|"Holiday group hug, everybody."
For the first time in nearly two months the Ducks won a game on the road, an encouraging 3-2 triumph over the Sharks. And it came in the unlikeliest of buildings, the loud and unfriendly HP Pavilion, where the Sharks are again strong this year with a 12-6-1 mark that is among the best home records in the Western Conference.
"To win in this building is quite a feat," said Bobby Ryan, whose breakaway goal in the second was huge for Anaheim (more on that later). "It was nice to get one on the road. It's long overdue."
Indeed it was. The Ducks had gone 0-9-4 away from Anaheim since an October 27 win at Minnesota. At the time, few of us could have had any idea they would go on to have the struggles they've endured over the past two months. "To only have two road wins and the last one coming on Oct. 27 was a little embarrassing," Cogliano said. "That's not the ideal situation."
The Ducks have only 10 wins overall, but remarkably three of them have come against the rival Sharks, who have taken their usual spot near the top of the West, third as of this morning. Two of those wins came during a four-day span -- first in Anaheim and then in SJ -- part of that four-game winning streak the Ducks enjoyed at the beginning of the campaign.
Last night the Ducks did it with timely scoring and a nice 36-save performance by Jonas Hiller. Luca Sbisa gave the Ducks their first lead with a rocketed slap shot (off a nice assist from George Parros) just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. After the Sharks tied it later in the period, Ryan gave the Ducks the lead back with a beautiful steal of a Joe Thornton pass that led to this breakaway snipe that beat Antti Niemi.
And after the Sharks tied it again, Cogliano came through with the eventual game-winner later in the second, wristing a shot inside the far post that Niemi probably would like to have back. That was enough for Hiller, who stopped all 18 San Jose shots in the third period. Also in that third period, a fan threw a dead duck on the HP Pavilion ice, a contrast to a Ducks team that was very much alive at the time. When asked about it after practice today, Bruce Boudreau said, "I'm gonna be honest, I just now got that....A dead duck, we're the Ducks."
And those Ducks, for the first time in ages, were get back on a plane to Orange County feeling pretty good about themselves.
“It’s been a long time," Ryan said. "Obviously it’s frustrating. We had some road trips that we just fell apart on. Had leads and blew. It’s tough when you don’t feel good about yourself going into every building. Hopefully this is a jump start and something moving forward.”
It's going to have to be, as the Ducks need to roll this win into a lot more. They still sit in 14th in the West with a 10-19-6 record through 35 games.
“We all have dreams, right?” said Boudreau before the game yesterday. “You go out every game and you hope that you can win every game. That’s it. I go through the schedule and say, ‘OK, we need a good 10-game win streak or a 13-game winning streak. It’s easier said than done.
“Everything is possible.”
Boudreau, who has shown in his relatively short time here a propensity for other-sport references, did it again when he talked about what he's told his team. “I said, ‘Listen, if this was golf, we shot a 62 on the front nine. But who says we can’t shoot a 36 on the back,’” he said. ”That’s the way you have to look at it and if you look at it any other way, then all of a sudden you’re beaten before you start.
“So that’s the way I’m hoping that they look at it. It’s the way I’m looking at it anyway. Let’s hope the best happens.”
He is expected to miss four to six weeks and it has yet to be decided whether he will come back to Anaheim or stay with Team Canada.
|There's gotta be a puck in there somewhere.
Anaheim's struggles in 2011-12 are well-documented in this space, while the Kings are 11th in the Western Conference, having dropped six of their last eight (including an 8-2 loss in Detroit last Saturday night) and are last in the league in goal-scoring.
Two days ago they hired former Flames, Sharks and Blackhawks coach Darryl Sutter to replace Terry Murray (fired last Saturday). Sutter had his first practice with LA yesterday and makes his debut against the Ducks tonight at Staples Center.
“I gotta believe they’ll play their best game of the year,” said Bruce Boudreau yesterday, as he goes into his 10th game as Ducks head man. (Sutter and Boudreau, by the way, are among six new coaches hired in the league already this season.) “When they get a new coach, especially one with the reputation of being a tough taskmaster and an intimidator like Darryl is, they’ll put their best foot forward.”
Of course, the Ducks couldn't care less who is wearing the suit on the opponent's bench -- they're desperately looking for a road win. Anaheim hasn't won on the road since October 27 at Minnesota, and although this "road game" is only an hour up the road, it's one the Ducks desperately need.
“The one thing any athlete doesn’t want to be known as is a homer," Boudreau said. "They want to be known as guys who can play on the road. That’s something we have to change. We’re trying to find ways.”
The Ducks had one of their bigger wins of the year the last time they played the Kings, a 3-2 victory at Honda Center on December 6 (Boudreau's first win as coach here). Bobby Ryan, if you'll recall, had two goals in that game, including the eventual winner with just 48.8 seconds left.
The game at Honda Center, and another win there December 14 vs. Phoenix, have been two of the better games Anaheim has played all season. But that recent 0-for-3 trip through Chicago, Winnipeg and Dallas looked like a different team.
“It seems like we’re waiting for something bad to happen,” Boudreau said. “You know, you get into a 3-3 tie in your last time on the trip (in Dallas), you think you’d come out and just go all out. It looked like we were so tentative that we were either afraid to make a mistake or we were waiting for Dallas to score before we started to play.”
“You can’t play tentative,” Boudreau said. “You can’t play…it’s like prevent defense. You’ve gotta play to win. We have to find something to turn it around. There’s an awful lot of road games left in this season."
As has been the case the last five games, Saku Koivu will again be out with a groin strain, and Boudreau said he hopes to have him back before the New Year. Meanwhile, the Kings get a boost with the return of Mike Richards, who has missed the last eight games with a head injury. Richards, the big pickup from Philadelphia (how fun are they to watch on the 24/7 show?) over the summer, has 20 points in 25 games this season.
"Everyone is going to be up for it," said Nick Bonino, who got his first goal of the year in Dallas on Monday. "There's not gonna be one guy not ready to play. They're our biggest rival, last game before the break. [We gotta give] everything we have."
By the way, I'll be at Staples Center again tonight doing a live game log during the game, and game recap after, if anyone is interested.
On a personal note, tonight's game will be followed by a drive with my dad, from LA to somewhere a couple hours up the road to get some sleep. Then tomorrow morning we continue the trip to Davis, to visit my sister and her family for Christmas. (Ugh, the holidays.)
The one group of people who cared very little about the Ducks' recent woes were the patients the team spent time with during their annual holiday visit to CHOC Children's hospital in Orange. The Ducks handed out Wild Wingers Kids Club kits that had been donated by fans, along with autographed items and -- most importantly -- just spent time with the kids being treated on the hospital's Oncology Floor.
Here are a few of the cooler photos from the afternoon, including Teemu Selanne, Francois Beauchemin and Jonas Hiller playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with a four-year-old patient. I also like the one of them checking out the greatest photo ever taken, which decorates the hallway of the Ducks-themed wing of the Oncology Floor. Click here to see all the photos.
|Cannnn ... you feel .... the love ... tonight?
Selanne had felt the affection of the Winnipeg fans from the moment the Ducks bus arrived at 2:30 in the morning on Saturday, and it continued when he hit the ice for warmups and every time he touched the puck during the game. During the first stoppage in play at MTS Centre, a long Selanne tribute was shown on the video board followed by an emotional ovation from the soldout crowd. Selanne, looking up to watch the video himself from the bench, could only muster a straight-faced wave while holding his mouthpiece between his teeth. Of all the well-deserved praise that has been laid on the always fan-friendly Selanne over his magical career, that muted gesture tells you just as much about him as a player.
After all, his Ducks had gone down 2-0 early to the Jets, and Selanne (unlike the thousands of fans saluting him) was not happy. More than taking the time to reflect, Selanne's focus laid mainly on getting back into that game. The Ducks ultimately did just that, thanks to the work of Selanne himself. His beautifully dumped-in pass bounced right in front of the Winnipeg net to the stick of Niklas Hagman, who punched it through to pull the Ducks within one and bring a smile back to Selanne's face. Corey Perry tied the game with a minute and a half left in the first on an equally great Ryan Getzlaf pass, but two Jets goals in the second and another one early in the third put Anaheim in a hole it couldn't escape.
Selanne earned another assist on a Perry goal midway through the third, but by then it was too late. Afterward, when he was inevitably named the Third Star of the game, the classy Selanne found the strength to acknowledge those fans one more time. He blew kisses and waved as he skated around the ice and finally toward the locker room, his face reflecting a man that had once again worked his tail off but still endured a frustrating defeat.
"Obviously, it was unbelievable," said Selanne once again using his favorite word (and one we typically use when describing him). "Like I said before, I didn't really know what to expect. But these fans showed again that how much they appreciate a hockey player in this town."It was something that I could never imagine. It was so special."
Yet Selanne remained focused on a second straight defeat to start this road trip, repeating the line, "It seems to me that every time when we do mistakes, it’s in our own net. Tonight was the same story again. It has been a very frustrating year.”
So Selanne ended up leaving Winnipeg (possibly for the last time) with plenty of affection, but not with what he really wanted -- a much-needed Ducks victory. Now he and his teammates will look for that tonight in Dallas, where the Ducks and eighth-place Stars are the featured game on Versus (5 p.m. Pacific).
The Ducks figure to have Jonas Hiller in net after he got the night off in Winnipeg, and the Stars will counter with rookie Richard Bachman. He's won three of his first four starts in the absence of Kari Lehtonen (groin strain), taking his first defeat while giving up six goals Friday night vs. New Jersey (the same night Scott Niedermayer got his number retired). The Ducks' own groin strain, that suffered by Saku Koivu, will keep him out for tonight's game, as he still hasn't joined the Ducks on this road trip. Koivu is looking to possibly return Thursday at LA.
- - -
To get you in the spirit, take a look at the holiday card the Ducks put together, starring George Parros, Corey Perry and Corey Perry's chewing gum:
|Trying to render Kane unable.
Last spring, after the Ducks picked up Emery and Dan Ellis -- and needed them in the wake of Jonas Hiller's vertigo issues -- Emery went 7-2-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and helped the Ducks springboard to a fourth-place finish in the West. In the offseason, with Hiller fully recovered and Ellis a sturdy backup, Emery was not re-signed by Anaheim, ultimately opting for a training camp tryout with the Blackhawks.
He not only made the roster, but after getting spot work behind starter Corey Crawford, Emery has earned the No. 1 netminder tag lately and has won his last four starts. Tonight, the Ducks will look to break that streak -- and start one of their own -- as they kick off a five-game road trip at the United Center.
Anaheim, which had an emphatic win over Phoenix last Sunday at Honda Center, will look for its first two-game winning streak since October, when it won four in a row. They'll have to do it without Saku Koivu, whose lower-body injury has now been revealed to be a groin strain, and he is "questionable" for the next three games. He did not accompany the team to Chicago.
The Blackhawks have won three straight, the last of which came in Minnesota the same night the Ducks took down the Coyotes, clinched on a terrific Patrick Kane shootout goal. If you weren't watching SportsCenter that night, Kane skated in on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, slowed to a crawl, deked about 127 times and forecfully whipped the puck into wide open net while Backstrom looked helpless. Take a look:
“I tried it a few times in practice. We were in a good position to win so I thought I’d try it,” Kane said. “It’s always nice to change it up, try some new moves. You see guys slow down and go real slow before; I probably took it to another level there with slow.”
The Ducks have already been bitten once this year on Kane's prowess in the shootout, as he and Jonathan Toews converted in a 3-2 win in Chicago on October 25. Anaheim fell 6-5 in the annual day-after-Thanksgiving matinee with the Hawks at Honda Center on Nov. 25.
Just to violate the "one game at a time" mantra for a second, after tonight the Ducks move to Winnipeg for Teemu Selanne's highly anticipated return to that city tomorrow night. The love for Selanne in that city, where he played for the old Jets from 1992 through 1996, is incalculable. And Selanne acknowledged his excitement about returning there in this story from Eric Stephens in the OC Register. Selanne said he "never got the chance to say goodbye" after being traded by the Jets to the Ducks in Feburary 1996, not long before the franchise moved to Phoenix.
"The atmosphere I hear is just unbelievable," Selanne said. "I can't wait to go."
Ducks fans can only hope he leaves town with a victory, and if it's a third straight for Anaheim, that wouldn't be so bad either.
- - -
Tonight in New Jersey, Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired at Prudential Center (although he only played there twice, both with the Ducks), just before the Devils take on the Dallas Stars. Niedermayer's 27 will join Scott Stevens' No. 4 and Ken Daneyko's No. 3, both of whom were Niedermayer teammates in his 13 years with the Devils.
Dan Rosen of NHL.com has a nice story on Niedermayer getting honored, which includes this amusing story from early in Niedermayer's career, when coach Jacques Lemaire put the team through a rigorous skate:
"I'll never forget in the third year of his career, we were going through a bad stretch and Jacques put us through one of those so-called bag skates," Daneyko said. "Everybody was coming off and just falling in the room. All our undergear was totally soaked, like we took a shower in our equipment. And then Nieder comes in, and he's got maybe a tear-drop of sweat in the middle of his chest and everything else is dry. I'm thinking to myself, 'Was it that effortless for him?' Everybody's skates were going a half-inch into the ice and it was like he was floating above it.
"Boy, that (ticked) me off," Daneyko added while laughing. "It looked like he went for a Sunday walk in the park."
I happened to run into Scotty at the opening of the Anaheim Ducks Breakaway Bar & Grill at John Wayne Airport on Tuesday. I (sort of) kiddingly asked him if he might be willing to come back. He said with a laugh, "You don't want me right now."
The 38-year-old Niedermayer, despite some grey sneaking into his dark hair, looks to be in tremendous shape. I told him I figured it would only take him two weeks to get back to hockey condition. "Maybe 10 years ago," he said.
"Well, I'd kick myself if I didn't at least ask," I said as we parted ways.
"Hey," he said with a laugh. "It's nice to be wanted."
|Hagman, Pelley, Palmieri and Boudreau lead Ducks to victory. All guys who were somewhere else as recently as a month ago.
(Think about that one for a moment.)
But such has been the way of the 2011-12 season so far for the Ducks, where so much has not gone as could have been expected in the fall. That was never more on display than last night at Honda Center, where the Ducks cruised to a rather satisfying 4-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes to snap a two-game losing skid and a four-game streak vs. Phoenix.
Hagman (claimed off waivers a month ago today) had two goals, Pelley (acquired via trade with New Jersey two days ago) scored one and Palmieri (recalled from Syracuse last week) added another in the third. In fact, of the 20 guys in the lineup last lineup, the three with the fewest games played as a Duck -- just 25 combined between the trio -- scored all the team's goals.
But while those guys may have been the ones to find the net, it was the work of the entire Ducks team -- both new and old -- that contributed to that victory. Said Boudreau after the game, "This was the hardest I’ve seen a team work this year that I’ve been coaching, and that includes the Capitals.”
That intensity was evident from start to finish in a game the Ducks never trailed. They went up 2-0, something they've now done in all four home games of the Boudreau era. But unlike in those games, there was little looking back for Anaheim last night. When the Coyotes did get close (a Martin Hanzal goal in the second that belied a monster power play drought for Phoenix), the Ducks countered with more offense and a lockdown D that only allowed 20 Phoenix shots the entire evening.
One of the highlights of that defensive effort came from a not-so-new Duck, Lubomir Visnovsky. But heck, Lubo had only played 16 of the 29 games this year after missing a month with a broken finger. In the third period, he saved a sure goal when he slipped in behind Jonas Hiller and batted away a mid-air puck that had fluttered past Hiller and was heading for the twine. The play deservedly made Sportscenter's Top 10 of the night.
How's this for a quote from Visnovsky? "I don't play for month and it's like pressure because everybody, 'Lubo's back. Lubo's back.'"
On the offensive end, where Visnovsky is at his best, he had a team-leading seven shots on net, and several more attempted shots. That alone made his presence noticeable on a Ducks power play that scored once (Hagman) and got another in the third (Palmieri's tip of a Ryan shot) just as the man advantage expired.
That goal was more than the Ducks needed on this night, as Pelley led off the scoring with a hustle and muscle play that quickly endeared himself to Ducks fans. After Maxime Macenauer banked the puck off the left wing wall, Pelley rudely nudged his way past Adrian Aucoin, giving himself a mini breakaway that he finished off with a wrister under goalie Mike Smith.
After that, Hagman sandwiched that lone Hanzal goal (five this season, three vs. Anaheim) with his two. He looked poised to pull off the hat trick on a couple occasions in the third, as Corey Perry (clearing looking to make the hattie happen) gave Hagman a couple of nice feeds for one-timers that Smith robbed with big saves.
"It’s nice to see. If we can get him back to scoring the way he used to," Boudreau said. "Then it sure adds a dynamic that we haven’t had for awhile. He could have had four or five. Corey was putting them on his tape in the third period. But two is good."
Good indeed, and as this was our last chance to see the Ducks at home before they embark today on a five-game road trip that starts tomorrow night in Chicago, it was a nice way to send them off.
And after that game, as usual, Visnovsky said so much with so little.
"We played a full 60 minutes tonight," he said with that enthusiastic, baby-faced expression we've missed the last month. "Let's play the rest of the season like this."
Sounds good to me.
|"I'm ready," Visnovsky said. We are too.
Lubomir Visnovsky has missed more than a month after suffering a broken finger on his right hand November 11, as the already-struggling Ducks went 2-9-2 in his absence. Visnovsky appears set to make his return tonight when Anaheim takes on the visiting Coyotes here at Honda Center.
Visnovsky said “I’m ready” after today’s morning skate that followed two lengthy practice sessions to begin the week. Bruce Boudreau indicated Visnovsky’s would be a game-time decision, but if he is good to play, Boudreau said he won’t dip the defenseman’s toe in the water.
“If he’s ready to play, I anticipate him to be as good as he can be,” Boudreau said. ”I’m one of those guys [where] I don’t believe in guys giving an excuse already made for themselves like ‘Well, I haven’t played in a while or it’s going to take time to get ready.’
“If you’re ready to play in the National Hockey League, you better be ready to play. I expect him to be as good as he’s been.”
Visnovsky played more than 23 minutes a night before the injury, and his absence has meant other Ds like Cam Fowler have had to pick up the slack by playing more than they’re used to.
Ryan Getzlaf will be in the lineup tonight after missing yesterday’s practice with the stomach flu, but Saku Koivu will be out for the second straight game with what is still being called a lower-body injury.
That means that newly acquired center Rod Pelley will be in there, after spending one practice and today’s skate with the Ducks after being acquired from New Jersey with defenseman Mark Fraser.
The Ducks are also looking for sparks from bringing in the two new dudes, as mentioned by Nate Guenin yesterday. Guenin is close friends with Pelley, having played with him four years at Ohio State. He said of Monday’s trade, “One, he's one of my best buddies so that's awesome. Two, I know the type of player he is and the mentality and the positive energy that he'll bring to the room. We're struggling here and he brings some new life.
“I'm sure it'll take no time at all for everybody to see what type of guy he is and the character he has.”
Said Pelley, who played seven games for NJ this year, “It’s exciting. It’s a new challenge.I think challenges only make you better. I’m really excited to get going.”
Jonas Hiller will be in net tonight, according to Boudreau, after sitting out the Nashville game last Saturday. In net for the Coyotes will be Ducks-killer Mike Smith, who is 5-0-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average in his career vs. Anaheim. Those are much better numbers than what Smith has put up lately, having gone 1-3-0 with a 5.61 GAA in his last four starts, having gotten pulled in two of those.
His Coyotes team is struggling on the power play, with numbers I won’t even mention hear for fear of jinxing. I’m also hesitant to mention the Coyotes have lost two in a row (getting outscored 9-3) and four of their last six. They’ve also beaten the Ducks in each of their last five meetings.
Anaheim comes into this game having endured two straight practices for the first time in the now-two-week-old Boudreau era.
“I thought they practiced real hard [Monday],” Boudreau said. “They were pretty energetic today. As a coach, you always want to practice.”
(Certainly, Boudreau was speaking more for the coaches than the players on that one.)
“The more practice time we have at this stage, the better it is.”
The Ducks badly need this one tonight, as this is their last appearance at home before hopping on a five-game trip through the day after Christmas.
Looking at that, and the Ducks’ need to turn things around pretty much immediately, Boudreau had a nice pop culture reference yesterday.
"I know what we need to do and it's easier said than done, but right now we need a 10-game winning streak or to win 15 out of 20," he said. "If we do that, we're back in the hunt. It's not easy to do in this division and with the amount of road games we play in a row, but we're getting Visnovsky back and then Koivu and Jason Blake -- then the team all of a sudden has balance.
"I've seen 'Moneyball,' so I know even the A's were a last-place team that won 20 in a row. It can happen."
I like Paul Rudd to play me in the movie.
If you have HBO, make sure you set your DVR tonight (you'll be watching the Ducks game when it first airs tonight at 7 Pacific) for "24/7 Flyers Rangers: Road To the NHL Winter Classic." If it's even remotely close to last year's series involving the Capitals and Penguins, it should be outstanding viewing. You can check out a preview here. (Here's hoping for plenty of Bryz time on this year's show.)
I talked briefly to Boudreau yesterday about his now-famous involvement in last year's version, when he was coaching the Caps, and he had this to say:
"That was a great experience. To be quite honest, it was rough the first week because we lost eight in a row and we had never lost more than three in a row before. None of us could understand what the heck was going on. We only lost one of those games by more than one goal and in all eight games, we had over 40 shots. The night before we broke it, we outshot Boston 27-3 in the third and we couldn't score. We just knew, This has gotta change.
"That experience in the end, just being at the Winter Classic, I really wish every hockey player had the chance to do that. It's an experience I'll never forget."
|Gordon (left), who scored his second goal of the year against Nashville on Saturday: "As hard as we're working, we're still working on that 'dare to be great' moment."|
Anaheim dropped another frustrating one Saturday night in Nashville, a 3-2 defeat that turned in the Predators' direction in the third period after an agonizing slashing call on Brandon McMillan. That penalty came after McMillan got his stick into Nashville pest Jordin Tootoo away from the play but right in front of the official, whose arm went up immediately. (After the game, both Ryan Getzlaf and Boudreau used the word "cheesy" to describe the call.) Roman Josi scored on the subsequent power play, Tootoo added another a few minutes later, and Francois Beauchemin's goal was all the Ducks would get the rest of the way.
Andrew Gordon, who had his second goal as a Duck to give Anaheim a 1-0 lead, reflected on the team's frustrations when I talked to him after practice today. "I know it's a cliche," he said. "but it just seems like every time we make one mistake, it ends up completely backfiring on us. It is a game of mistakes, and guys are skilled enough where they are going to make you pay for them. We need to keep working in practice on limiting those mistakes and working with this system. Once that becomes second-nature, it will go a lot smoother for us."
While the team practiced today, the Ducks made a "deal with the Devils" (I couldn't resist), a trade that brought in center Rod Pelley, defenseman Mark Fraser and a seventh-round draft pick for defenseman Kurtis Foster and goalie Timo Pielmeier. Pelley, 27, had appeared in just just seven games with the Devils this year, but had played 74 last year, scoring three goals and 10 points.
Now the Ducks just need to acquire Ben Smith from the Blackhawks so they can form a Smith-Pelley-Smith-Pelly line.
The 25-year-old Fraser has played 98 games with the Devils, but just four this year.
Another Ducks defenseman, the sorely missed Lubomir Visnovsky, returned to practice today as he recovers from a broken finger. Visnovsky said he hopes to play Wednesday at home vs. Phoenix, but wasn't yet sure if that was a possibility.
"He made it through practice today and I thought that was a fairly tough practice," said Boudreau. "It just all depends on how he feels and his comfort with the puck. When you get a chance to get your All-Star defenseman back in the lineup, if he’s ready to play, he’ll let us know when he’s ready to play."
Boudreau noted the effect that Visnovsky's absence has had on Cam Fowler, who has played close to 26 minutes a game to make up for that missing piece. "He’s had to play too many minutes for a 20-year-old guy," Boudreau said. "It’s not Cam’s fault. That is not fair to him. You get another veteran in there. It shoulders a lot of minutes and helps him along the way."
Meanwhile, Saku Koivu was out of practice today, and missed the game in Nashville, with what is still being called a lower body injury. He is still "day to day" but Boudreau remarked, "The trainers keep saying he’s getting better and I said ‘That’s means nothing to me. I want to know when he is going to play.’ They said he is getting better and they're hoping he is on the ice tomorrow."
Back to Gordon, who said despite the Ducks' disappointments, he sees a light at the end of what has become a very long tunnel.
"It's amazing and frustrating on so many levels that I don't know where to begin," he said of the team's struggles. "But we still believe in each other in here. We still believe things can turn around at the drop of a hat. All we need is that one bounce, that one game that turns things in our favor.
"As hard as we're working, we're still working on that 'dare to be great' moment."
This story by Jenelyn Russo on the OC Register's website, about Cam Fowler speaking at the Ducks Die Hards booster club's holiday party, had one anecdote from Fowler that I found particularly funny. Fowler was asked about the first time he met Boudreau:
"I introduced myself to Coach and he must not have understood me," said Fowler, "because he said, 'Nice to meet you, Dan.' I've always wanted a nickname. Maybe I'll just go with 'Dan' for now."
Your typical hockey player, when he finds the puck on his stick blade, is faced with a seemingly endless amount of decisions to make. Should I pass it? And to which guy? Saucer pass it? Bank it off the boards? Clear it off the glass? Skate it out of the zone? Maybe dump it in the corner? Should I shoot it? Slap shot or wrist shot? Glove side or stick side? Low or high?
And defensively, play the puck or the body? Make the hit or the poke check? Block the shot or let the goalie make the stop? Take this man or that man on the rush? Play the shot or the pass?
They are decisions that have to be made literally hundreds of times a game and all within a fraction of a second. Mistakes, inevitably, are going to be made, and often forgotten.
But for the Anaheim Ducks lately, those mistakes all too often have ended up in the back of their net.
“I thought we played a pretty good game against a hot team,” Teemu Selanne said of last night's 4-2 loss in St. Louis. “We’re playing way better than we did a couple of weeks ago. But mistakes are killing us. We can’t get away with a mistake. That’s the story of our season.”
St. Louis is indeed one of the hotter teams in the NHL, winning last night for the sixth time in the last eight games and improving to 10-2-3 under new coach Coach Ken Hitchcock. In other words, they are a team that right now will capitalize on the little mistakes, and that happened a couple of times last night.
The Blues' first goal came in the opening period, when Jonas Hiller seemingly stopped a Jamie Langenbrunner shot, but the puck leaked out behind him. It sat silent in the crease before Chris Porter reached out and dragged it into the net.
Late in the second, with the Ducks looking poised to go into the break down just a goal, Cam Fowler's dump-in attempt wasn't forceful enough and was picked off by Ian Cole. He swiftly transitioned it to T.J. Oshie, who scored a back-breaking goal that made it 3-1 Blues.
“He has to dump it harder,” said Bruce Boudreau of that play. “We’re too flimsy. That comes from being cute. That’s not just from Cam, but skilled players have a tendency to think they can do everything perfectly cute instead of getting it deep. If you do that, you take the worry out of it.”
Anaheim got within a goal in the third thanks to Devante Smith-Pelly (who the Ducks will loan to Canada's World Junior team for a few days). But that was as close as the Ducks would get, being buried by Oshie's empty-netter after Ryan Getzlaf couldn't get the puck off the wall for a dump-in.
“A confident team, with a record opposite of ours, would have put one of those shots in, in the third period,” Boudreau said. “This team’s got a lot of heart, but they need to get on a little bit of a roll to get that confidence. It’s a little bit lacking right now.”
Boudreau talked about his team's "unforced errors" and used another non-hockey reference to describe the state of the Ducks.
“This team reminds me of the Miami Dolphins,” he said. “They lost their first six games or whatever and the coach (Tony Sparano) said they were playing hard. Then they turned it around and won four out of five. I think we’re ready to do that.”
That will have to start tomorrow night in Nashville in an intriguing match with the Predators, revisiting a newly fierce rivarly that was sparked by last year's playoff series and a couple of contentious battles already this season. Both of those have been Nashville wins, and the Ducks would like nothing more than to break that string while starting one of their own.
Unfortunately, the Preds (ninth in the West) are kinda riding high right now after what they did last night in Columbus. Trailing by two goals late in the third period, they scored twice with the extra attacker, including the tying goal from Sergei Kostitsyn with just 12.1 seconds left. Inevitably, they won it in overtime on a Colin Wilson goal just 1:45 into the extra period.
The Preds will also get Ducks favorite Jordin Tootoo back tomorrow after he was suspended two games for a hit last Tuesday on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.
The Ducks, by the way, lost Saku Koivu last night to a lower body injury in the second period, and he is reportedly day to day. Anaheim did call up the Kyle Palmieri (leading the AHL with 17 goals for Syracuse ) and brought back Brandon McMillan.
|All I want to know is, who won the fight?
But just in case you missed it: Yes, Corey Perry and the Anaheim Ducks are facing a key game with the St. Louis Blues tonight.
It's the first road test for new Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, who is coming off his first win as Anaheim coach two nights ago against the Kings. The Ducks are in St. Louis tonight, Nashville on Saturday, and a date with Phoenix next Wedesnday at Honda Center is the only home game in the next eight for Anaheim.
The Blues (15-9-3) are the latest NHL proof at what a coaching change can do, having sprinted to a 9-2-3 record since former Blue Jacket head man Ken Hitchcock took over for the dismissed Davis Payne back on Nov. 6. They've done it mostly with a stingy defense that has given up two of fewer goals in 11 of their past 15 games. That's similar defensive prowess as Anaheim's last opponent, the Kings (and we all know how that one turned out).
St. Louis has been boosted by the work of former backup Brian Elliott, who has filled in for the injured Jaroslav Halak and put up monster numbers: a 10-2-0 record and league-leading 1.56 goals-against average. But Elliott won't be in there tonight for the Blues, as Halak is reportedly getting the start after recovering from a groin injury. Halak is 4-7-3 with a 2.40 GAA and .903 save percentage, but has a 1.60 GAA and .944 save percentage in his last eight starts.
The Ducks, incidentally, are looking to win two games in a row for the first time since they won four straight following a season-opening defeat. Game 3 of that string was a 4-2 victory over the Blues at Honda Center (with Halak in net), although since that time, both teams have changed coaches.
"We've been pretty competitive," Boudreau said this morning of the Ducks in his three-game tenure. "Quite frankly, we could have won all three games or we could have lost all three.
"We've played three good teams and tonight is the fourth in a row. It will be another really good test."
If you're looking to catch the game tonight with some fellow Ducks fans, there will be an official Watch Party starting at 5 p.m. at one of my favorite spots, The Catch in Anaheim.
Wherever you are, hopefully you'll watch Anaheim take something from St. Louis for the second time today.
|Photos don't get much more awesome than this.
I haven’t heard it this loud in here in a long time.
Since the last time the Kings were in this building – back on November 17 – the Ducks had endured six games and only one win. That was a long-awaited victory on November 30 against Montreal in what would turn out to be Randy Carlyle’s last night as coach. But the roar in the building that night couldn’t hold a candle to what we heard last night –
when Ryan scored with 48.8 seconds left, when Jonas Hiller made a desperation save with two seconds left and when time mercifully ran out on what is unquestionably the Ducks’ biggest victory of the year.
To qualify it: It was Bruce Boudreau’s first win as Ducks coach after two painful losses. It came in the throes of a losing trend that we haven’t seen the likes of in quite some time. And oh yes, it came against Anaheim’s bitter rivals, who had already beaten the Ducks on back-to-back nights last month.
Not to mention, it came on a night when the Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 lead, normally a good thing for a hockey club, but an uh oh moment for the Ducks lately. After all, they went up 2-0 in their last two games (Boudreau’s first two as coach) and lost both of them. And just like in those games, the Ducks allowed the opponent to claw their way back, giving up a late Kings goal in an otherwise well-played second period, then the tying strike on a horrible break in the third period.
Cam Fowler’s clearing attempt hit the stanchion between the panes of glass (the only time we ever use the word “stanchion”) and caromed in the opposite direction it was intended to go, right to the stick of Kings winger Justin Williams. One give-and-go later and Williams tied the game with 11 minutes to go. (“Ninety-nine times out of 100 …” Fowler said. “I couldn’t believe it when it happened. But at the same time I didn’t do a good job of recovering when it happened. You couldn’t leave it in the back of your mind. And the hockey gods rewarded us back with Bobby’s goal.”
Ah, those hockey gods.
Ten more minutes of grind-it-out hockey later, the game seem destined to head to overtime, until a faceoff in the Kings’ end of the ice turned into a Ducks goal in a flash. It was the Flash who won that draw over Anze Kopitar, getting the puck to trickle into the bottom of the circle, where Ryan pounced on it, and this is where the Ducks got a fortunate bounce of their own. Ryan sent the puck toward the net, where it kicked off the leg of defenseman Drew Doughty and fluttered elegantly over the shoulder of Jonathan Quick. All of a sudden it was bedlam in Honda Center as Ryan jumped into the glass before being hugged by Teemu Selanne.
Biggest goal of the Ducks’ season? Almost certainly.
But Anaheim’s work wasn’t even close to being done, as the Kings pulled Quick and there were some scary final moments in front of the Kings net. None was scarier than when the puck got away from Hiller in the crease, as he lunged for it and denied punch-in attempts by Jack Johnson and Doughty in the final seconds. Selanne kicked the quivering puck into the corner and the sound of that horn was like music to our ears.
“It’s not the Cup, but it felt pretty good,” Boudreau said. “There is no doubt. I felt really good for the players because they were smiling. They worked so hard. Had it gone the other way after another lead like that, I was a little worried about it. We got a lucky break, but they got a lucky break. So, it sort of evened out.”
Ryan’s game-winner was his second goal of the night, the first coming in the first period to give the Ducks the lead and also heavily involving Selanne. Quick misplayed the puck behind the net and gave it away to Selanne. He quickly hit Ryan, who slung the puck into the abandoned net as he fell to the ice.
Ryan came into the game with just seven goals, but said an expert on such things predicted his luck would change last night. “It’s no secret it’s been a tough start to the season for me,” Ryan said. “Teemu told me this morning that things were going to start. He’s been through it a little bit in the past, not to this extent. It’s nice to rely on a guy who has scored that many goals, when he tells you that you’ll come out of it. For him to predict it tonight was huge.”
When things are going bad, and they have been for the Ducks, sometimes one win can change everything. The Ducks can only hope that’s the case with this one last night, especially with seven of their next eight games coming away from those thunderous roars at Honda Center. It was in front of those fans where Kent French asked Ryan if that win could be the spark the Ducks needed, "We certainly hope so," he said.
Later in the locker room, he added, “It’s a whole different feeling coming into this room tonight. It’s huge.”
Said Boudreau, "If we keep playing like this we might be able to get lucky enough to win in a tough building and then, who knows? The snowball might get bigger.”