Center Rickard Rakell (#67) of the Anaheim Ducks shoots the puck during the third period

No Strategy at All

A week ago it was, “We need to find our identity.” Earlier this week, “Focus on the process.” Friday after losing an afternoon contest in which they went down 3-0 and clawed back to 3-2 before a failed final flurry that had Corey Crawford declaring that the Ducks are more of a crease-crashing team than many he sees in his duties in the Chicago net, Randy Carlyle said that he wasn’t going to throw his prime (non)scorers under the bus—“there are plenty of other people around here who will do that,” (that’s a paraphrase), and he gestured with his head both to the team’s locker room and to the media members standing around him.

His exact words when asked about the top guys’ inability to score: “Somewhat concerned. But there’s enough pressure being put on them internally by teammates, so that there’s no need for the head coach to put pressure on them. And you guys will put pressure on them, too. That’s what comes with the business when you’re that level of player.”

But someone’s got to do it, as the numbers are dismal. Put it this way, Nick Ritchie, who was on the Perry-Getzlaf line until today, when Rickard Rakell took the spot, has five times as many goals as Getzlaf, and one more than Corey Perry. Getzlaf has one. Perry four, and Ritchie five. He got the last one as the first Anaheim tally against the Blackhawks, at even strength 15 minutes through the second period, when he was out on the line he’d played on most of the night—Ritchie with Vermette and Kase.

They would have had two goals as a unit, including Kase’s first NHL tally, had a goal not been called off at about five minutes gone in the third. It had bounced up and off the open glove of Kase, perhaps hitting his pants before it went into the net. The referee said no right away, and this was confirmed by video review. The Ducks would get another one midway through period three to end the game 3-2 losers.

Getzlaf, for his part, commented on his lack of production after the game, saying, “We gotta score goals. Bottom line, a lot of that comes on our heads, me and [Perry] and whoever’s on our wing, whether it’s Raks [Rakell] now, or, me and Perry gotta put pucks in the net, simple as that. We play a lot of minutes and we gotta find a way to score goals.” When asked how he could do that, he said, “All I can say is put pucks in the net. It’s not like we’re not getting opportunities, or that we’re not trying. I’m not dogging on that, it’s just that we gotta score; it’s our responsibility and our, what we’re paid to do.”

But how? Put pucks in the net to put pucks in the net is not an answer.

With Rakell and Perry, the trio had about 20 minutes apiece and generated eight of the Ducks’ 36 shots. Now that should tell you something. They got one-third of the time available for forwards, and they generated less than one-fourth of the offense if shots are the measure. And no goals.

And Getzlaf himself had a grand total of zero shots, despite eating up nearly three-quarters of the team’s power play time as well (2:49 of four minutes).

The captain continued his post-game comments: “We’re not playing good enough to win. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it; we can’t win games. The Islander game we came back and got to where we wanted to be [and lost in a shootout], and tonight we played a good team and they got two goals on the power play.”

The team has now lost three in a row, with that one point in the Isles game as the mitigating factor.

Carlyle said, “We just have to find a way to get ourselves over the top. . . . It’s hard when you have to mount these comebacks, but in reality you can’t get down 3-0 to a hockey club and expect that you’re going to come back in every game. For us, it’s simple. Let’s buckle down and let’s play a better brand of defense. Then if one is what it takes to win it, let’s get the one. . . . More of these one and two-goal efforts are going to have to turn in our favor if we continue to generate the kind of work ethic we generate in the majority of the game but not all of the game.”

He later added, “We have to prevent the three goals against, rather than waiting for the goals for.” Fans everywhere should be groaning. If he manages, somehow, to turn this team into a defense-first squad, look out. It’s boring to watch, if possibly something some would trade for wins.

But are you dizzy yet listening to his claims? Here’s someone else who needs some training in how not to make a circular argument.

At least there was some hint at what “our” game might be—defense. But is that really what the Ducks are capable of?

Let’s not waste a paragraph here. NO. That’s your answer.

They are good at three things, and in their most brilliant moments on Friday afternoon, they demonstrated this. First, they skate fast all through the lineup. Second, they crash the net, mainly via Perry and Ryan Kesler’s play. Third, they play a stretched-out game. Even when they cycle, it’s from midway behind the net to the hash marks. It’s as if their mantra is, “We shall not make a pass shorter than fifteen feet in length.”

Their defense is probably, collectively, the most mobile, risk-taking group in the league. They were all over the ice during this game, and not just in the last period, when the team desperately needed to score. But it’s not working.

Getzlaf later said, “When the season turns and things start going the right way, you find a way to start putting those pucks in the net, and we’ve gotta start doing that.”

But the begs a question: is the season going to turn on its own? Or is the responsibility on Getzlaf and company to start putting pucks in the net using some specific methodology? There has to be a cause-effect relationship stated here, or this makes no sense. So how to do it?

Silfverberg, who got the team’s second goal, commented, “We’ve gotta put that aside and keep working and keep playing with the good structure we have and keep believing in it, and see if we can get a win.” He then immediately focused his comments on playing tomorrow, which the Ducks do against San Jose on the road. “The last couple of games we’ve come out pretty aggressive and shoot pucks at the net in the third, but we’ve got to score . . . that’s the last piece that’s missing.” He later added, “We stayed with the structure and didn’t start cheating, and guys paid in, and I think as long as we keep doing that, as long as we keep playing with structure we’re gonna be fine.”

Again, a great diagnosis, but his answer is lacking. “If we keep playing like that, I’m sure we’ll get the wins,” Coach Carlyle would later say, also hinting that there’s an answer without really supplying one, and perhaps suggesting the message that he gave the team.

To return to the Chicago POV, I talked with Corey Crawford after the game, asking about the pressure and close proximity to the net that the Ducks used as their late strategy. “They get to the net pretty hard, and that’s the way you score goals in this league. You’ve got to get to the net and get traffic, and make it hard on goalies. They do a pretty good job of that.”

The netminder had earlier said, “Our guys did a great job blocking shots and clearing stuff. There were so many little scrambles where it felt like there was twenty sticks swinging away at it in front of the net. Our guys kept coming up with those ones, really solid defensively at the end.”

Silfverberg’s word on the Chicago keeper: “He was good tonight, but we should have scored a few more goals.”

But if you don’t have any idea why, or a clear way to the how, then, well, all you’re doing is relying on luck or the other guy making a mistake, and that’s not a strategy for winning.

Come to think of it, it’s not a strategy at all.


Ducks Notes

The team now goes north to play Saturday, likely without the injured Stoner and Cramarossa. They are then home for Montreal before going away for three Western Canada games.

Logan Shaw made his debut with the Ducks after being traded from Florida. He played more than half the season with the Panthers last year, but had a bad camp and was in the AHL to start the year. Carlyle said he was happy with what he’d done. “He’s a big guy that can skate, who didn’t look out of place out there. I thought he performed well. He gave us some minutes. It’s going to take some time for him to understand what all of our expectations are in that role and where he’s going to play. But I thought he did well.” Shaw played 6:41. His linemates Garbutt and Wagner had about the same.

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