Has the Great Compression begun? That’s got to be a question that is starting to occur to West Coast hockey fans as teams battle a tight race for the Wild Card positions in the Conference.
This is aided by the observation that at the very least, Anaheim is starting to drop to form and Los Angeles is starting to surge to their form, putting the Wild Card race more in question with every game.
It was on evidence last night, when the Ducks lost to the New York Rangers, 4-1, and the Kings defeated the Detroit Red Wings, 4-0. That victory brought about the second career shutout of Cal Petersen, who was playing in his 66th career game, with a dozen of those coming this year.
That was hardly the story, though. The dominance of LA in period one was more on the mark. They outshot the Red Wings 27-2 in the first 20 minutes, prompting the usual comments from the losing coach, Jeff Blashill, afterwards, namely that his squad needs to start on time and play a full 60 minutes. Oh, and, “We didn’t get pucks behind them,” which is slight alteration on the usual, “Get the puck in deep.” We’ll see Sunday if those lessons were learned, because Detroit is right back at it, this time down the I-5 in a rescheduled game versus the Ducks.
But let’s not get too far ahead. There’s still Saturday night to digest. The Kings ended up doubling up the Wings’ shot output, 42-21, with Thomas Greiss allowing three goals on 41 shots, and the final goal coming with an empty net.
Meanwhile, Anaheim lost to the Rangers 4-1 in a game that had interesting parallels to the Kings’ game, namely that the Ducks were playing a team more their caliber but lost, while the Kings played one about at their level and won. What this predicts from here on out you can guess, but LA has now won three of four games while the Ducks go into today with a recent streak of mostly losses.
The Ducks began well on Saturday evening. Isac Lundestrom gave them a period-two lead on a goal assisted–rather, created–by the pressure of Troy Terry. There had been no scoring in the first 20 minutes of play. Three minutes after this goal, Mika Zibanejad tied the game, this at 14 minutes of P2. The Rangers would add three more in period three for the win. Ryan Lindgren had the last two, with the other tally being credited to Jarred Tinordi.
The shots were even more lopsided as those in the game in LA. The Rangers launched 40, while the Ducks had only 14. The netminder for the Ducks was Anthony Stolarz, backed up by Lukas Dostal with Gibson out due to Covid Protocol. Twenty of the Rangers shots came in the third period, so any hopes of a rally by the Ducks were squashed.
The team had, to be fair, a handful of San Diego Gulls players on the roster, with a number of callups coming Saturday morning due to Covid. Still Coach Eakins cited the need for mental toughness and a proper mindset as the keys to overcoming the shifting landscape of pandemic-era hockey.
On the back of that (failed) effort, the Ducks await Detroit this evening in a game postponed a few nights ago due to Covid Protocol. The Red Wings, aside from their loss to LA, had a big win versus San Jose and a big loss versus Boston to start the calendar year.
The arena will be giving out a premium to attendees: a Ryan Getzlaf bobblehead wearing an Angels baseball uniform, for those you who like to mix your metaphors (and other things).
It should be a good battle of the young talent on each team. For the Ducks, Zegras, Terry (not a rookie, but on a breakout year), Drysdale, and Milano are thrilling, despite Zegras’s failed waffle-pass against the Rangers last night. For the Red Wings, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider are two of the three rookie NHL points leaders. The other one? Zegras.
The points totals in the West are, as indicated by my earlier statement, in the midst of a compression. Where the East Wild Card is being contested by as many as six teams, but reasonably three, the West has six teams within reasonable striking distance of the second Wild Card spot, and that changes every day.
The Kings, as of Sunday morning, are in the second WC, with Anaheim holding their playoff position by virtue of being second in the Pacific. But they are virtually tied with LA, holding two games in hand on their up-the-freeway rivals.
So a word of warning: Don’t blink, or stare at your Getzlaf bobblehead too long, or you’ll miss all the fun as these squads scrabble after points as the season reaches midway, and don’t assume anything is over. Far from it.
Ryan Getzlaf was held out of Saturday’s game because while he had exited Covid Protocol, he had not practiced with the team this week. He will be in the lineup on his bobblehead night Sunday. Other people on the list of protocol holdouts included Sam Carrick, Derek Grant, and Hampus Lindholm.
Jacob Perreault made his NHL debut and almost scored on a deflection in the second period. He is Yanic Perreault’s son.
The Kings play the Rangers at home on Monday evening. The Ducks follow their Sunday game versus Detroit with a game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday in SoCal.