No Turkey Torpor

by | Nov 24, 2017

One team playing in Anaheim on Friday afternoon had clearly celebrated Thanksgiving the day before, if their early slumber on the ice was a fair indication. That would be the home team, who found themselves down by a pair of goals before the game was five minutes old. It would have been 3-0, except for a lucky early reversal. But wait for that.

Whether or not they later ate turkey, the Ducks did practice Thursday morning, a follow-up to their disastrous 4-2 loss to the Golden Knights on Wednesday night, a game in which they fired only 19 shots at the opposing net while giving up 49. After the game, coach Carlyle said that the team’s offense was only “pop gun” and that they had played with no sense of organization. The practice was payback, apparently. But it didn’t do anything to ensure a fast start on Friday.

In fact, the game which kicked off at 1pm on the Friday after American Thanksgiving quickly turned into a contest that would show how bad Anaheim can be against a fast team.

Not that they didn’t know already, as the Tampa Bay lightning had given them the lesson two weeks ago, a 2-1 win by the Florida team that would have been far worse had it not been for the heroics of John Gibson in the Anaheim cage. He made 35 saves, most ridiculously spectacular, in the loss.

After the game, Carlyle would say, “It looked like maybe we didn’t even have our skates on, we were so slow to react for the first five or six minutes. That’s the term probably freezing in the moment.”

He would later repeat, “. . . the start, it was frustrating. I thought we were playing in our boots and they had their skates on. We’ve gotta shake that, motivate that, flush that, be better right from the start, the drop of the puck.”

It took no time at all for the lesson to begin. Fortunately for the Ducks, the apparent first goal, scored with a handful of seconds elapsed on the first shift of the game, was called back on an icing challenge. The Jets didn’t care. They powered back with just 40 seconds gone to take a 1-0 lead.

Nicolaj Ehlers got the early goal. Anaheim appeared completely disorganized on the play.

Sami Vatanen commented, “I think we’ve got to be ready to play at the start. I think that if we would know what was wrong with that, we would fix it. It’s hockey. We battled back hard today, and we’ve got to take that and go out tomorrow. We haven’t been able to play that game that we want to play. We’ve been able to play forty minutes, or twenty minutes, or thirty minutes of very good hockey, but we just got to find a way to play the sixty minutes and get some points.”

Francois Beauchemin took an interference penalty about a minute after the first goal. Beauchemin was returning after a two-game hiatus which was not attributable to injury. His penalty partly explains why the shot differential opened at 5-0 for Winnipeg and was 10-3 by mid-period.

But only partly. In fact, the Ducks have allowed forty or more shots against in their last four games. It gets worse: they’ve done it in six of the past eight. Friday it was 36 against.

It didn’t help that the Ducks’ Dennis Rasmussen, who has averaged seven minutes of ice time in his last three games (he has played all but three of the team’s contests this year, but averaged very little time of late), took a minor with 4:37 gone.

Total that up: two minor penalties by players who are marginal at best in their contributions at the moment. Kinda reminds you of what happened Wednesday night with Vegas in town. Mike Liambas took two of the team’s three minor penalties from his lofty perch on the fourth line. He got only 3:31 of ice-time, which goes against an average in the three games he’s played of about four and a half.

On the second penalty Friday, the Jets Ehlers fired a knee-high wrist shot past Gibson on the short side. He was all alone at the left dot. The goalie was going to his knees awkwardly on the play, like he expected the shot to go five-hole. He certainly left too much space between his body and the post on his right-hand side.

But give them credit; the Ducks didn’t give up. They pressed as the period went on, with the best shifts recorded by the third line of Antoine Vermette centering Nick Ritchie and Kevin Roy.

By 5:20 left, the Anaheim team had closed the shot differential to 11-6. Still a five-shot disadvantage, but at least on percentage not as embarrassing as the game began on. But aside from a couple of healthy rushes and a shot or two high and wide that might have been dangerous had they been on net, nothing much was happening for the Ducks.

The first line of Wagner with Perry on the right and Rakell on the left did some damage near the end of the frame, pressuring the Jets and keeping them hemmed in their end. That was followed by a similar shift by the Cogliano, Wagner, and Silfverberg line. They hadn’t factored so much in the early going because various of them are the team’s first penalty kill unit, and they had, as was mentioned, been pressed into service in the first half of the period.

The first frame ended with the Ducks down 12-8 in shots, but shot attempts were more telling: for the Ducks, 22. For Winnipeg, 17.

Maybe the turkey had worn off. The Anaheim team came out in period two and closed the shots to 14-12 against, including a goal by Beauchemin. To make matters more interesting, who were the two assists? Liambas and Rasmussen. In other words, everyone I have just carefully pointed out is a drag on the team

The goal came on a fluttering shot delivered from the point. It went end-over-end up and towards the net. In front of the goal, Logan Shaw ducked his head to get out of the way. After the puck had bulged the twine, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was still on his knees, trapper raised.

The puck had floated directly past his head.

Is there any possibility that the Jets were tired? They played last in Los Angeles on Wednesday. They had stayed in a boutique Orange County hotel Thursday. This I heard in a hallway conversation, so I can’t reveal the source. That’s lux living, friends. There’s no way they were out of sorts.

In other words, they had no more excuse than the Ducks did to be feeling the effects of their prior game.

And they surged, at least a little, when Andrew Cogliano took a penalty. The Jets got their third goal at 12:06, the second on the power play. The team was seventh-best in the league coming into the game on the PP.

Bryan Little got a pass inside the blue-line and drifted in further to launch a wrist shot at Gibson and past him. Mathieu Perreault was in front and jumped out of the way just in time for the puck to find a spot.

Little would later say, “We ended up scoring the second one. These guys are known to come out hard and stay in games. We did a good job of playing with the lead. We’re getting better and better at closing out games like this.”

He added, “The chances have been hard to come by, goals have been hard to come by, but the last few games, our line has been picking it up, getting our chances. We stuck with it and had a good game.”

Too bad the Jets scored, because Gibson had made three spectacular saves earlier in the period. The first was a cross-ice pass to Little. Gibson dove left to right and spread-eagled to get a leg on the shot. Anaheim Ducks fans hate this comparison, but it was the kind of powerful, explosive move that Jonathan Quick has made for years. Gibson is coming into this own.

The second save was Tyler Myers from Mark Scheifele coming down the slot. Gibson snatched the puck out of mid-air with his catching glove. The third was on Ehlers, who streaked down the ice on the left side. He launched a shot far side that Gibson squeezed between his left arm and body as he rolled to a fetal position.

Then came the goal. Cogliano has only six penalty minutes all year, so it’s hardly the kind of undisciplined act that so often besets the Ducks, who have been shorthanded more times than any other top-eight penalty killing squad in the league.

Gibson went back to work with another ten-bell stop from the high slot, and the Ducks returned the favor as the period wound down, Cogliano rushing the puck with Silfverberg. The former made a quick pass to the latter as he approached the net full-speed. His tip hit Hellebuyck in the gut.

Call that goalie positioning; the netminder didn’t know where the puck was. It might as well have gone in as not, in other words, and had it, the game would have been different, and the Ducks would have been at only a one-goal disadvantage.

Better than that, it would have seemed that they had earned it. The speed of the Jets was matched by the intensity of the Ducks as the game went through two. And the shots were a distinctly better-than-recently number: 25 Winnipeg, and 20 Anaheim.

Shot attempts, further, were 43-38 in favor of Anaheim after two periods. In other words, by that statistical measure, the Ducks were better.

Note that it doesn’t measure quality, and the Ducks were, as on so many nights of late, beholden to their netminder for giving them a chance to be in the game.

Period three saw the shots register at 11-11, and three of the best chances go for the Jets. Kyle Connor got a shot but was too wide of the net to get a good angle on the attempt, and Gibson made the save on his knees. Brandon Tanev drifted in from the point to blast a one-timer that clacked off Gibson’s stick. Dustin Byfuglien came from around the net and got off a fade-away shot. Gibson had only to get a piece of it. It deflected away.

The Ducks had a chance just past midway, when Josh Morrissey got a tripping penalty at 10:45. The Ducks were at a shot disadvantage when it began and stayed that way, but it ended with the numbers being 32-28. The Ducks had buzzed the whole time, and Brandon Montour had put a one-timer wide. It was still 3-1, though.

The Jets added an empty-net goal by Kyle Connor at 18:20. No big deal, but it happened on a lazy giveaway at center ice. The numbers on gives, by the way, were homerifically presented—the Jets having two more, at fifteen, than the Ducks.

One telling difference in the game: the Jets won more faceoffs. The numbers were 30-27 and the percentages 53% for Winnipeg. Vermette, who is normally lights-out at around sixty percent and at times much better, registered 58%, helping the Anaheim outlook.

The Ducks now travel up the freeway to Los Angeles for a 7:30 pm start on Saturday. The Jets carry on their California adventure, playing San Jose the same night.

NOTES: The Ducks scratched G Reto Bera, D Korbinian Holzer, and D Kevin Bieksa.  . . . The Jets scratched D Tucker Poolman, LW Shawn Matthias, and C Marko Dano.  . . . G Ryan Miller  returned as backup in net after missing five games due to injury.  . . . Ducks still have six players on IR.  . . .  The Jets have seven on the disabled list.

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