There Is A Reason to Bother

by | Mar 4, 2024

There Is A Reason to Bother

by | Mar 4, 2024

Anaheim, CA—The Ducks’ and Kings’ arenas are maybe 30 miles apart, though nobody speaks of miles here. Rather, it’s time. But on the weekends, particularly a sleepy Sunday where there’s no NFL or MLB drawing fans towards stadia, and thus onto the 5 freeway, a mile a minute is quite do-able. That’s why it was possible for me to get from downtown LA, where I reported on the LA-New Jersey game, to Anaheim, with a stop at home to walk the dog, all in time for the twin Canadian-American national anthems, sung just past 5pm at Honda Center. The Kings’ game had begun at 12:30 and ended in regulation, so you do the math.

But why make that effort for a losing team? In the end, the Ducks fell to the Canucks, 2-1, and continued to angle their way towards the bottom of the league standings. Currently, they sit 30th of 32 teams.

So why? Because I can say, in the future, that I was there when this (this what?—this future playoff contending team, to start) started to come together. And if things look bleak, what can you expect when all three of Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Leo Carlsson are out, injured?

Why indeed? Because the Ducks mostly get good goaltending night after night. John Gibson must be quite tired of hearing that he held his team in games. It would be much easier to hear that you were instrumental in a win, but so be it when you don’t win a lot. But of late, Lukas Dostal has done a great job also. His numbers are 3.66 GAA over his career with a .901 save percentage. This year he’s just a tick off each of those numbers, at a 3.67 and .900. His record, after Sunday, stands at 9-16-1, But that doesn’t mean he didn’t put on a clinic versus the Canucks.

As Alex Killorn said of him after Sunday’s loss: “I guess we made it a little easier on him tonight than the other night, when he had to save 53 shots [actually 52], but he’s been so good for us all year, him and Gibby, keeping us in games.”

Facing 31 shots and keeping all but two from the twine is admirable. The way Dostal made the saves was more so. From the spectacular leg save on Conor Garland to the meticulous tracking of the puck across the zone with tiny right-to-left shuffle steps, and the subsequent glove save, Dostal stood in. Let’s not forget that he set a record for saves in the win the other night, turning back 52 of 55 missiles faced.

Because they never believe they’re out of a game. The Ducks, according to their coach after the Sunday night tilt, were sleepy in period one. I didn’t see that. But there was no dispute that they kept after the Canucks all the way to the end of period three. There was a rush with Owen Zellweger and Bo Groulx with about six and a half minutes left that Casey Desmith took in the mid-body. There was Alex Killorn breaking his stick on the final one-minute push with the goaltender sitting on the bench after rushing off at about the sixty-second mark. Pressure to the end was the mantra.

That makes a loss all the more disappointing. Cronin betrayed it with his body language as he came out to the hallway press conference, leaning towards us in a way that seemed to suggest that he wanted allies. His words as he began were, “They [Vancouver] came out with the sting on them, and we kind of skated around and then we woke up in the second. Those games hurt, because you’re in the game. The second goal was unnecessary. We killed off two penalties in a row, and then Sammy [Carrick] comes out of the box and we’re in a five-on-five situation, and it seemed like we didn’t react to it. Like we had lost our structure.”

So that led to a tap-in goal that proved to be the game winner, but Cronin also cited the lack of chances his team had had. “I don’t think we generated enough. We had some zone time in the second period, but weren’t able to get pucks to the net. They did a really good job taking pucks away and blocking shots. I think if we had gotten some pucks through in that second period…we might have gotten another goal or two out of that.”

But here’s a good one. When asked if it was just a matter of getting more shots, Cronin responded, “Some of it is just talent. [Olen] Zellweger is able to get across the blue line. He sees things. His head’s up. He’s able to give a little bit of misinformation to the shot blocker, so he gets him to freeze, then he slides the puck by him. Our other guys are still learning to do that.” Zellweger has played a handful of games on D after being drafted in the second round in 2021 by Anaheim.

Because their style of play has a bit of recklessness to it, and that makes it fun to watch. So often, the Ducks fling the puck rather than passing it, sometimes off the ice so that the receiver must catch it with his stick before moving it ahead. Or they rush the net across the crease, as Adam Henrique did with about nine minutes left in period three, warding off his checker with one arm and controlling the puck with the other.

Because they know they’re building towards something, and somehow despite being here-and-now beings as professional athletes have to be, they are playing for the future. What and when that future will be is anybody’s guess, as is the question of who will be here when it comes.

Maybe that’s too big a perspective to really apply to an average Sunday late-afternoon game, but if not this, then what?

Talking about holding the mighty Canucks close, Sam Carrick put it simply: “I think it’s a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot left to prove.” That starts with one-goal games that could go either way, like this one. Didn’t Bo Groulx ring a puck off the crossbar? That could have been the shot that tied things, and after that, it’s anyone’s game.

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