Think about this: you play however you want, no defense, score your a$$ off all season long, then with about ten games to go, you switch up to a more defensive style and lock down your playoff fortunes, then go into the post-season with that same attitude.

You’d be in heaven as a hockey player. Think about how much the LA Kings players would love to do this after the grinding, “responsible” (boring) way they’ve been taught to play. I’m not saying it’s not useful. It works. It’s just dreadful to witness night after night, and must be a lot of stress to play.

“But,” you say, “that’s impossible. Once you’re used to a slack method of two-way play, you’re not going to change.”

See my story from Saturday night in LA for Dallas’s answer to that. The short version: we get it, and we’ve been implementing a more two-way game for the past six or seven.

John Klingberg commented on this after Sunday’s contest which put his Stars against the Ducks in the second night of back-to-back games: “It’s been a perfect game for us. Obviously those two teams [Kings and Ducks] are going to be there in the top, so ah, perfect games for us. Obviously huge win yesterday and tough loss today. But I think we’re on our way to finding our game. There’s some stuff we can take away from today, and some stuff we’re going to have to learn too.” He said that they were comfortable playing in low-scoring games. “We feel that confidence in the locker room, so that feels good.”

The Ducks, a notoriously open team in their approach to all aspects of the game, fling passes everywhere; they attack the opponent with speed; they have incredible mobility at almost every position. If Dallas has a defensive game, this was the one to show it in.

And you know what? They did it.

Several times in period one, they came back into the slot to disrupt Ducks’ chances. And they back checked. For instance, when Vatanen intercepted the puck at the blueline, he dropped to Getzlaf, and he in turn fired it over to Perry, but Dallas was there. When Cogliano fed Silfverberg and he in turn put it to Kesler, Dallas had a man in the lane to block the shot.

But they also had some early offense, outshooting the Ducks 4-0 before Anaheim got their first shot. By the end of the game, it was 25-25. Most would call that a defensive game.

The Ducks got on the board only by the magic of two breakaways in one penalty kill. On one, they charged in in the form of Silfverberg, who was caught from behind. On the same PK, they had Nate Thompson go off to the races, charging into the Dallas zone, doing a leg kick and following with two dekes, then depositing the puck in the open side of the net with the goalie spread-eagled in his belly, helpless. Of the 47 goals in more than 500 games played by Thompson, I doubt many have been any prettier. As Bruce Boudreau said after the game, “It was a great move. I don’t know where he’s been keeping it for a while. I was glad to see it.”

If only Andrew Cogliano, possessed of incredible speed and absolutely no finish, could learn from this guy, who, in my mind at least, is more fighter than speedster. Goes to show you that anyone in this league is a threat. Remember that John Scott fellow? BTW with the Cogliano mention—this was his 700th game, and he’s only the second player to play the first 700 after his debut.

The game was far less chippy than the Dallas-Kings contest of a night before. In the first period, Holzer of the Ducks went after—guess who?—Roussel of the Ducks behind the net after a play. Moen and Perry got involved with each other. Holzer threw his gloves off, but Moen wasn’t biting. And Perry gave Roussel a good facewash. This was nothing compared to the constant scrumming after the whistles of Saturday.

IH talked to Roussel about the relative lack of feistiness afterwards. I asked him why the game was not more chippy, since it would seem that the Ducks, more so than the Kings, would play that way. “Yeah, me too,” he started. “I guess it’s sometimes, you’ve got to save your energy for the playoff, and I didn’t want to get the, any kind of league-wise issue. At some point, I’ve just got to be smart and turn it up when it’s playoff time.”

I asked whether the Ducks are as physical as the Kings, or whether it’s a different kind of physicality. “Sure, they have to cross-check, and those dirty play[s]. The Kings are more shoulder-wise, physical, so it’s just a different kind of mentality here. Getzlaf and Perry, they like to use their stick a lot, so you just have to be smart about it.”

“You know, we’ve played those guys in the playoff, and we have sort of a history, so I guess, like, they, every time we play each other, there’s something that add[s] up to it, so it just keeps growing and growing, and it just never stops.”

Very interesting. Real. (Hope you liked it.)

And in fact, once P1 was over, the obvious roughianism mostly stopped. So did the constant offense we’ve come to expect from Dallas. Whereas they outshot the Kings 39-26 in winning 3-2, they were dead even with the Ducks, for instance, at 24-24 with three minutes and change left on Sunday. The score, however, was 2-0 for the Ducks.

The other goal, aside from Thompson’s, was also scored shorthanded, by Kesler. It was the first time the Ducks had two SHGs in one game in a year.

For their part, Dallas regretted those tallies—and well they should have.

John Klingberg said of his mistake, the turnover which led to the first goal, “That’s just a sloppy play by me. It’s tough, 0-0 in a game that you’re making that play, that can cost you the division and conference titles. It’s a stupid, stupid play by me.” He said after that, “We let them score. We were leading [laughs] the shorthanded goals in the league, so obviously it goes to your head a little bit, but it’s not going to happen. It’s just the other guy sits in the right spot and is just going to make a better play on it. Stupid play by me.”

Jamie Benn was also quick to the topic. “Two mistakes and it’s 2-0 when you’ve got the man advantage. It’s mental mistakes, and it killed us in this game.” He went on, “They were playing a patient game and waiting for us to make the first mistake, and we made the first two and paid for it. Five-on-five we were playing pretty well for a back-to-back, and the power play killed us.”

Coach Boudreau had his own take: “We’ve got eight penalty killers, and so they’re usually always fresh. They don’t get caught out there, and when that happens, and you keep putting pressure on them and pressure on them, sometimes you get a break, and tonight we got a break.” And to echo what Benn said at the end there, “Teams that score shorthanded goals. . . . It really uplifts your team and it really sinks the other team a little bit.”

Dallas leads the league with 15 shorthanded goals against, something Benn put down to “execution as a five-man group out there.” He said that the team takes heart at how they’ve played over the last two nights. Their last two games, they want the points too. They have a few days off and then play Colorado and Nashville.

The Ducks added a final empty-net marker with 22 seconds left, credited initially to Getzlaf, but that came after a very selfish play by him. He had the puck in his own slot and tried for the empty net. His own slot. It went wide, and they were called for icing. This with less than a minute to go in a one-goal game. Good thing the Stars didn’t tie it up, or he woulda had some ‘splaining to do. This was his 13th goal of the year, by the way. But it was later taken away, since he had hit the Dallas player’s stick but not the puck. Kesler got credit in the end. (This paragraph revised after initial publication.)

Boudreau was quite happy with how things went. “I thought it was our best game in a month, and we knew what their strengths were. A good game plan was put together, and our players executed it very well.”

After, he said, “it’s a daunting task when you’re looking at the opposite, look at all the goals they’ve scored; look at what they’ve got going. But I think it was something that got the players excited. We’ve just got through seven or eight games in a row against Canadian teams that are out of the playoffs. This had a little more meaning. Anytime you see that Western Conference plays Western Conference, it’s always a little more intense game.”

 

Notes

Benn said that the Kings and Ducks play pretty much the same—big teams, playing well with the puck in their end. “Two good teams,” he said.

Boudreau said Gibson is sizing up the situation and taking the net with Andersen hurt.

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