You look at the Ducks lineup, and the first thing you notice is who’s not there. That’s obvious. Selanne. Koivu. No, Finland isn’t on the naughty list. These guys just got old, and they faded into a happy sunset. Selanne’s sweater number will be retired later this season, as everyone knows.
But you look at that same lineup, and you notice who is there. Five names less than altogether familiar, at least as it concerns a dark uniform with a D-shaped duck’s foot on the front. Kesler. Stoner. Karlsson. Thompson. Wagner. In order, that’s Ryan, Clayton, William, Nate, and Chris.
Who are they and what do they do? Well, Stoner is a defenseman, and we’ll get to the Ducks’ D corps next time. So let’s do forwards now.
Ryan Kesler you know. He was brought to Anaheim from Vancouver to give the Ducks more power down the middle. So far, he’s got give points in four games, so if that is any sign of an experiment gone right, then give him a checkmark. He’ll play as the second-line guy, because, of course, Getzlaf is the captain and first-line center.
Getzlaf is playing with Perry, naturally, and he did have big body Patrick Maroon with him on the other wing until game three on Tuesday in Buffalo, when Maroon got hip-checked and ended up out for a month. It’s not a serious ACL injury, the team reported later in the week. With Maroon out, Matt Beleskey is up with the first line. If the team starts to lose, that may be rethought. No disrespect is meant when I say that Beleskey is close but not quite the equal of the skill needed to hold down top-line minutes.
Anyway, Kesler is playing with two youngsters, Devante Smith-Pelly and Emerson Etem. It’s not just a vet-and-two-rooks (or youngsters) combo, but rather a line that has size and speed. They’re growing young hockey players much more big-boned than they used to, and that line is three bruisers, anchored by the wily and already much-trusted Kesler, who is quite glad, reports say, to have gotten himself a new start out of Vancouver. He said this week in the press that with the weather and all, he’s feeling like he’s on vacation every day. But as a grown-up, he knows he’s here to work. So you go in flip-flops? It doesn’t mean the hockey’s not as intense.
On the other hand, that line may not last forever, as the two kids have, in the past, made for good fourth-line material (on which more below). So if Kesler finds himself with Kyle Palmieri, now injured, and another forward, the second line might consistently score points in an evenly distributed way. Time will tell. At this point, only Smith-Pelly, with a point, has anything other than Kesler’s two goals and three assists.
Perhaps Kesler is relaxed more than in the past. His time in Anaheim comes with the added bonus of a break from the media, and there’s no player on earth who would not rather field the softballs of the LA-OC media rather than the zingers of the Canadian press, relentlessly in players’ faces for stories day after day after day.
This media attitude was even evident, to interject a side note, with Winnipeg when they were in LA last Sunday. The captain was being badgered by a Winnipeg reporter about a hit that had been made in retaliation for a check on Mark Schiefele. He wouldn’t give a square answer, and the guy bugged and bugged until he got something, and pissed the player off. When the reporter left, the player got up, shouted “hack” over this shoulder, and went to shower. Try dealing with that every day.
The Ducks’ success all the way back to their Stanley Cup has always been their third line. Early this year, that’s made up of Silfverberg, Karlsson, and Cogliano. You know the first guy. The second is a surprise. From Sweden, he wasn’t necessarily expected on the big club, but he stole Rickard Rackell’s spot as the third center out of training camp. The Ducks took him in round two, 53rd, in 2011. He played in Sweden last year, but also had a handful of games with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, during which he scored a couple of goals and had a points total that was at a one-per-game clip.
The Ducks’ fourth line, incidentally, has not historically been the repository of thugs and stone-handed morons. Sure, fighter Parros was on it, but you might also recall that in the Cup year, Ryan Shannon, a little speedster, played on that line. Beleskey finds time there also, and Kyle Chipchura, Ryan Carter, and there have been others over the years. It’s not really a fourth line, then, but more of a second second line. So who’s taking up space there now?
Wagner, Thompson, and Tim Jackman. Wagner: the guy is 23, a fifth-round draft pick of 2010 by Anaheim. He played a couple of years at Colgate and then two with Norfolk. He also started out hot this year with the Admirals, getting four goals in two games, which is what prompted his recall. It’s not a one-for-one, but Heatley is out of the lineup with a groin strain, and Kyle Palmieri is also hurt, so that leaves a couple of forward spots open.
Speaking of Heatley, one assumes that he might be playing up with the first line were he in. That would put Beleskey down on line three or four and cause other shuffles. But let’s not complicate things too much in the hypothetical.
The only name not talked about as of yet is Thompson. He is 30 and he came over from Tampa Bay in the summertime after the decision to let Selanne retire and Koivu also was made. His career spans about 400 games over eight years, and he’s notched 86 points in that time about evenly split between goals and assists. At six feet and 210 lbs, he fits well with the Ducks M.O. of being big and nasty, but he also offers some skill, and his resume is not filled with fights and penalty minutes, which means that as a big guy, he’s got some other attributes.
His coach commented on his play after the game. First, about having him on the ice for the crucial faceoff in the late going: “We wanted Nate; he was on the left side. We didn’t have that last year, lefty-righty. Having all three centers out there, we were making sure that if there was an icing, or any of those situations, that we had somebody that was able to take the faceoff. He was hot. When he got the assist on Corey’s goal, he took about four faceoffs after that and won them all, so I was pretty confident that he was in the groove in the faceoff circle.”
It should be noted that as the game versus Minnesota went on on Friday evening, the lines were juggled and juggled again. One new combo that Boudreau stayed with was Cogliano, Kesler, and Silfverberg. This was seen early and late in the third. Read on for his comments on that.
At times, Smith-Pelly played with Getzlaf and Perry. Etem was with Beleskey and Thompson. And, once at least, Perry and Thompson were on with Smith-Pelly. It was in transition between line changes that this happened, and it led to the Ducks taking a 2-1 lead. Perry intercepted a puck in the middle slot and went in on net. He shot and a save was made, but the rebound went straight out to Thompson. He made a backhand pass across the crease to Perry, who scored.
After the game, which Anaheim won 2-1, IH had the chance to talk with Cogliano and get his feelings about playing with Kesler. “I felt we were right there on a couple of plays. I think we’re still trying to find matchups that work right now and guys that can play with each other. There’s always a feeling out process in terms of guys getting to play with different players. You have to know their tendencies and know what they’re going to do. I think we’re at that stage now where we’re five games in and we’re starting to feel each other out and really find out how each other plays.”
IH then asked the coach about his line mixing, phrasing the question, “What did you see that you liked?” and he redirected it by saying ,”It was more of what I disliked and was trying to get combinations that could create some offense. I thought Smith-Pelly was going well, so I wanted to move him up to the big line, and I thought I wanted to put Kesler back with Cogliano and Silfverberg to form an actual checking line. And in the last eight minutes, we moved Nate to the third line because of his experience. Before that, when I was putting Beleskey with Karlsson and Etem, it was just an older guy with two younger guys to protect them a little bit.”
The one nugget there: the formation of the checking line. Can Silfverberg hang there? Who knows, but Kesler-Cogliano is energy, speed, and grit all wrapped in one, and that could reprise the great third lines of the Ducks’ past, both recent (Koivu centering) and older (Rob Niedermayer).
So what are these Ducks? They’re a team largely identified around Perry and Getzlaf. They are a team whose fans are trying Ryan Kesler on for size. They are a team with two young guys, Etem and Smith-Pelly, who got amongst the largest cheers when the team was introduced for its home opener against Minnesota Friday. And they’re a team with much more familiar faces on defense than at forward or goalie. But those spots, we can consider at a later date.
Palmieri, Heatley, and Maroon are hurt. Mark Fistric and Rickard Rackell were scratched on Friday. Goalie John Gibson is voluntarily in the AHL for work, and old LA favorite Jason Labarbera is the backup.
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