A couple of nights ago, with the Ducks trying to extend their six-game winning streak against Pittsburgh (they didn’t), IH made a promise and issued a warning. The promise was that we would fill you in on what was making the Ducks so good. The warning was that this might be a blip, and so nobody should get all that charged up about an early season bunch of wins.
The primary reason the Ducks were doing well was that they were getting scoring from both expected and unexpected places. The expected? Troy Terry, Mason McTavish. The novel? Frank Vatrano, a veteran of nearly 500 games with 132 goals but with a point-per-game performance this year. And Leo Carlsson, a rookie who wasn’t lighting the world on fire, but who had pitched in with three goals and four points in eight games played. Don’t forget Pavel Mintyukov, he of one goal but seven assists over the team’s first twelve games.
They were also getting outstanding goaltending from the steady John Gibson, despite some losses, and especially from Lucas Dostal. He went 5-1 in his first six games played this year. His NHL career numbers, 10-13-3, were a little less impressive than that. But this season, he was sporting a 2.80 GAA and .920 save percentage.
Most of all, the team was playing a complete game. Cliché? Sure, but there’s nothing like mixing in some defense along the way to go with your aggressive offensive mindset. That’s one thing amongst several that new coach Craig Cronin has brought to Anaheim. And it’s a nice relief from the tiring pop psychology that the previous head person brought with him to the spot behind the Anaheim bench.
Things shifted a bit with the Pittsburgh game, a 2-0 loss (the second goal being scored into an empty net by Crosby) where the Ducks produced decent shot volume but little danger. They weren’t all that in the game, in fact, except in moments, and certainly not early. Where was the offense? It was a game where the Ducks just didn’t have it. They dictated very little.
So would the loss, and the end of their streak, figure in their minds and attitudes and force them back to being what many thought they were—a team that would struggle to win as they rebuilt? It certainly looked that way with another team from Pennsylvania, this time the Flyers, in town on Friday night.
The visitors got two goals in the first period and added another in the second before Anaheim responded. What was the matter? Philly relentlessly pursues every loose puck, and they were all over the Ducks on the forecheck. The Flyers didn’t let the Ducks do anything.
Afterwards, Coach Cronin was clear in his analysis: His team turned the puck over all night long. “You can take the game and dissect it all you want, analytically, score, shots on goal . . . . [In] hockey, turnovers are a big stat. We just turned it over repeatedly.” He would add, “Really good, mature teams just do not do that.”
On the other hand, the Ducks weren’t using their chances well. They were, as one ex-SoCal-coach (Sutter) used to say, trying to pass the puck into the net. Finally that stopped, and before the end of the game, which was 6-3 for the Flyers, one Duck distinguished himself, as Leo Carlsson scored a hat trick. This doubled his previous NHL total of three goals.
“He’s a player. He’s going to be a star in this league He could have had five goals really; he missed a couple, but he’s a star player,” Cronin commented.
Cronin has been watching the rookie carefully: “He went into a little bit of a dip a week ago. He kind of lost a little energy, I think. The last two games he’s skating. He’s got a pace to his game that you don’t see in a big man. He’s got terrific hands and he’s confident. He’s got terrific hands, and he’s just going to keep getting better.”
Carlsson himself was modest about the trio of goals, because they were scored in a loss. But after a couple of questions, he admitted, “I don’t think it has sunk in yet, but tomorrow, probably, I’ll watch some highlight videos on it.”
Who else was good for the Ducks? Troy Terry, who at least twice deked all the way through the opposition only to lose the puck right at the edge of the crease. Mason McTavish, who simply brings it every night. He notched five shots on goal in the first two periods, far outdoing any other Ducks forward. On defense, Vaakanainen had three by that same point. The end of the game would show McTavish with six shots, Carlsson with five, and the next highest a player with three.
Trevor Zegras was out, but that wasn’t much of a hindrance, as his offensive production hasn’t gotten going yet this year, though he does pose a threat at all times, and he has a way of opening up a game with the way he gets behind the opposition. Zegras is out, you say? I saw him with a wrap on his lower-body area after Tuesday’s game, so yeah. That meant a draw-in for Max Jones, and two lines being re-ordered. Those would be the first, where Carlsson now centered Troy Terry and Alex Killorn, up from the third line and in his third game of the year; and the third, where Jones skated with Henrique and Silfverberg.
Cronin said he thought that his team could win even as the score got away from them, but “When fate was giving us the game back, we just kept turning it over, and I don’t really get into young team stuff. I look at, here we are right now, and we’re at 7-6, and we’ve got to get back on a winning streak.”
The Ducks next play on Sunday late afternoon, in Anaheim, hosting San Jose.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the PHWA and the author of Growing Up Hockey, amongst other books.