The Anaheim Ducks should have come storming out of the gate on Sunday afternoon at 5pm for their game with the Sharks. San Jose had lost 8-0 at home the night before. The Ducks need all the points they can get, especially against teams in their own division. They wanted/needed to end their home stand on a winning note after gaining only four points in the previous five games. This win would make them six-in-six, though that’s not incredibly impressive.
So to get things started, Ducks’ secondary enforcer Sam Carrick fought Jeffrey Viel with three seconds elapsed in period one. It was a long affair, and you could argue that Carrick did more than hold his own. But even with that motivation, rest since they hadn’t played since Friday, and the fact that a totally untested goalie, Zach Sawchenko, was standing in for his first start—ever—on the other end, the Ducks didn’t do well in the first period. They allowed the first goal and did not respond for the rest of the period.
Anaheim had the advantage of three power plays, to one for the Sharks, in the opening period. On none did they do anything much, though this might be due to the Sharks’ excellent PK, which has been cracking along at a 95% clip over recent days. The other problem—the Ducks are in the one-too-many mode in terms of their passing.
Perhaps part of what was awry was that Ryan Getzlaf and John Gibson were missing, lower body and upper body injury respectively, though neither is said to be of long-term concern. In Gibson’s absence, Anthony Stolarz was, well, so-so. The first goal was by Logan Couture, a play where he went down the left side of the ice and shot short side from the faceoff dot. The puck went in right on the ice, but it wouldn’t have had Stolarz just stood up and put his stick blade on the ice.
In the absence of Getzlaf, Sam Steel was in the first-line spot vacated. In terms of a roster spot, Max Comtois was back in after being scratched for two games even though healthy. The Ducks’ lineup didn’t stay intact for long, however. Isac Lundestrom went over somebody else awkwardly into the boards in period one and was announced early in period two as not able to return. There was no word of his condition at the end of the game.
The Ducks were not skating in period one, let alone shooting. They ended the period down on shots 10-9, but remember, that’s with three power plays. Too many shots they did launch, and this was not just in the first period, were straight into the goalkeeper’s gut from long distance. When the puck came from in close, Sawchenko was much more likely to give up a rebound, which is why he’s an unproven NHL commodity as of yet. The Ducks did not exploit that.
One bright light—Troy Terry was skating and shooting the puck, though if you look only at the early minutes stats sheet, you wouldn’t see that, because he launched a puck over the net and thus did not get credit for a SOG.
The Ducks got a goal back early in the second period, a play where Henrique went hard to the net and a rebound came out and hit him and knocked back into the cage. They didn’t build on it. Instead, the Sharks got it back about a minute later. It was not until the last minute of period two that the Ducks tied the game. It would stay that way through three periods.
After two period, then, it was 2-2. Would the Ducks have enough to put the tired but no longer distressed Sharks team on the ropes?
It didn’t look like it, and in fact, as one point it appeared that the Ducks had lost the game, but then they got redeemed, when an apparent goal off a two-on-one was declared offside after a challenge late in period three. It was a shorthanded play, the fifth power play the Ducks had had, and Nieto passed to Middleton down the left wing. He shot the puck right through the five-hole. Game over.
Not so fast. The challenge was upheld, so the game stayed 2-2. Time wore on to the last ten minutes. Fortunately for the Ducks, a power play that they surrendered on an O-zone high stick yielded very little in terms of action by the Sharks, perhaps exhausted by this time. They did have a good chance in the form of a Timo Meier shot with about three minutes left.
The Sharks then could have won the game within the last minute, but Zegras blocked a shot in the slot. So it went to OT.
The OT wasn’t long. The Ducks’ Henrique did the tricky switcharoo with Rickard Rakell, who went in alone and scored.
Here’s how this played out: Henrique won the D-zone faceoff, then went to the bench as play started up ice. He was standing by the door near the defensive blueline when Rakell jumped off the one closer to the Sharks’ end. The puck head-manned to Rakell, and he did some head faking to confuse the young goalie, then put the puck by him. This was at 14 seconds of OT. The Sharks players stood around, and there seemed to be a discussion, but then the officials left, and so did everyone else. Game over.
Henrique had a goal and an assist, and both Terry and Fowler had two assists.
After the game, Coach Eakins called Gibson and Getzlaf “two huge influences on our game . . . two big leaders in our room” and said that “everyone had to pick up. I thought Comtois came in and gave us a good game.” He also complimented Henrique for his play in the middle of the ice.
“We had everybody pulling on that rope in the right way, that’s for sure.” The three stars were Rakell,Henrique, and Troy Terry, a bit homer-ish, though no Sharks’ player had a multipoint game to distinguish himself in the loss.
The Ducks far outshot the Sharks, 36-22. This after a very slow start and the shots being almost even after a period and close to even mid-way. The Anaheim team was 0-5 on the PP and killed three penalties of their own. Hits were about even, and the Sharks blocked an incredible 28 shots to Anaheim’s seven. ONe sign of Ducks’ superiority came with a 68% faceoff win percentage.
This win puts the Ducks more firmly in the hunt for a wildcard playoff birth, but they’re still behind Edmonton by a point, and the Oilers are in ningth, with Nashville holding the last spot as of now. Problem: the Ducks have played at least a couple more games that most of the West.
The Ducks now go on the road for ten days, starting with Chicago on Tuesday. Most of the games, on paper, are winnable. They have no choice but to capitalize on the Chicago-New Jersey-Islanders portion of the trip. Nashville and the Rangers might be a different animal.