This was going to be a happy story. It was going to start out this way: “The Ducks were never as bad as their recent record showed,” and then go on to talk about how a big win against the Penguins changed everything for the team, who can now go on the road with confidence.
The Ducks collapsing and losing after bursting out to a 3-0 lead changed that, as did Randy Carlyle’s lack of response and then outburst after the game.
On that, here’s the story. Carlyle admitted that he doesn’t have any answers to the team’s collapse against the Pens in a game where they were up 3-0, tied 3-3, up 4-3, and lost 7-4. They looked tired in the third period, he said, and had him wondering whether he should have had them skate yesterday (Thursday).
Describing Pittsburgh, he said, “They started rotating five guys into the play. We didn’t really stop progression, get five guys involved at stopping them.” More harshly, he said, “Even in the first period, they had extended shifts in our zone, and we just followed them around.”
He said further: “In that third period, we just stopped playing. It looked like we were out of gas. They were in a faster gear than we were. It seems like when we have to reach back with more energy, more stiffness with our group, we can’t do it. We just seem to be lacking energy. You could see that with play with players with the puck, standing still and making backhands, soft plays.”
Also, “We did a lot of the things that we needed to do, but it seemed to last only one period for us.”
Then the zinger: “I guess if I had the cure, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in right now, and that’s what you ask of these guys. You ask their input, and tonight, we looked like a tired hockey club and we’re questioning . . . what we should have done yesterday versus what we did and you’re always going to be questioning yourself when you question why your group didn’t have the energy to do what was necessary to play the game for sixty minutes at a high tempo.”
Now, the last time a coach said something like this in my hearing it was the fall of the year, and the one voicing the words was John Stevens. He said he was “befumbled” as to why his team couldn’t score, and that he had no answers for it.
He was canned the next morning.
Carlyle shouldn’t be surprised to meet the same fate. And he’s expecting it.
Here’s what else happened. My press colleague asked him the perfectly fair question, “Have you ever been in a situation like this before, not winning this may games?”
“No, this is a new one for me.”
The writer said, “Are you worried about anything that could happen?”
Carlyle smiled and raised his voice, but friendly like: “What do you mean? What are you trying to say?”
“I don’t know. I’m asking if you’re worried, or . . . “
“What do you think?”
“Yeah, well then don’t ask the dumb questions.”
And as he walked away, “Jerk.”
No, coach, that was not a jerk move. It was a fair and honest question, one that a professional coach should expect when things are going like they’re going for the Ducks. And perhaps even more fair in light of the fact that Carlyle had just admitted that he had no solutions for the Ducks’ problems.
What he could have said was the obvious: Pittsburgh is a scoring machine. They never stop. They’re never satisfied. Even after they led the game 7-4 and with less than a minute to go, they were wanting more. More offense. More goals.
And they’re so good that their captain and leading scorer doesn’t even have to register a point until an assist on the final goal puts him on the board. The Ducks didn’t stand a chance, by some measures. They’re just not fast enough. They’re nowhere near tenacious enough.
But Carlyle didn’t say any of that. He just reacted. And It’s not like he swore a tirade. But his reaction should be read as an admission. Randy Carlyle is in trouble.
To understand why, let’s think our way back through the game.
The Ducks stormed out to a 3-0 lead. And it all started by putting the puck on net. Surprise!
Three goals, maybe one of which was scored from more than ten feet away. The first one came when Kase held the puck behind the net and faded back along the goal line. He shot to the net. Scored. Only later did they change the goal to Ritchie. He was at the right edge of the crease and had a swing at the shot.
The second one was a turnover by Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang behind the Pens’ net. It went out to Getzlaf, who shot from in close. The puck got through Matt Murray.They did it again when Sprong got a drop pass from Rakell and scored. This against his old team, note.
By the time the Penguins got around to responding, the first period was almost over. When the Penguins did put on a push, it was a mighty one. The best save of the period came when Jake Guentzel got a chance from the slot. Gibson came spread-eagling over and got a leg on it. The rebound went back to the slot, but Manson got in the way of the shot, which was headed toward the empty open top of the net. Rust fired that one. The period ended on a power play for Pittsburgh, with no scoring.
Period two made it pointless to keep describing the action like I’ve been doing. Why? Because you could literally write a few sentences on every play. So much skill. So much action. So much persistence. It’s like the Penguins just keep driving.
When one play doesn’t work, there’s no regretting it, no chasing the puck down the ice because the other team has it. No, Pittsburgh plays like this: they make a play, grab the puck back, and make another. They don’t care what the opponent is doing, and they’re not going to allow anyone else to have a chance. They just get the thing back and try something else. Eventually they score.
Three times, this worked in period two. The Anaheim lead was erased by just past mid-way through the second period on a goal by Jake Guentzel, his second in a row. This one was on the power play.
Power play or not, it looked like the Penguins were going to just take right over.
That changed when Pittsburgh’s Malkin turned a puck over at his own blueline on a Pens’ power play. Henrique got it and didn’t seem to quite know what to do with it, so he shoveled it to Silfverberg, who burst in on goal, head up all the way, and flung a wrist shot up and over Murray’s glove hand. Murray was backing in to the net, matching his speed with the offensive player’s. The shot was just too good, too precise.
The Ducks weren’t exactly on their heels, but they weren’t exactly playing even, either. This gave them life. What was odd was the shot totals. Even with yet more great offense and sparkling saves on the part of Murray and Gibson both (examples: Garrett Wilson chased the puck in and around the net; it turned over to him, and he got a shot right in front—leg save Gibson. The other way, Rakell made a nice inside-out deke and took a quick low shot, but Murray got it, paddle down. Once more, Marcus Pettersson was right in front with a puck, moving in from the point. He shot, and it glanced off the glove of Gibson and up over the net off the crossbar), the game was a low-shots affair.
The period ended with it being only 18 Ducks and 22 Pens. Not looking at the scoreboard, had someone asked me how many shots had been taken apiece, I would have probably said close to thirty. And that’s two periods.
The question of a Ducks team which doesn’t always sustain the action for sixty minutes was what would they do in the face of the Pittsburgh onslaught? The Ducks were one fortunate play ahead, but they’d blown a 3-0 lead.
The third saw that deficit increase to 6-4 before an empty net goal, the first of the night on which Crosby got a point. The Ducks were tired-looking, according to Carlyle. I didn’t see that. They just looked outmatched, like Pittsburgh wasn’t to be denied. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is to the Penguins. They play their game. Tanner Pearson told me as much in the Pittsburgh room afterwards:
“It was definitely really wierd the whole system change going from LA to Pittsburgh. They play a really fast North game. It generates a lot of offense, and when these guys get rolling, it doesn’t seem to stop.
That’s what it felt like to be a Duck on Friday night. Their losing streak now stands at ten.
Some kid had a sign at the game asking Crosby to get her or him into Crosby’s hockey camp. They even gave an email: [email protected] I am hereby using the power of the media to help that kid. Could Crosby please respond?
Thanks to Josh Brewster of Duck Calls radio for having me on as the guest after the game.