You want to make the playoffs, right, Anaheim Ducks? I mean really, really wanna with all your heart?
Well you don’t let a weaker team come into our building and score with thirteen seconds gone in the first period off a turnover that your captain makes. At center ice. The Ducks let Edmonton do that.
Sure, the puck kind of rolled off Ryan Getzlaf’s stick as he backhanded a pass, but you don’t throw pucks across center with speedsters like Connor McDavid on the other side. Heck, you don’t even do it with Michael Cammalleri out there, or he’ll do what the Cammers did—grab the puck, feed it to more talented teammate Leon Draisaitl, and watch while he scoots into the zone and fires it under your goalie’s pads just as said goalie goes to his knees.
What ever happened to the stand-up style, anyway? It would prevent so many of today’s goals.
Anyway. The Ducks, having lost to the more-than-pathetic Arizona Coyotes in AZ on Saturday, were down as fast as that at home on Sunday in a game that could be read as a test of their will to remain in the playoff hunt. The answer, after a lots of twists and turns. “Yeah. But we’re not necessarily going to act on the impulse until later. Much later.”
Rickard Rakell tied the game with 1:46 gone, on a hard shift in Edmonton’s end where the same offenders who had allowed goal one got it back, they being Rakell with Perry and Getzlaf. The assists were to Fowler and Getzlaf. He was, ironically, the beneficiary of a turnover, inside the blueline. He put it low to Fowler, who passed it to the guy they call “Ricky Racks.” He scored the kind of goal a hands guy does, seeming to hold the puck too long across the slot but managing to find the open spot over the outstretched body of Al Montoya on the right side.
Edmonton got a goal back. Anaheim got a goal back. Edmonton got a goal back. And by midway through the second period, it was 3-2 for the visitors, and even Edmonton’s goalie was in on the scoring, getting the secondary assist on the team’s third goal. The shots at midway were 20 for the Ducks, 21 for Edmonton, and only because right as the ten-minute mark ticked past, Matt Benning hit the post from the point, having fooled Ryan Miller with the shot.
Something of a barn-burner, especially since nobody was playing any defense, at all. The play was sloppy, though, and not interesting. That’s because when the Ducks play their best, they fly. No, not in that awfully punny way that that sounds, but on their skates, with the puck winging (rats, did it again) and flinging its way across the ice from stick to stick.
They stretch the rink, in other words. But on this night, they simply played the short game, as did the Oilers, with the occasional exception of a brilliant McDavid moment.
The Ducks should have known better, because after the Phoenix game, they said all the right things. Getzlaf summed it up: “We didn’t play hockey.” He later elaborated: “We have to find a way to be excited and play hockey. It’s as simple as that. We can’t be showing up to the rink, throwing our skates on, and expecting to win every night.”
And they have to do better than they did even in their recent four-game winning streak, brought to an end Saturday. In that run, which got them to within a nudge of second in the Pacific, they scored only ten goals. The scores of those games—never more than two higher for the Ducks than the opponent, and those were both shutouts, 2-0, the first shared by Gibson and Miller, the second Miller’s alone.
The last four-goal outburst for the Ducks came in the early part of February, the 6th, a 4-3 win. But even that, if you look at it, is not the kind of hopeful sign that might point to pulling away from the competition. It was an OT win.
One good sign—their leading scorer, Rakell, got that one mentioned, his first in nine games. Another—the second goal came off Henrique’s stick. He’s been right on for the Ducks since coming over in the fall, and he has six game-winners, but his last few games haven’t been so productive. This was his first goal in five games.
But all of that is faffle if the Ducks don’t start to figure out how to win. They did that, in miraculous fashion, though in the end, it yielded a point, not the two they needed.
Anaheim made some push at the mid-way point of period three, helped some by a penalty against Drake Cagguila. But the immovable force of Darnell Nurse mainly made their comeback a struggle. Witness Rakell against Nurse: the former got between him and Al Montoya in net but eventually got pushed out of the way. Coming down the right side of the ice on a subsequent play, Rakell tried to spin and jump past Nurse, only to get crunched into the boards for his trouble. He eventually got to the back of the net, only to find Nurse riding him all the way along as they chased the puck.
At the most, a shift like that is going to tire you. At the worst, it would take all the fight out of you, and that’s pretty much what happened, until the Ducks got into the last minute, and came alive for two goals. There were scored at 19:39 and 19:53.
Both of them came from Rakell, who got his first hat trick in the NHL. The final one mirrored a goal scored, then disallowed, against the Oilers on Saturday night in LA. The puck came off a faceoff to the net. Henrique whacked it and Rakell took a shot, followed it in, and scored on the rebound.
After, he said the usual clichéd set of untruths, rather than talking about himself: “The way the standings look right now, we have to take every point we can get and move forward. . . .” When asked if this game was a personal highlight, he said, “No, I don’t think so, because we lost the game. It always feels good to score, but it feels better to win.” He would admit that “It felt great” in the moment to get the game tied.
The Ducks thus took the game to OT, which was furious and produced two shots for the Ducks but seven for the Oilers. Ryan Miller shone, making at least three point-blank saves. The first came when Draisaitl put the puck over the McDavid. He had the whole open right side of the net. His shot was low, and it was caught by Miller’s pad with the glove on top for backup.
Slepyshev had a similar chance, getting a pass in close and redirecting. Body save Miller. And then there was McDavid to Draisaitl with a slapper. Pad save again.
Miller, despite having let in five at that point, was not to be faulted. On any. And so it was that the shootout should have gone to the Ducks, because that would have just felt right.
The first shooter, Rakell, scored. Would this game be forever known as “Rickie Racks Redemption”? Cammalleri missed. The Ducks missed. Draisaitle scored. The Ducks missed. McDavid, for the game.
He made it look so easy, going in slowly, then with lots of stickhandling, blasting it in low on the blocker side. The crowd didn’t know what to do, quite.
The story would have been so perfect. But for McDavid. And bad defense. That’s what cost the Ducks this game.
Carlyle said afterwards, “In the big picture, when you score five goals, you should win a hockey game. So obviously it’s on the defensive side that we have to, you know, definitely address. Disappointing that we didn’t come up with a stouter effort, defensively. I know that we can play better with the puck, and puck management. I think three of their goals were scored less than two feet outside our goal, where we had coverage, but there were lacks in our coverage. So those things are correctible. But we gave the puck away several times for two-on-ones. We forced our goaltender to make too many big saves.”
Getzlaf had started the OT by going in with Rakell and shooting—off the goalpost. He later commented on the game. “It showed desperation. Being able to come back against anybody. To have that resolve to come back and play the way we did at the end, and come away with at least a point.”
He also took responsibility for his muff at the first of the game. “My first play of the game was a breakdown. It’s a matter of showing the desperation from the start of the game. We’ve got to be able to build, and we’re going to continue to use that and get going.”
“We played good for four or five games, and then this weekend, we were a bit flat. With the trade deadline coming, sometimes that happens.”
Does he know who he’s playing for? Bob Murray is not going to upset any apple carts, and he’s not a seller.
Goaltender Miller indicated, “It’s a reset point to get to overtime, and we were close on a few plays, and it would have been a nice comeback to get that, but I think, I credit the guys with coming through in the end and getting it together.” He added, “We certainly needed to bounce back from last night, and it seemed that it was kind of getting away from us there, but I thought we did a nice job of picking up the desperation a little bit more.”
He’s got a point. The Ducks got a point. Not good enough. The story is this: they had a thrilling late comeback. They lost.
“It’s frustrating not to cap the comeback,” Miller said.
No kidding. Tell your teammates.
The Ducks are off for four nights. The Oilers head to San Jose to play on Tuesday. Getzlaf said after the game that it was two days of shutting the brain off, followed by two days of practice to get ready for Friday’s game versus Columbus.
Coach Carlyle said after the game that John Gibson would skate this week, and that he was presumed to be available for Friday.
Only Rakell and Brad Stuart of San Jose, in 2004, have scored two such late goals dating back to the expansion season of 1967-68.