POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 12:48 PM
It's a mother of a road trip the Anaheim Ducks are currently on, and it's not the easiest place to start it. Sure, Chicago is a great town to visit, but this is a work trip for the Ducks, who open this seven-game extravaganza against a good Blackhawks team in a tough building.
Those Hawks are coming off a disappointing 5-4 loss to Colorado on Saturday night, in which they spoiled a big comeback by giving up the tying goal with 1:48 left in regulation and fell in a shootout. Still, they have scored at least a standings point in six straight games.
The Ducks, of course, have some recent disappointments of their own, having dropped their last two games, to division rivals Dallas and Phoenix. And Randy Carlyle has responded to those losses by doing some line shaking, incorporating the recently recalled Patrick Maroon into a pretty high-profile spot. Maroon, who joined the team in Chicago after coming up from Syracuse, skated yesterday with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line. Bobby Ryan was moved to the second line with the Finns.
When asked yesterday if the big Maroon would indeed be in the lineup to make his NHL debut against the Blackhawks, Carlyle said, "”We usually don’t bring a player up and not play him. Now is it tomorrow night? Well, maybe. He will see some action on the road trip.”
Said Maroon, who had four goals and four assists with the Crunch in just six games, told the OC Register, “It’d be really exciting. Obviously it would be my first NHL game. Playing my first NHL game with Getzlaf and Perry would be pretty cool too. If I play, I know what I need to do. If I don’t, things happen. Maybe next time. I’m out there to fight and show them I want to be here.”
Whether Maroon stays on that line to start the game remains to be seen, and Carlyle has never hesitated to do some mid-game jumbling too, as he did against Phoenix on Sunday. Tonight, by the way, is Carlyle's 500th NHL game as a coach (all with Anaheim).
As far as that third line of Gordon, Cogliano and Smith-Pelly goes, they were together in practice yesterday and there was some discussion of how long DSP will stay with the big club. The 19-year-old has two more games before hitting the noted 10-game mark. If the Ducks did send him to juniors after the 10 games, it would burn a year on his existing three-year contract. (A demotion to juniors would mean he couldn't come back up until his season with Mississauga ended.)
Randy Carlyle spoke about that topic as well yesterday, saying, "I think there’s a misconception that he has to go back. So there’s always this barrier thats put on the 10-game mark to save the organization a year before free agency. Let’s wipe that out. We try to do an analysis. Is he making a contribution to our group?
“He’s been a steady player. He’s had some up and downs. He’s been in some situations where he does excel at if he stays on the body and plays that neat and tidy game. The other thing, as I’ve stated before, is he has to make a contribution on the offensive side of it at some point. And that’s not any different than any other member of our third and fourth lines.”
After tonight, the Ducks continue a trip that, while daunting, is friendlier than it could have been schedule-wise. Aside from a Saturday-Sunday back-to-back at Nashville and at Columbus, the Ducks have a day off between every game on this trip, which finishes with Washington on Nov. 1, Rangers on the third and Detroit on the fifth. Then it's another four days before taking on Nashville at home on the ninth.
For a closer look at each of the destinations on the trip, take a look at Matt Vevoda's piece here on the website.
POSTED ON Monday, 10.24.2011 / 10:53 AM
The game giveth and the game taketh away
- Gretzky 1:99
The euphoria of a four-game winning streak in the early part of this season was quickly replaced by the despair of a rough, two-loss weekend for the Anaheim Ducks.
And oh yeah, we were reminded of just how brutal the Pacific Division is going to be once again.
Coming off two straight wins against the team that's usually firmly planted atop the Pacific -- the San Jose Sharks -- the Ducks suffered defeats to two teams that weren't considered by most to be division title contenders. A 3-1 loss to Dallas on Friday night was followed up by a 5-4 defeat to Phoenix yesterday evening, two games that had something in common for the Ducks -- a goalie that may have stolen the game.
Friday night it was the Stars' Kari Lehtonen, who would only "let one in" in stopping 35 shots. Last night it was Mike Smith, Phoenix's answer to the departure of Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 29 saves on the night. At least two of them were absolute robberies of apparent Ducks goals, like this one on Bobby Ryan halfway through the third. It says something that Smith was named the game's Second Star, despite giving up four goals. It's a tribute to the Ducks attack, which unlike Friday night, made a game of it until the final seconds.
That was thanks in part to the work of Ryan Getzlaf, who the uninitiated Honda Center spectators might think is nicknamed "Shoot It!" judging by what the fans scream every time he touches the puck. Getzlaf showed why last night, when he displayed that lethal wrist shot of his and got the Ducks within a goal at 5-4 with a 1:08 left and their own net empty. (It was the second of the night, and the season, for the Ducks captain.) Unfortunately, the Ducks would get no closer despite a mad scramble in the final minute, and suffered the rare fate of scoring four in your own building and taking the L.
Jonas Hiller, who had been spectacular during Anaheim's four-game streak, was in there for that three-unanswered ambush by the Coyotes that all but put the game away. The backbreaker was Keith Yandle's strike that made it 5-2 Yotes, which came seconds after Hiller put his arm up to signal an impending icing, only to have none called when the Ducks touched it. On the bright side, backup Dan Ellis looked very solid in Hiller's place, giving up no goals in his period and a half of work.
"Jonas has been a stalwart for this hockey club and he's been probably our MVP in a lot of games, so it's hard to point the finger," Randy Carlyle said. "I'm sure he'd like to have some of them back."
In Hiller's defense, he didn't have the D in front of him that shined so brightly in the early going for Anaheim. In those games, it was all about a stingy defense while the Ducks scorers tried to find their way. Last night, the attack flourished (even defenseman Kurtis Foster got a goal in his first game of the year) while the backend gave up five goals.
Now the Ducks will look to get both of them sharp at the same time, but they'll do it far away from the friendly confines of Orange County. The team left this morning for Chicago, part of a seven-game, 13-day road trip that starts tomorrow night against the Blackhawks. And has been the case in the past, the Ducks are hoping that the comraderie that life on the road brings will be a boost for them in this still-young campaign. It's a trip that includes those Stanley Cup champs from two seasons ago, the team that knocked the Ducks out of the playoffs last year in Nashville, the undefeated Washington Capitals and a little squad called the Detroit Red Wings. The Ducks are back here on November 9, also against Nashville.
"I wish we would have had a better game to send us off," Getzlaf said. "Maybe that is what we need is to get out on the road as a group, take advantage of this time together and work toward a bigger goal."
Andrew Cogliano told the LA Times, "I know it's still early; we've only played seven games. But this is a trip you can definitely use to see what way your season is going to go. Like I said before, you tend to play more simple on the road. Less complicated is exactly what we need right now."
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A couple highlights included this woman's tattoo of Teemu Selanne, which he signed (I assume she'll get the signature tattooed as well.) Selanne, by the way, stuck around for a good 20 minutes after other players had left to sign more autographs for those who had been too far back in his line. (Honestly, it's little wonder why this guy is so popular. Bobby Ryan was also great with each person who came to his table.)
Another popular Duck, George Parros, had this exchange with me during the event as I noticed his line was moving slowly because he took so much time with each fan.
Me: "Georgie, your line is moving too slow. Pick it up a little."
George: "It's quality, not quantity, Brady. Each fan gets a unique experience."
Then he proceeded to drag his Sharpie across the back of my hand. For a guy who punches people in the face for a living, I suppose it could have been worse.
Check out some more photos from the event.
POSTED ON Friday, 10.21.2011 / 8:52 PM
If you haven't seen it yet, this video was played at Honda Center during the home opener, featuring some of the Ducks' most passionate fans getting ready for a game. The tennis balls (husband and wife who attend every home game clad in flourescent yellow hoodies) are prominently featured.
POSTED ON Friday, 10.21.2011 / 2:39 PM
So, I guess we're going to do this whole "the Western Conference is brutally tough" thing all over again this year, huh?
To wit, the Anaheim Ducks have raced out to a 4-1-0 record, the best start through five games since their Cup season of 2006-07. And what has it gotten them so far? Sixth place in the West and third in their own division. Seriously?? That's what 4-1 gets you these days??? That's like climbing Mt. Everest and seeing five guys already there waiting for you at the top, clinking Miller Lite bottles together.
The leader of the Pacific, the Dallas Stars, are owners of an even glossier 5-1-0 start and a four-game winning streak that matches Anaheim's. Meanwhile, Jonas Hiller's 1.71 goals-against average and .938 save percentage are impressive -- but not quite as good as Stars backstop Kari Lehtonen's 1.58 and .953.
The good news is, we're going to get a close look at just how good Lehtonen and his Stars really are, when they're in this building tonight for another intriguing intra-division battle. If this matters to you, Hiller is 4-3-1 with a 2.40 GAA and .933 save percentage in his career against the Stars. Lehtonen is 3-4-2 in vs. the Ducks with a 3.21 and .898.
As much as the Ducks have struggled with their starts the past few seasons, Dallas' 5-1-0 mark is the second straight season they've done that (they just missed the postseason on the final day last year).
That team has a slightly different look this season, with rookie coach Glen Gulutzan (thank you, copy and paste) taking over after coaching the AHL's Texas Stars the last two seasons. And while the summer loss of Brad Richards to the Rangers was a big blow, if obviously hasn't hurt Dallas much so far. They still have scorers like Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson (both notorious Duck killers), Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn. And they brought in veteran Sheldon Souray and his booming shot for a one-year deal over the summer.
Souray is an interesting story, as he was placed on waivers by the Oilers last season and cleared (partly because of his big salary cap hit). He was assigned to the Hershey Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, where he was a teammate of our own Andrew Gordon. The Oilers tried to trade him at the deadline last year and didn't, and Dallas signed him in July. So far it's been a good move, as Souray has a goal and four assists in six games.
Souray, who has battled a number of injuries in his career, missed practice yesterday with a wrist problem. But Gulutzan said he'll be in the lineup tonight after getting a shot in the area.
The Ducks are possibly getting their own banged-up defenseman back tonight, as Kurtis Foster is reportedly available. He's missed the entire regular season after having a wire removed from his thigh, but Randy Carlyle called him "an option for us in these games." The problem is, the Ducks defense has been so solid, there may not be a spot for him among the D corps of Visnovsky-Lydman, Fowler-Beauchemin and Sbisa-Brookbank.
"When you have healthy bodies and you have people that have played to a high level, these decisions become more difficult,” Carlyle said.
The Stars, by the way, were outshot 40-18 in their win Tuesday night in Columbus and have been outshot 134-100 during their four-game roll.
POSTED ON Thursday, 10.20.2011 / 4:59 PM
Bill Simmons of ESPN.com and the new Grantland website wrote a piece recently on the NBA lockout, noting that he's given up his Clippers season tickets and bought Kings tickets instead. Now, while I can't endorse that choice over the Ducks (granted, he does live in LA), I did enjoy his take on why hockey is so entertaining:
I realized something during last night's Kings-Blues game: I have never not enjoyed myself at an NHL game. I mean, what's not to love? It's a sport with the best in-game format (long period, long break, long period, long break, long period, go home), best regular-season in-game wrinkle (the shootout), best secretly awesome moment (any fight), highest percentage of "most likable players" (hands down), and highest percentage of "true fans in attendance" of the four major sports (indisputable). They fixed many of the sport's problems, made it better, and now we're here.
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This video that was shot for the NHL Premiere game in Helsinki recently debuted in-arena at Honda Center and it's a beauty. My favorite part is how the script requires the players to say "Hey..." before they try "Pass me the puck" in Finnish. And, no surprise, George Parros shines in this thing.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.19.2011 / 2:33 PM
The most welcome sight during the Ducks' return to practice this afternoon was not the practice itself, but what went on afterwards. There was Francois Beauchemin, surrounded by about a half dozen reporters in the Ducks locker room, talking and laughing about the incident in San Jose that could have turned disastrous.
For those of us who were watching at the time it was a horrifying site -- Beauchemin taking a 90 mile-per-hour Dan Boyle slap shot to the face, going down in a heap then being helped off the ice with blood pouring from his head onto the sheet of ice. But thanks to the visor that Beauchemin wears full-time (and frankly, every hockey player should) what could have been a catastophe instead ended up being 10-12 stitches to the cut above Beauchemin's left eye. And the tough-as-nails defenseman was back out on the ice with four minutes left in the game, playing a major role in the Ducks hanging on for a 3-2 win over the Sharks. At one point late in the third, with Dan Ellis scrambling to get back in position, Beauchemin guarded the left post and kicked away a puck that could have led to the tying goal.
Beauchemin told the story of the puck incident today, starting with what he saw on the play. "All I could see was the puck coming 90 miles an hour and I didn't have time to react and move away," he said. "It hit my visor and I just went down. In that fraction of a second you have time to think, Oh my God. Did something bad happen? Is my eye okay?
"I took my helmet off and opened my eyes and I could see. I had time to worry about my eye for like a fraction of a second. As soon as I opened my eyes, I was able to see. I saw blood coming down but I knew it wasn't bad."
See, that's a hockey player for you. A cut above your eye from a speeding puck can be considered "not bad." For Beauchemin, the focus was on getting right back out there. "I knew it was 3-2 and there wasn't much time left," he said. "I think when I went in there was eight or nine minnutes left. I knew there was a timeout after the 6-minute mark, so I told the doc, 'Let's hurry up and get me back out there.'"
One reporter mentioned that there was a rumor that Beauchemin actually ran down the tunnel to get back in the game. "Who said that?" he laughed, acknowledging it was true. " Yeah, I wanted to hurry up and get back before they started to play again. Sometimes the play goes 2 or 3 minutes without a timeout."
But before he could do that, the doctor attending to Beauchemin had to run him through a sequence of tests to determine if he had a concussion. "They asked me some pretty hard questions, like saying the months of the year backwards," Beauchemin said with a chuckle. "That was the first one they did. I was like, 'Come on, give me an easier one than that.' I actually missed March.
"After that he asked me who we played last, where we were, what was the score, what time the game was. I told him we played St. Louis and won 4-3 last night at home. He asked what happened before the play, and I said I was battling in front and it was a D-to-D one-timer. I remembered everything, no headaches, nothing. When the doctor told me it was just a cut, and I felt alright, I knew I just needed to get stitched up and go back out there. There were no broken bones or pain at all."
Of course, this isn't the first time that the toughness of the guy some call "Boom Boom" has gone down in Ducks lore. There was the fight with Jarome Iginla in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, a fight Beauchemin won decidedly to (as many believe) turn the tide of that series. Ironically enough, it was Beauchemin who took off his visor for that fight and encouraged Iginla to do the same.
There was the fight Beauchemin won decidedly over Tomas Kopecky of the Red Wings in Game 4 of an extremely tense playoff series with the Red Wings in 2009.
And there was this one that isn't as well known, against Minnestoa in the first round of the Cup run in 2007. Beauchemin took a deflected puck to the face in Game 3 of that series, suffering a cracked jaw, an inch-long gash on the right side of his chin (a scar you can still see today) and a lost tooth. He had a plate surgically inserted into his jaw on a Monday, missed Game 4 the next day and was back for Game 5 another two days later with a clear protective wraparound facemask.
Not only did he play a game-high 28:32 in that game and take four shots on goal, but he got into this scrap with Marian Gaborik after a whistle. The scuffle turned into a shoving match, but escalated when Beauchemin went after Gaborik for throwing a punch at his head.
It's that kind of toughness -- not to mention a rocket of a slapshot -- that has made Beauchemin so esteemed by fans, teammates and coaches during two separate runs with the Ducks.
And after fearing the worst when that hairy moment went down Monday night, it's awfully encouraging to see him left with only with a few stitches and a heck of a good story.
POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.18.2011 / 9:39 AM
When you care about your hockey team -- I mean, truly care -- your typical big game is more than just 2 1/2 hours of sporting entertainment. It's varying levels of fear, angst and nervousness that only dissipates when that final horn sounds and your goalie is being patted on the helmet by his teammates. It starts all over again the next time your team plays, and yet we willingly accept this constant tension -- even relish it -- because that's what it means to be a fan. I haven't done the research on this, but I'm fairly certain being a die-hard hockey fan takes at least a year off your life in the long run. And that's a trade we're willing to make.
Last night was one of those times when a Ducks fan's torment was heightened for a variety of reasons. The Ducks were playing their first Stateside road game of the season, less than 24 hours after a big home win, against a bitter rival that we hate to lose to, in a building full of screaming teal-clad fans that make HP Pavilion one of the hardest places to win in. And they were doing it behind backup Dan Ellis, seeing his first action of the season after playing behind a so-far-outstanding Jonas Hiller.
Any tension was slightly eased when the Ducks leapt to a 2-0 lead through one period thanks to the heroics of Teemu Selanne and his first two goals of the year. But the Sharks being the Sharks, there was little doubt they would find a way to get back in the game. And they did, cutting the lead in half in the second period on a goal that deflected off Bobby Ryan's leg.
We went through that same swing of emotions in the third. Corey Perry reminded us why he's the MVP when he made space for himself, spun and whipped a ridiculous slingshot into the far top corner. Then Brent Burns brought that nervousness right back by nailing a one-timer to make it a one-goal game.
That led to nine minutes of abject dread that the Sharks would find a way to tie the game, as they constantly circled the Ducks net like ... well, like sharks. And it was just before that time that we all experienced a fear of a different kind -- one that has nothing to do with winning and losing. A Dan Boyle slap shot struck Francois Beauchemin in the visor, causing a compression cut that forced him to scramble off the ice with his head down, blood pouring out as trainer Tim Clarke helped him off the ice with a towel covering the cut. The scary moment had fans (Ducks or otherwise) simultaneously hoping he was okay, while also thinking, Thank goodness he wears a visor.
But Beauchemin ultimately quelled our fears in a couple of ways, returning to the game with a few stitches with about four minutes left, and playing a major role in the Ducks holding on to that oh-so-slim lead and pulling off a tension-filled victory. Of course, Dan Ellis could be credited for much of that, as 15 of his 41 saves came in that tumultuous third period when it seemed almost certain the Sharks would tie it. And the Burns goal in the third was the only one he gave up that actually came off a Sharks stick.
“You don't want to be the guy that loses a little bit of a streak,” Ellis told the OC Register afterward. "In the same way, when you are on a little bit of a losing streak, you want to be the guy to snap it a little bit. You take pride in those opportunities.”
Come Friday night against Dallas, the Ducks' streak will be on the line again, as they go for a fifth straight against another division rival. And, of course, we'll be blissfully anxious all over again.
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By the way, the chemistry-themed intro to Ducks telecasts on Prime Ticket is kind of cool. If you haven't seen it yet (or even if you have), here it is below. I can confirm that Teemu's eyes actually do that (48-second mark). No special effects were added.
POSTED ON Monday, 10.17.2011 / 11:09 AM
|You've gotta feel good about Ducks hockey right now.
(Yes, I know it's cheesy to post a picture of my own nephew, but I'm doing it anyway.)
You know what? This team looks pretty good.
It's still early yet -- very early, in fact -- but let's not let that ruin our joy. The Ducks win when they score, and they win when they don't score. The win when the RPG line gets shut down, and they win when they explode for a typically big night. They win with the power play, and they win without the power play.
Last night, in a convincing 4-2 victory over the Blues at Honda Center, the Ducks had all of those things. And here's something else they have: a 3-1-0 record that marks the best four-game start since the Cup season. It's also the fewest goals (7) they've ever allowed in their first four games.
Friday night, in a 1-0 shutout of the Sharks in the electric home opener the Ducks reached another milestone. That win combined with the 2-1 shootout victory in Stockholm marked the first time in franchise history that Anaheim had won two straight games while only scoring one goal in each (thanks to OCR's Randy Youngman for providing that stat). It's a tribute to a stingy defense, but it's not exactly what you'd expect of a team with Perry, Ryan, Getzlaf, Selanne, Visnovsky and a power play that tied for second in the NHL last year.
You knew it was only a matter of time before the goals -- as Selanne might say -- came splatting out like ketchup from a stubborn bottle after a few beats on the bottom. And what better night than Corey Perry Night for Perry and his top-line playmates to come alive? Perry had a goal, Ryan had two and Getzlaf had two assists and they all contributed to a power play that had come into the night 0 for 13 on the season.
The Ducks technically had only one power play goal, but two others came just as the power play had expired or shortly after. Ryan's goal just 2:20 into the game came at the exact second that the Nikita Nikitin (now that's a name) holding minor died, as he punched in a hard rebound off a Francois Beauchemin slapper. And another rocket by "Boom Boom" earned the Ducks a second goal early in the third, just seconds after Jason Arnott's high-sticking penalty ran out. It was the first time this season the Ducks had scored two in a game.
After that, the Ducks completely drowned their order of fries (it's a metaphor; go with it) and kept pouring it on. They got their first official power play goal of the season when Perry and those magical hands tipped in a floating puck off a Selanne one-timer that he didn't strike squarely. Then Ryan getting his second goal on a beautiful pickup of a pinballing puck and wristing a shot that just trickled behind the previously sharp Jaroslav Halak.
And the way Jonas Hiller has been playing (how's 1.71 GAA and .931 SV% work for you?) behind that very solid Ducks D, you had to feel like this one was pretty much over. And it was, despite a Steen goal halfway through the third that hardly made the crowd of 14,555 squirm in their seats.
So, a solid weekend for the Ducks, aside from one glaring incident on Friday night against San Jose. Winger Jason Blake got accidentally cut by a skate blade by Brent Burns in the third period, suffering a severe laceration above the left wrist and will miss three months.
The Ducks, who have moved Brandon McMillan into that second-line winger spot for now, move on without him. That continues tonight in a rematch with the Sharks (a mildly surprising 1-2-0 to start the year) under the roof of what promises to be a loud HP Pavilion. That's about as intriguing a road game for the Ducks as you're going to get as early as October 17, and we should savor this one, since the Ducks and Sharks won't face each other again until December 26.
Yeah, I know it's early, but for a team that's had notoriously bad Octobers, a 3-1-0 start to the season feels a bit like Christmas already.
POSTED ON Friday, 10.14.2011 / 2:35 PM
We're mere hours away from one of the coolest nights this place sees all year, but this one packs just a little more buzz than your typical Ducks home opener.
Because of their jaunt through Scandinavia for the first two games of the season, it's the first Stateside game of the regular season for the Ducks. And because of the much-needed rest they were granted in the afterglow of that trip, it's the first Ducks hockey game of any kind in six days. And oh, by the way, the teal is in the building.
That rest, while very important for the team in the long run, had been tough for Ducks fans to endure. We're ready for some more hockey, dammit, and we're finally getting it back tonight.
There's all the hustle and bustle of opening night among the staff here at Honda Center as well. A minute ago I asked our building operations guy for a new lightbulb, since the one in my office burned out. He looked at me like I asked him for a unicorn to ride around the arena. (I'm thinking I'll get that lightbulb on Monday).
It wouldn't be a Ducks home opener without some pomp and circumstance. Fans are already arriving for the "Miller Lite Blue Carpet," which will include live music and Ducks player arrivals. Those suit-clad Ducks will stop for interviews, sign a few autographs, shake a few hands, maybe kiss a few babies. (We'll have photos and video of it later, but follow along on our Twitter page as well.)
Once inside, you'll be handed a brand new Ducks Digest (I had to get that plug in)with a couple of pretty important Ducks on the cover. You'll find new and different food, including the Burger Bistro and Outlaw's Smokehouse (I can tell you firsthand that the brisket sandwich with cole slaw on it is fantastic.)
When those Ducks hit the ice for the warmup, you'll notice them wearing a special "24" patch in honor or Ruslan Salei.
And then of course there is a hockey game, a very important hockey game against one of the Ducks' more reviled opponents. (It's true that familiarity breeds contempt, as this is the first of six meetings between the Ducks and Sharks this season, not to mention the two in the preseason.)
Despite the fact their last game was in Phoenix, the Sharks have gotten the same amount of gamedays off as the Ducks have, not having played since beating the Coyotes 6-3. For the second straight game, they will be without their starting goalie (in other words they'll be anti-Antti Niemi) as he recovers from having a cyst removed from his knee. Meanwhile, traditional backup Antero Niittymaki (I definitely copied and pasted that name for fear of misspelling it) is out a few more months following hip surgery.
The Ducks, on the other hand, got some good news in the injury realm, as Toni Lydman is expected to be in the lineup tonight. Lydman hasn't played at all as he comes back from a May surgery to repair a torn labrum, but has been cleared for contact for the past several days now. “He will in all likelihood play tonight,” Randy Carlyle said this morning. ”I haven’t talked to him since he got off the ice. I haven’t been made aware there was any setbacks. We were going along the premise that he would be available to us if everything was fine this morning. That hasn’t changed.”
If he's in there, expect him to be paired (as he was for most of last year) with Lubomir Visnovsky, with Cam Fowler likely playing with Francois Beauchemin again.
Tonight is also the first chance for the home crowd to see the top line of Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan and that second line of Selanne, Koivu and Blake, with both groups looking to get something going after having a quiet two games in Europe. That fascinating unit line of Gordon, Smith-Pelly and Cogliano will likely be together again, and will all be going through something else together -- their first home openers as Ducks.
I stopped Cogliano in the locker room today and asked him if the players feel the same kind of buzz for a home opener that the fans feel. "For sure," he said. "You start your first game here, you want to show yourself well and have a good game. It's going to be exciting. It's something new for me. I'm not used to a home opener here and seeing how the fans react. I can tell there is excitement for the season and they know there is a good team here.
"It's San Jose on a Friday night, so it's even a little more exciting. It's going to be a good night."
Glad we're in agreement on that.
POSTED ON Thursday, 10.13.2011 / 2:02 PM
The Ducks have had enough faith in Devante Smith-Pelly to not only give him a spot in the opening night roster but to so far slot him at winger on an increasingly intriguing third forward line. The 19-year-old who played his last three junior seasons in Mississauga of the OHL has meshed well with two linemates – Andrew Cogliano and Andrew Gordon – who are also playing their first regular season games in a Ducks uniform. (For lack of a better term right now, let’s call it the New Guy Line.) The three combined on Anaheim’s only goal in the 2-1 shootout victory over the Rangers last Saturday in Stockholm, with Smith-Pelly’s hustle springing loose a puck that Gordon was able to toss in front to a crashing Cogliano.
Although he was drafted by the Ducks in 2010 and went through his first training camp later that year as an 18-year-old, it occurred to me that I really haven’t had much contact with the likeable Smith-Pelly other than a quick handshake. So after practice today at Honda Center, with Smith-Pelly's first regular season NHL home opener a day away, I re-introduced myself.
He responded with, "Hey, I'm Devante," which really wasn't necessary.
We sat down for a quick chat about how things are going in Anaheim (and Europe, for that matter) so far.
You said recently that even though you were a longshot to make the team out of camp last year as an 18-year-old, you were disappointed when you were sent back to juniors.
Yeah, anytime you come into camp, your goal is to make the team. It was pretty unrealistic for me to play at 18, but when I was sent back, I was pretty disappointed. I wanted to make sure I had a good season and make sure I put myself in position to make the team the following year.
What’s different this year from last year?
I think it’s me just being a year older, a little more mature, a little bigger and stronger. I just know what to expect. Last year I came in here and kind of maybe dipped my toe in, rather than going full in. This year I knew what to expect, what the coaches expected of me. All I had to worry about was that kind of stuff instead of everything else.
As was the case with Cam Fowler last year, Smith-Pelly is too young to be sent to the AHL, so if he is sent down, it would be to his junior team and the Ducks would lose him for the rest of the season. If the Ducks release him before his 10th NHL game, this season wouldn’t count against the Ducks as a first full season of his contract.
How much do you think about that 10-game mark?
I talked to Bob Murray yesterday and he said the 9-game mark or 10-game mark doesn’t really matter. It’s not really me looking at the 9-game mark to impress. If I want to stay here the whole year, I’m going to have to play well the whole year. It was good for him to kind of make sure I knew that rather than me kind of assuming that I could play well in those nine games and then have to shut it down.
Do you feel pretty comfortable playing with Cogliano and Gordon so far?
We’ve been together a little while now and we’re starting to click and create some chemistry. It was a little hard at the start with Gordon being a right winger, and a couple times he came over to my side. We’ve worked that stuff out, and we’re three guys who click together and our styles complement each other. Hopefully we can continue this.
What’s your living situation right now?
Right now I’m just at the hotel down the street. It’s alright. I have no roommate, just kind of hanging out. I bought an Xbox a little while ago and I’ve been doing that.
I'm a PS3 guy.
Nah, Xbox is better. I play NHL, Madden.
Are you in the current NHL game? I think you are.
Well, I don’t have the online in the hotel, so I can’t download the new roster. I should probably figure that out though.
What else have you been doing?
I’m just doing my own thing in my room, texting Mace (Maxime Macenauer) or Gordon or anyone else who’s there, Mac (Brandon McMillan) or Guenin. We’re all there. We go for dinner or hang out, but mostly I’m in my room just relaxing and doing my own thing.
How messy is that room?
It was a lot messier before we went to Finland, but the maid cleaned it up when we were gone. I haven’t really unpacked yet. I just kind of left all my stuff in my suitcase. Right now it’s looking pretty clean.
At least with hotel life you have a maid and room service.
Oh yeah. I’ve probably had room service 20 days straight now, so I’m definitely taking advantage of that.
How is Orange County different from Mississuaga?
The biggest difference is it’s October and it’s not freezing here. It’s just a suburb of Toronto, a decent-sized community about 20 minutes from Toronto. It’s a lot like I guess Anaheim or Newport Beach without the beach part. The main difference is definitely the weather. Yesterday was so hot, it was probably the hottest day since I’ve been here. I talked to my mom last night and she said it was freezing back home. I don’t miss that at all.
Have you been down to the beach at all?
We’ve been a couple times. Mostly since we came back from Finland it’s been guys trying to get back to the routine. Guys get back from the rink and we make a plan to go do something and everybody just kind of falls asleep. Right now we’re just kind of relaxing.
What was the coolest thing about Finland?
I’d have to say being on Teemu’s boat and going to Sauna Island. It was amazing. I never even imagined anything like that. His boat is amazing.
Is there a point where you’re standing on Teemu Selanne’s yacht, headed to an island in Finland and wondering, What the heck am I doing here?
[Laughs] Yeah. There were a couple of times where I just thought to myself, I never, ever thought I’d be able to do these things. It was all pretty cool.
And of the two of us, the one who said, "Thanks a lot. I appreciate it" when we were done talking? That was Smith-Pelly.