The Anaheim Ducks’ coach, Bruce Boudreau, was angry with his team after their loss to Nashville on Sunday night, miffed at the number of undisciplined penalties they had taken. The numbers were telling: six minors versus two for Nashville. Boudreau immediately pointed to this after the game: “Too many penalties for sure. We were just stupid out there. I mean, the penalties we take sometimes are just so selfish, and so dumb.” He didn’t name anyone, but Corey Perry had two consecutively, and the next one was to Getzlaf. The next went to usual culprit Ryan Garbutt.
But there were other things wrong with their game aside from putting themselves down a man too many times. As Boudreau said about one goal, “We could have played tighter, and our right winger could have taken [the goal scorer], and that’s his job, so, uh, I mean . . .” and he then went on to talk about another goal and how the team had allowed it only after blocking four Shea Weber slapshots, which showed a lot of courage.
So who’s he talking about above? Corey Perry. He never named anyone, naturally.
He went on: “We’re doing stupid stuff and they’re just smiling and having a good old time. Nashville. [The referees] are not going to give us a break, and quite frankly we don’t deserve a break if we’re going to be yelling at them and being stupid all night long.” He talked about the “foolishness on our part” during second intermission, he said.
But that wasn’t really what cost the Ducks a 3-2 loss and put them down by two games in the series. The biggest problem was that they couldn’t penetrate Nashville’s checking style, which had them put one man in when the Ducks had the puck in their zone, and keep four at the Nashville blueline. Then, as the puck started to come out, one guy of the four would move up to pressure, forcing the Ducks to dump the puck behind three men, and thus, almost every time, turn it over.
This rendered the Ducks’ speed null, and it meant that on any given play, not three players were attacking, but one. One guy, rushing the puck, often in a futile attempt to get it across into the Predators’ zone. When it did go there, it never went deep. Instead, it was retrieved at the hash marks and turned back up ice
On the Nashville breakout, the opposite would happen, as the Predators would move the puck up and into the Anaheim zone along the boards, typically on the left side. Then, they would feed it to the slot for a shot. Friday night, the play was to the wide right. Sunday, it was right into the middle. This worked, as only one of their three goals was scored on the aforementioned six penalties.
But if penalties are the topic, then let’s talk about good ones. Not the kind that stop a goal, as described by Hampus Lindholm after the game ended: “You’re never going to win games, and championships, if you sit in the box all night. Especially the way we sit in the box. If a guy’s coming on a two-on-one and you hook him down and save a goal, that’s a penalty that we accept. But these slashings and being stupid, it’s, we can’t do that in the playoffs, and it really hurt us tonight.”
“We just were dumb” was Boudreau’s summation. “We talk about this on a constant, constant basis. It was one of the keys of the game, controlled emotion. Initiate, don’t retaliate. And yet they get so wound up it seems the lose fact, of, lose track of what’s going on around them.”
Is this implosion? It sure sounds like it. “The one thing about this team is resiliency. That’s what you talk about with this team. We’ve gone through some tough times together. Just two years ago, we lost games one and two at home to LA and went in there and won two, so it’s not an impossible thing to do.”
How’d that work out? They dumped game seven at home.
Hampus Lindholm continued on this theme: “You have to be the team that works hard. We want to outwork them and make them take penalties on us, but it’s the other way around now. I don’t know how many penalties we had tonight, but you can’t sit in the box as much as we did.” He added, “I think it’s them getting under our skin and outworking us and us just not being ready, prepared.”
In fact, Nashville played a cheap and chippy game. They speared and slashed and got away with it. The Ducks’ anger, thus was misdirected at them, when it should have been focused on the refs (always a pointless thing, of course).
But what the Ducks didn’t do was deal with cheap shots from Nashville the way hockey players do—by making them pay immediately. They failed to send a message that we won’t be toyed with. If any team in the league is good at that, it’s Anaheim, a scrappy bunch of ruffians when they need to be. Heck, even their captain fights. But not on this night, not even on strong provocation.
Witness this: at the end of a play, for no reason at all, James Neal went out of his way to skate by John Gibson in the Anaheim net and whack him across the head with a stick.
Another time, a Predators’ player broke his stick and slashed a Ducks’ forward with the broken end.
A third time, Andrew Cogliano was in front of the net when he went down in a heap and stayed in a tiny ball, obviously speared or butt-ended mercilessly. Did anyone do anything? No, no, and no.
Why not? Because of a false idea that discipline means not retaliating? Well, here’s the result: Nashville now thinks that anything’s OK, and since the referees don’t seem interested in policing the situation, the Ducks are suffering for it.
What should Anaheim do? Take immediate and swift action to retaliate whenever a helpless teammate is victimized. Who should do this? Kesler, Bieksa, Getzlaf, Thompson. That’s just a start of the guys tough enough to say “enough’s enough.”
Because enough’s enough. Nashville certainly never played like this with Trotz in charge. And it’s not pretty. But it’s working. The Ducks are confused about what to do and what not to do, and they’re doing exactly the opposite of what makes the most sense.
Nashville is also causing a lot of scrums around and behind both nets, and they’re doing that with impunity as well. The result is not the typical double-minor situation where each team sees a guy sit. Four on four hockey would, in fact, favor the Ducks with their speed and precise passing. But they’re not getting that.
They won the game statistically on Sunday. They dominated in faceoffs to the tune of 64%. They outhit Nashville by 50 percent (47 to 32). They combined in shot attempts for 56, while Nashville had 49. But none of that translated into goals, because they didn’t play as a unit.
Their two goals were individual efforts. Cogliano broke in alone, deked as he crossed left to right across the crease, and tucked a puck five-hole. This happened at 14:20 of the game. Thompson closed the scoring at 17:18 of the third when he took it in semi-alone, deked a couple of guys, and threw a high backhand into the net. It looked like he was shooting for a rebound, actually, but he scored.
In between, the Predators potted three goals, the last of them by Weber of the slapshot so feared, and which Boudreau talked about when he complimented his players for blocking several before one got through. The second one by Smith was the one Perry goofed on coverage on, and the first was by Ekholm. He said after “I thought we played a heck of a road game. It’s not pretty always, but we always battling hard. We try to be on the right side, do the right things, and again, just a great effort on everyone tonight. They’re hard, physical, they’re fast, but I thought we managed them tonight.”
He said that his team kept calm. “I think there was a scrum after every whistle, but we just stood calm. We didn’t try to hit them back or anything. That’s a part of the game too. I thought we managed it well.”
Wow. Talk about seeing two sides of a coin. He didn’t, obviously, mention any of the egregious aggravations which got the Ducks off their game.
He finished, “Everyone in this room thinks we’re capable of doing this, and we’ve showed everyone now that we can beat every team.”
That theme was repeated by Johansen, “We believe in ourselves. I think there’s a different view from outsiders looking in, but we feel like we had a game plan. . . . We’ve got a great hockey team here with a lot of great players, and I think definitely the league will start to take some notice and put us on their radar. We feel very comfortable and confident in ourselves and our game, and definitely happy with the results we’ve had so far.”
What that tells you is that this is what the coach is saying. He’s using the little invisible Nashville theme to create an underdog mentality. It’s working. They go home up by two games.
The teams play again Tuesday night, then Thursday. Ducks fans hope that Saturday, they’ll be back to enjoy a game five.