Eight games dropped in a row. That’s gotta change if the Ducks want to make the playoffs, and hosting Ottawa, the worst team in the league if standings points is your measurement, is a good way to start the transformation. One thing the Senators don’t have: goaltending. Witness this: coming into Wednesday, they’d scored 136 goals. That put them third in the Atlantic and would have them third in the other Eastern Division, the Metro, too. But they’d allowed 172, which is why their record was as it was.

The Ducks, by comparison, had scored just 104. But they’d allowed only 127. Still a negative differential, but better than minus 36. Ottawa has run through four keepers thus far this year, and the one they used against the Ducks let in a bit of a stinker as the first goal of the night, off a one-timer by Silfverberg after a Montour drop pass.

It looked from that moment (8:52 of the first) that the Ducks might dominate. They should have done so. But they didn’t. The night ended 2-1 in Ottawa’s favor in OT, and only because John Gibson kept the Ducks in it in the third period. Without certain of his heroics, it would have been 3-1 in regulation.

But the loss wasn’t the real news of the evening. To start, the Ducks had Rickard Rakell back, having missed a dozen games with an ankle sprain. He got a huge cheer when he was announced as part of the starting lineup. What was odd was who was announced with him: Getzlaf, as was expected, and Sprong. Daniel Sprong, he of the 10 points in thirty games. He of the third line.

Banished down there  in his place (not actually such a bad thing, since Adam Henrique is the center and Nick Ritchie the left wing) was Ondrej Kase. Kase is co-leading the team in goals, with 11.

Aren’t we forgetting someone? You bet. Aberg. Pontus by first name. The co-leader, with Kase, in goal-scoring on this team. What? He hasn’t scored in eight games, it is true. And probably a lot of his production has had to do with being on a line with Getzlaf. But out of the lineup from the first line spot? What was the story?

I checked around. There isn’t one. Healthy scratch. This makes no sense. Especially when you have a lineup with reclamation projects and free agent mystery men like Sprong, Carter Rowney, and Kiefer Sherwood featuring.

So to summarize: the two leading goal-scorers on the team were, respectively, on line three and in the press box. And the changes made added nothing to the offense. The only goal on the Anaheim side came from Silfverberg with Montour and linemate Cogliano assisting. Is Carlyle asking for it? Should the team extend its losing streak past nine to ten, eleven games, especially with a loss to Ottawa involved, you can bet he’s on thin ice.

The Ducks were outshot 7-5 in the first period, though they exited with a lead. Five. You read that right. A team which can’t score now also doesn’t shoot. And this, by the way, was with a power play thrown in for the Ducks. They didn’t do much with it.

Period two saw them gain the man advantage again early, and boy, what a disaster it was. There was one good try, when a three-way passing play resulted from the tic-tac-toe of Getzlaf to Kase to Kesler, but the latter couldn’t get a stick on the puck. Shortly after that, Ottawa’s Zack Smith got a mini-break, but Gibson made the save. The Ducks overall on the PP got three shots, but nothing at all dangerous. And they gave up the one scoring chance mentioned.

About mid-way, they had another chance on the power play. The strategy was at first, a pass from Fowler to Rakell. He dragged a wrister but waited too long and didn’t have a chance of fooling the goalie. Then it was pass-pass-pass out front to nobody, again by Rakell. All the shots taken on the PP were from a distance.

The Ducks had a chance to do something at regular strength when an Ottawa player broke his stick and the Ducks pinned the Senators in their zone. Nothing resulted.

Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau got a turnover and squibbed a puck to the net, but his stick was interfered with, so the shot didn’t come to much.

By the later part of the second period, the Ducks were playing pond hockey. One shift, Getzlaf stood at a distance and tossed wrist shots at the Ottawa net. One came from the left, with a screen (Rakell) and the other came from the center, no screen. This is not purposeful, strategic play, but play, pure and simple. And you only play when you’re not in a battle because you don’t reckon the opponent as a particular threat.

The third line, meanwhile, got into a collapse-to-the-net strategy. They were twice crowded around Anders Nilsson with the puck flipping and flying at him from in tight. There were scrambles, but no scrums, and no further scoring. That was with about four minutes to go.

They did it again in the last 26 seconds of the frame, getting in close, getting the goalie down, and pouring in the short shots.

Ottawa had just before done roughly the same thing—in the form of Smith trying two stuff attempts at the right of the net, and then putting a puck back to the point and seeing a good slapshot come through traffic.

Still nothing. How frustrating for each team. How frustrating for their fans. The score at the end of two was 1-0. The shots had gained some respectability, with the Ducks having 23 (18 in the period) and the Senators 18 (11 in the period).

The third period saw Ottawa both dominate and tie the game. The goal came close to midway, when Bobby Ryan stayed with a puck across the crease and banged it in. Manson was reaching and lost him going to the net.

The game would have gotten out of hand but for John Gibson. Just one example: He made a tremendous leg save off a lazy turnover to Ottawa’s Magnus Paajarvi, who dashed in and beat two guys, deked, and shot. Gibson did a beautiful splits to snag it with a pad. The same shift, Paajarvi fought off two checks and got another chance. The Ducks, it appeared, had played their forty minutes and were done.

Maybe not quite. Cogliano put a short pass out for Kase for a flip shot, which was saved. 1:07 was left. Earlier, Silfverberg had stolen a puck and come down the slot for a writer. The defense were there, and Nilsson got the puck.

Shot attempts on the night were much in favor of the Ducks, with the shots being 33-30 and the attempts standing at 72-57. And still the Ducks lost. Why? They can’t finish. “We got caught not moving. Once we got the pass, we just stood still and looked for guys to pass to rather than moving our feet and then passing. Receiving the game in the third.” That was Silfverberg’s answer.

He elaborated, “We played the first two periods tight and with structure, but we can’t let them have a push. A skilled team will get their looks.” Then he went back to the lack of scoring. “Even tonight, we had some good looks, but it’s a matter of getting  the first one out of the way and getting the relief off your shoulders. Our shots may not be as well-placed as before. It’s a little too much throw the puck to the net, rather than picking a corner or something like that. But we talk about it every day, and it’s something we’re trying to improve on.” He said they have to win the battles, “not just get to the front, but make sure your stick is first to the puck.”

Is there any answer in sight with powerhouse Pittsburgh coming in on Friday and then the team departing for five road games and then five more after being back home for just one?

Hampus LIndholm says they’re not defending with moving feet, and that this puts the Ducks behind the play in their own zone. “We were locked on the outside. Some teams it seems like they just get the puck on their stick, but the reason why they do it that they always come with speed.”

To fix the mess of losing and not scoring? “Have fun.” That’s Lindholm’s answer. He at least said it well, if the message is less than convincing: “We need to cheer each other up and go out and play with some joy, because that’s when you play your best hockey. The best games fly by because you just go out and play with a smile on your face.”

Coach Carlyle is not smiling, though he retained his composure as he talked after the game. “Obviously finish is missing. We’re not creating enough offensive chances that are consecutive, and then when we do, we tend to be snake-bitten around the net. We’ve had ample chances, though we haven’t been able to find the back of the net consistently.”

He would later add, “You turn the page on what just happened, though these are the difficult ones to turn the page on. You can’t carry this too long.” He blamed a mistake for the goal in OT, which was based on a bad change, saying that it looked like a tired mistake, but he indicated that everyone shares the responsibility, as a team. “The bottom line is we’re a team, and we’re all held collectively responsible for our actions.”

Carlyle thought that his team played its best hockey in the second period, when the most pressure was sustained.

He suggested a remedy for the loss: “Look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘How much more can I give, can I help?’” he said.

The Ducks will need mirrors all over every surface of every room if they’re going to do the kind of reconciliation they need to get things righted.

 

Notes

Thanks to the NHL Network and NHL Tonight show hosted by Jamison Coyle for having me on to talk about the Ducks and Kings on Wednesday. What an opportunity!

And Jamison was nice enough to mention my PhD. Thanks for the respect!!

***

What else would the purposeful observer have noticed about the Ducks’ lineup? The defense had its third pairing replaced entirely. Gone were Josh Mahura and Andy Welinski and in were Jacob Larsson and Jake Dotchin. What was the strategy there? I was at the Sunday game, but I have no particular recollection of Mahura or Welenski. Perhaps someone made a giant error, but I can’t remember it. Maybe Carlyle just wanted a change of scenery.

The two had played about 15 minutes (Welenski) and 13 (Mahura). Their replacements got ten (Larsson) and 11 (Dotchin). Meanwhile, Fowler took 26 and Montour and Lindholm 22. Manson had 24.

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