Less Pop Psychology, More Hockey

For five minutes Saturday night, it looked like the Anaheim Ducks had found the answer. This happened with the end of period two versus Minnesota in view. Josh Mahura, playing his first game of the year, fired a shot that was credited as a goal to him, though later changed to David Backes, who was screening in front.

Mahura followed this up with a play in which he zipped a pass to Rickard Rakell as the latter rushed the net. The puck went under his stick.  So were the Ducks going?

Just for those few minutes. Trouble was, that was almost all of the Ducks’ offense, and they’d started out in trouble. After a solid early few minutes to begin the game, they  allowed two goals on consecutive shots, shots nine and ten. Goalie John Gibson didn’t let it bother him, mind—he made solid saves on Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Fiala following the goals.

That lapse, during which they got scored on, did not escape the coach’s notice. “I did think our first round of shifts in the first period was good,” Dallas Eakins said, “And then we kind of fell off. There is another team out there, that’s for sure We seemed to get into synch in that second period, and it would have been a real easy thing to do at that time just to go through the motions and continue on with the game.”

He added, “I thought our guys . . . were pretty gritty for staying into it, though the score doesn’t show that. But they were certainly going then and in parts of the third.” That is pure spin. The score shows what it should—the Ducks were outplayed in every  aspect and at all times except for that brief second-period flurry.

This on a night when the team was playing with the knowledge that last year’s leading scorer for the Ducks, the player who had had a tear of 16 points in 17 games to end the 2019-20 campaign, Adam Henrique, had been put on waivers.

That’s right—waivers. Kinda like firing your best player, though Henrique hadn’t shown much  this year yet, with three goals and one assist in 16 games played.

David Backes, speaking after the game, talked about the effect seeing this had, or might have had, on the team. “Adam’s a great guy.  Guys love him in the room, and he works his butt off. But obviously it’s a message-sending move. It’s one that could, this morning it was like, ‘What, what, what’s going on?’ like surprising a lot of guys. Sometimes that chaos can kind of make everyone zone in their focus, worry about their game, and it’s a good way to reset. Other times it’s like, ‘What the heck’s going on? Am I next?’ and there’s a clenching effect.”  He added, “Certainly  the cage has been rattled, and  the  message has been sent from up above that status quo is not acceptable.” Apparently the carrier pidgeon took a while to get the message down from “above,” because almost nobody was on his game against the Wild.

Fans did have one bright spot, however—a defenseman who has played thus far this year in San Diego, who had 11 NHL games last year with four points, and 17 the year before with five points, and he did inject some offense. He was Josh Mahura.

Eakins was happy  to deflect from the bad night and talk about him. But you don’t need to hear praise for the only bright spot. Rather, listen to the spin with a little more context to Eakins’ earlier-cited comments: “I thought our guys  showed some good character there, some no quit. I thought they were pretty gritty for  staying into it. I know the score doesn’t obviously show that, but they were certainly  going [at times]. It’s the never ending chase in pro hockey  to play  the full sixty  minutes or whatever it is.”

Translation: they had to keep playing because the alternative was to walk back down the tunnel they  entered from, get in their Bentleys, and leave. But they might as well have done that, because though they  remained physically present, they  had nothing to offer the Wild.

So where do the Ducks go from here? They’ve tried new line combos. Bringing players up. Sending players to the waiver wire. About the only idea they haven’t resorted to is to go back to the goonie Ducks of the Stanley Cup era (not possible since they don’t have the horses—their fourth line, on this night a reinstated Nick Deslauriers with Rowney and Backes, has only one tough guy, that being “DeLo,” who had not played the Thursday  game versus these same Wild).

So where will answers come from? The comments after the game were predictable, as cited. Coach Eakins spoke long after he’d usually be on for his  presser. In fact, the broadcast of the post-game was over, and the wait for those of us interested in the Zoom call extended well past nine o’clock in a game that finished just after 8:35. What was the holdup?

Eakins added to his earlier comments that the team needed to “Decide how to handle the circumstance [the loss]. You’ve got a choice to make, and we’ve got to keep moving forward and stay gritty and work our way out of this.”

I’m thinking fans,  not to mention the GM, want answers that have more to do with hockey and less to do with facile pop psychology, but apparently that’s all the coach has at this point.

David Backes, who has spoken earlier, commented, “Dallas  has said a couple of times that he’s encouraged by  how we’ve shown how we can play, but I think we’re at a point where enough’s enough, and we have to show that we can do that for sixty minutes, and that we’re willing to invest that energy, that work ethic, that sacrifice for each other so we can get the result.”  Is that what wins professional hockey  games these days?

But  here’s the zinger. “Maybe Minnesota, nothing against them, they have a good team, but maybe  our eyes lit up and we thought it was going to be an easier game than other nights, but the fact of the matter is, every  game is difficult, and if you  don’t bring your  A game, every team in this league can make you pay.”

Mr. Backes—your team doesn’t have an A game. You’re terrible. You have no business saying “nothing against them,”  because losing this game had nothing to do with underestimating the opponent.

Nobody’s going  into games against you thinking about having to create a situation in which you pay. Rather than not fearing a team you perceive as weak (and is only  at the bottom of the standings because they lost some games to Covid postponement), maybe you  should realize that nobody  fears you. That’s why you got smacked down, 5-1.

Here’s another play that could be a metaphor for Anaheim’s frustration right now: Jones late in the third gets to a puck in front of the net on a rush and pokes a backhand off the left post and then the right. Less than three minutes remained. It was a metaphor for the game, because as you know, a post doesn’t even count as a shot on goal.

So maybe the Ducks are doing things right, and maybe it’s just the bounces. And maybe Adam Henrique will be headed to Montreal or New Jersey or Dallas by tomorrow morning. Or  maybe not.  Whatever happens, some hockey answers need to be attempted for some hockey  questions.

 

Notes

 

The Ducks now travel to Arizona for a pair of games with the first on Monday.

The  Wild go to San Jose for a  single game.