Monday, 10.24.2011 / 7:53 AM PT
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.