The Ducks are doing alright despite setbacks that might have derailed some clubs. They have their best defenseman, Cam Fowler, out with facial fractures. Their big third-liner, Patrick Eaves, is out again, having come back for just a handful of games after missing most of last year. Now, he’s got a broken rib, and the team wants it to resolve on its own rather than subject him to surgery. They have speedy scoring leader Rickard Rakell out after having tweaked an ankle. He left practice early in the week in a walking boot.
But there are bright spots. Daniel Sprong came over earlier in the week from Pittsburgh. He has a renowned shot despite having played only 44 NHL games, counting Friday night versus Carolina. He’s fast, able to get behind his defenders. He’s apparently not so good defensively, but that doesn’t matter on a team that, despite its supposed mantra to defend first this year, plays on the go almost all the time.
Sprong finds himself on the team’s top line with Getzlaf at center and Pontus Aberg on left wing. Aberg, you might recall, was a waiver pick up. He has scored 9-6-15 points this season so far, all for the Ducks, after starting out with Tennessee. Or Nashville, if you insist on it.
Sprong, in his short tenure with Anaheim, can at least be happy that he’s getting more minutes than in Pittsburgh. He was relatively benign in his comments about why he was let go by the Penguins, leading most people to think there’s probably more to the story. We’ll likely never know.
The Ducks need scoring. After losing to Carolina Friday night, they are minus-14 in their goal differential number, the only team in the West to be in the negative and in the playoffs both. In fact, no other playoff team in the league has a negative goal diff.
Part of this is the power play. They came into Friday night sitting 22nd in the league, though their PK is better, 12th. They went 0-for-5 versus Carolina with the extra man, doing nothing with five minutes of power play one man up and nothing with a two-man advantage, either. That happened in the third period, and it was a turning point in the game.
Coach Carlyle later described it: “We had an opportunity, but you can tell by our five-on-three. We passed around the puck to the outside. We took shots; we hit our own players. It was one of those frustration nights.”
At least their used-to-be-third but now second line, Kesler centering Cogliano and Silfverberg, is back intact. They have accounted for a slim 24 points thus far this year, but their presence is felt in many other ways.
Their third line, really their second, is Ritchie, Adam Henrique, and Ondrej Kase, though Kase has found himself all over the lineup, from playing with Getzlaf on the top line to being relegated to the fourth trio. Henrique came into Friday with points in six straight games, with a goal and five assists, and points in nine of his last ten games.
Just to round it out, the fourth line as of now is Brian Gibbons, Carter Rowney, and Kiefer Sherwood. You might recall that all three were signed at various times as free agents. Maybe that’s irrelevant. They have contributed 13 points to the cause this year. Their minutes played on Friday night were 12, 16, and 13, so it’s obvious Carlyle played even the depth guys fairly regularly. In fact, he was consistent with his lines until near the end, when he tried to shake things up with Ritchie, Kase, and Getzlaf together, for instance.
All of this ignores the real reason for the wins of late. John Gibson. He has played in eight of the last nine games, winning five of those. The only one he wasn’t great in was December 2nd in Washington, where he got chased after allowing three goals on 11 shots in 13:19 of work. The Ducks ended up winning that game 6-5 on the back of Ryan Miller. Miller, ever the capable backup, has played nine games with a 4-2-1 record this year.
Versus Carolina, he faced 36 shots while the Ducks got off just 19. Not a recipe for success, though Gibson was great himself. There just wasn’t any support.
You probably want to know a little more detail about that game Friday night. Well, around 15,000 people bought tickets. At least 11,000 of them showed up, by my guess. The game was fairly wide open, and a bit chippy in the second period, with the Ducks scoring shorthanded to highlight the first period, in which they were outshot 13-6.
The goal came when Silfverberg was hit by a Jake Dotchin shot and went in. It was around halfway through the first, and it ended the Anaheim scoring.
The second period saw another goal, this one by the visitors. It was unassisted, by Clark Bishop. He somehow got the puck wedged under a skate, and then slid with it into Gibson and then the net. The play was reviewed first to see if and how the puck crossed the line. It did. Good goal was called. The Ducks challenged this. That took a while. They were hoping for goalie interference. And they had a point. The skate of Bishop hit Gibson’s pad and shoved him back into the net. The goal counted anyway.
The third frame had the Hurricanes adding two more in the first three minutes. The Ducks couldn’t get anything going. They have been very good in the third period and OT of late, outscoring opponents 10-0. They remain in the bottom of the league in scoring, however, with 74 goals coming into Friday, 75 exiting the evening.
This accounts for Carlyle’s general assessment of things on Friday: “I just think that the synopsis of the game, we didn’t execute. We didn’t play anywhere near to a blue-collar game that was required. Consequently, we were receiving the game and couldn’t execute. . . . Nothing we tried to do had any effect, any positive effect.”
He said it another way: “They were faster, quicker, and executed to a higher rate than we did.”
And piled on later: “We lacked any type of resemblance of the team that we’ve been. Now, what’s most important is our response for the next one.”
Josh Manson, Ducks defenseman, said, “We kind of got away from that game we’ve been playing the last five games.” He pointed to practice tomorrow, Saturday, as a way to move on. Carlyle did the same.
Manson said it like this when speaking of the third: “It’s surprising. I thought we were going to have a little bit of a better response in the third period. You look at the last couple of games. We were tied going into the third period and we found a way to win the game, so tonight was a lapse.” He credited Gibson for keeping them in the game, and said he’d wished for some bounces.
It was not to be. The Hurricanes added a fourth goal, into the empty net, by Aho, with about two minutes to go. He said in the Carolina room that he was very glad to have scored, but that he felt that this had been his best game of the year so far. He was proud to have done some PP time. “This was the first game I actually played the whole game on the PP,” he said. “I had two linemates again who helped me feel comfortable,” he said. These were Jordan Martinook and Teuvo Teravainen. Aho said, “We haven’t scored lately, so it definitely feels good, this one.” He was “more happy how I played this game” than with his goal. “We could have scored, in the first period, four goals.” But he said he hasn’t played better all year.
Anaheim has two more home games, New Jersey on Sunday and the Stars on Wednesday, before they hit the road for six games that end December 27th versus San Jose. They play in Buffalo on the 22nd, and so doing the math, will be at home for Christmas before going north.
Carolina goes home to face Toronto having lost two of three games on the West Coast this week.