Two nights ago, it was all rainbows and puppies, as Dallas Eakins might have said. (If you’ve been following my coverage of the Anaheim team here at Inside Hockey, you get this.) The Ducks had won, in comeback fashion. They had seen a rookie play his first game and score a goal (Drysdale). They had seen another hot dog forward finally get a goal (Zegras). They had a goalie who won and grabbed sole possession of 14thin all-time wins (Miller), and the had a guy who’s played his whole career with the team get his 700thassist (Getzlaf). No wonder that that’s mostly what the radio guys talked about prior to the game.
And it’s probably not surprising that the TV coverage repeated it all, even after period #1 with Arizona once again in town. Why did they do this? Because there was nothing more to talk about. Plainly said, the Ducks were terrible in the game, almost right from the start. The game was 3-0 for the road team by the end of P1. They were up 4-0 within the first minute of the second period despite (because of?) the presence of a backup goalie replacement (Anthony Stolarz took over for Ryan Miller). They were 5-0 when the middle of the third period was looming. And the only hopeful sign was yet another goal from Adam Henrique (his ninth, revenge for the team having put him on waivers a couple of weeks ago) that broke the Coyotes’ shutout.
Bad news: John Gibson remains out with a lower-body injury. Perhaps that’s good news for him, because backing up this team is a numbers-destroyer, though of course he would never say this.
I tried to make sense of the Ducks’ failing play by following the line combos as the game went on. About the only thing that became evident was this: Trevor Zegras, who finally scored that first goal on Thursday, played up and down the lineup. He was on with Getzlaf and Rakell, a first line that got lots of appearances and averaged 15 minutes in ice time. It reverted to Rakell and Getzlaf with Max Jones in the middle going, but went back to Zegras at the end.
Zegras was also, and mostly, on with Troy Terry and Adam Henrique. It was this group which accounted for the Ducks’ only goal, a shutout-demolisher that came with about five minutes left in the third. Henrique got the goal, and the other two assisted.
IH asked Henrique about the goal as a shutout breaker, whether there was additional satisfaction scoring so late, and he said, “No, not really.”
But IH also queried him about his own role, and he was more expansive. I asked whether he felt like a bit of a one-man show, with not a lot of goal support coming from other places. He said, “No, a few weeks back it was the opposite story. I wasn’t scoring, and you know, I don’t feel personally that I’ve changed too much in my game. Sometimes hockey’s hard, and you can’t seem to do something right. And sometimes, it just seems to be going your way, and you’re finding it. As of late, we’ve had some games where we’ve scored some goals, which we certainly need, but then we give up way too many. At the start of the year, we were keeping it low-scoring games, one-goal games, but we couldn’t get the second or third goal to make a difference, and we were ending up on the wrong end of it there, and same thing now. I just have to keep pushing forward really.” He went on to talk about Zegras and his role on the line with him and Troy Terry.
We followed up with the coach about Zegras’s place in the lineup: “That line’s been good for us here as of late. They’ve got a veteran centerman. His other winger thinks the game the same as he does, and tonight, they were a group that was really solid throughout the game. Z’s still growing each and every night, every shift is more experience for him, and we just hope he keeps getting better.”
It’s good to talk about stuff like that. It provides a distractor from discussing the team’s 24 points, abysmal 9-17-6 record, and -39 goal differential. Only Buffalo is worse, and their coach got fired this week.
In the stats department Saturday night, each team had 28 shots, and the Ducks won the faceoff battle at 52% efficiency. Each squad took two minor penalties. The Arizona team got one PP goal. The Ducks outhit the Coyotes 37-16 officially, though we all know that that can be a “homer” stat.
Just to set the record straight on the backup goalie: Anthony Stolarz was drafted in the second round of 2012 by Philadelphia, and he has just over two dozen NHL appearances over the decade since. The coach said he had played well despite being inserted after a period. The first goal he let in, he might have been caught a bit too far to his left, as it snuck past the right arm, but that’s just what I saw. In any case, goalies can’t win with no goal support, so the story of the game is hardly his play.
So where to go from here? The Ducks might just be celebrating the small victories this season rather than crafting any large ones unless somehow things turn around.
The Ducks now play away for the rest of March, including five games, starting with two in Minnesota. They return to California to play these same Coyotes April 2nd.
Arizona plays two sets of back-to-backs at home next week, versus the Avalanche and then the Sharks.
Brian Kennedy is an accredited member of the NHL media and member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.