even dress for it.
That was John Gibson’s lot on Wednesday night with the Minnesota Wild facing his team, the Anaheim Ducks, in Anaheim. The prior meeting, the one productive of that 1-0 shutout, had been Monday. But even though he was sizzling hot, he was held out. Instead, Ryan Miller started, and Anthony Stolarz was backing up.
This was weird, but not unexpected, because the Ducks had planned to rotate Gibson out for his own good—he’s the kind of goalie who would play every night if he could. The team’s decision from the start of the year has been to not let him do that, but to strategically rest him. But he was hot, perhaps the only player on the team you could say this of. Hmmm. Sometimes, context dictates a change in plans, as it should have done here. But that kind of decision is why coaches make the big bucks, and get fired when things don’t work out.
Miller started the game in fine fettle, stopping 15 of 16 shots in the first period. Perhaps one that he did not get credit for was a rising wrister from Kirill Kaprisov, late of the KHL but lighting it up for the Wild in his NHL debut season. Why no credit? Because the puck appeared to go past Miller and hit the crossbar. That’s not an official SOG in the NHL. Another similar wrister, that one launched on the PP, also hit the crossbar behind Miller.
But his play was not luck. He made a nice blocker save on a wrist shot from Nico Sturm. He made a kick save after find the puck through a crowd. He looked poised at 40 years old. Should he win, he would be only a game behind Dominik Hasek for 14thall-time in NHL netminder wins.
He had one get by him. Not his fault. His team was on the power play, and Kevin Shattenkirk let a puck go at the blueline. Ryan Hartman jumped on it and came in alone on Miller. He took a shot from a bit far out, and that let him get to his own rebound, which he buried. Not chargeable to Miller.
Good thing he was hot, because nobody else did anything. The Ducks had just six shots on the period. Not one was dangerous. Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen was in only his sixth NHL start, the first one this year. He had to deal with zero pressure. That would have to change for P2.
Miller started the period with a good couple of saves when pucks came through a crowd in front. Then he let in a bit of a weak goal. The puck bounced up off a faceoff from the right dot. It went down right to Nick Bonino’s stick, and he slammed it past a surprised Miller. It was on the power play, the first successful one in 20 tries by the Wild this season.
Things were looking a bit grim, with the Ducks down in shots, 23-7. And they would have been worse had Miller not held in when Bonino came in on a breakaway off a pass to the left of the slot. He shot, and Miller made a blocker save as he collapsed his body to the low portion of the net. Pretty, and effective.
The Ducks were not done. They got two goals in the second. The first was Nick Deslauriers, who scored the winner, and only goal, in Gibson’s 1-0 shutout. The puck went to the net and bounced down off the keeper’s catching glove. Deslauriers smacked it behind him through the five-hole.
That was at 8:58. They got another one at 12:21. This time, it was because for several minutes, they had been activating their defense. The goal came when Cam Fowler rushed into the zone on the opposite side of Carter Rowney. He passed it over to the right slot where a wide-open Cam Fowler got it, held it, let the goalie slide to his left, and put it into the open side, between the arm and body of Kahkonen. It was Rowney’s second assist of the night, also. The period ended with the Ducks up 13-11 in shots and trailing 27-19 in the game.
The second period ended 2-2, and the Ducks had opened the game up, something Minnesota is traditionally not too comfortable with. At this point, one thing the Ducks were thinking was to keep getting the puck on net. Kahkonen was having a horrible time corralling rebounds. It seemed like every puck bounced out, down, or away from him.
The third period would see the Ducks furiously try to tie the game late after the Wild went up 3-2 with less than two minutes gone. The goal came when a puck came out from behind the net to Eriksson Ek in the left slot. He shot past Miller, who had no chance. The play was enabled by poor work behind the boards by Anaheim’s defense, who had a few chances at the puck but did not control. In fact, the whole five-man unit was caught standing around flat-footed on this goal. Pity Miller. He played well enough to win. That didn’t happen.
So what does this teach us about the Ducks, who now have split with Minnesota, a team they have to beat every time if they hope to make the playoffs?
The Ducks still need scoring. They need production out of their top line of Getzlaf, Sonny Milano, and Rickard Rakell. Milano was the most visible of those three, and he ended the night with two shots on goal. Getzlaf had three, and Rakell had one. This is just not good enough. None had any points on the night, and in fact, the only people who did were the scrubs and fourth-liners, plus the defense (Fowler’s goal).
What that also means is that the second line, with Silfverberg, Henrique, and Heinan, are not going either. That team has zero points to date over four games. And while we’re at it, we might as well call out the kid line of Terry, Comtois, and Steel. Comtois has three goals and Steel an assist. Terry has zip. What this means in total is that the only players doing anything on the offensive are those usually thought of as the secondary, maybe even tertiary, scoring. That will see the Ducks go exactly nowhere.
How to change it? Do what worked—activate the defense and hope the forwards follow. Give the guys who are producing more minutes, even though they’re not the ones who are “supposed” to get the icetime.
We’ll analyze the defense next time. The Ducks’ back line should be busy on Friday night—Colorado’s in town.
Brian Kennedy is a credentialed NHL media member and a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. During the pandemic, he is covering games from his SoCal home using media materials provided by the NHL and the Ducks.