New Era Starts Tonight
Friday, 12.2.2011 / 10:43 AM PT
It's a tantalizing time here in Ducks land, as Game 1 of the Bruce Boudreau era starts tonight against the Flyers at Honda Center.
Since getting hired for the head coaching job Wednesday, Boudreau has had only one practice, one morning skate and individual meetings with his new players to make his early impressions on this team. It's enticing to see what kind of impact that will have in such a short time period, with Boudreau standing behind the Anaheim bench just two nights after the surprise announcement late Wednesday night that he would be the new Ducks coach. This morning he admitted what a whirlwind it's been for him the past two days, saying that when he left Honda Center last night at 6 p.m., "I went right to bed." He added, "But you get up at 3:00 in the morning, and then you start again."
Yeah ... wait a minute. Three in the morning?
Just listen to Boudreau talk about the possibilities and you can't help but feel pumped up about what's ahead for his Ducks. Yesterday, during a press conference following his first practice with the team, Boudreau spewed nothing but optimism, notably in discussing his decision to take the job not long after being let go in Washington.
"If I didn't believe that this was a team that had the possibilities and the makings of something special, I think I would have sat at home and waited," Boudreau said. "But I don't think opportunities like this come around every day, with the talent that we have here."
The Ducks go into tonight's game 14th in the West and 11 points short of a playoff spot, which Boudreau said is hardly indicative of how good they can (and will) be. "They've been a really good team. They've just sort of lost their way a little bit," he said. "I told them this morning that I believe in them. I think they're a really good team."
There was a lot to come out of yesterday's press conference, including the revelation from Bob Murray that trade talks involving Bobby Ryan have dissolved a bit. "I'm hoping everything settles down right now," he said. "I think it will." He told Ryan the same thing, leading Ryan to tell the media, "A lot of times players are left in the dark and it is tough. I appreciate Murph being honest with me and letting me know ahead of time, so I could focus on one thing and that's wins for the Ducks."
Ryan also had the line of the day in describing the team's first practice under Boudreau. "There's a little nervousness, what kind of impression you are going to make on your first day," he said. "It's almost like a first date. But I think it went well."
There was a lot said by a lot of people during the media sessions yesterday, but one thing that may have gone under the radar -- but stood out for me -- was Andrew Gordon's take on Boudreau's coaching style. Gordon, of course, played for Boudreau during his four years in the Capitals organization, so he was the go-to guy to remark on what his Ducks teammates can expect. The bottom line: Lots of offense.
"He wants us to play with the puck and he wants us to go up and down and be creative, support the puck and play offense," Gordon said. "We have a lot of guys with a lot of talent on this team and that is going to fit well. Once we grasp these systems, there a little tougher to get than the ones out there where you just back up and try not to make mistakes. He wants to push the pace a little bit, so once we grasp this, it’s going to be good and generate some offense for us.
"He wants you to support the puck as opposed to pushing it down there and dumping it in. He’s going to allow someone like Bobby to make a move and beat a guy one-on-one. As long as we’re playing within the system, he wants to play offense. When he was a player, he scored beyond belief, so he knows what it’s like to be an offensive guy and want to play to your style. All the coaches are going to come together and let our big guns play offense. When you’re one of those guys expected to score, that’s a green light, and that’s good news."
Meanwhile, Boudreau's impact on the ice has already been felt, as he returned Ryan to the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Matt Beleskey has joined Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu in the second trio and will presumably be there to start tonight. Andrew Cogliano has centered the third line with Niklas Hagman and Devante Smith-Pelly.
It's a quirky coincidence that Boudreau is facing the Flyers in his first game with the Ducks. Four years ago in his debut with the Capitals, he also faced the Flyers. Boudreau pointed out that coincidence and a couple others during an intriguing interview this morning with Ducks radio analyst Dan Wood.
"There are so many similarities, I feel like I'm..." Boudreau said, then paused. "I watch a lot of movies, so I'm thinking of JFK and the similarities they point out with [his assassination and] Lincoln. [Washington was] 6-14-1 [when he took over], and I think we're 7-13-4 right now. We played Philadelphia our first game, we're playing Philadelphia tonight. The first game [Flyers coach] Peter Laviolette coached when he took over in Philadelphia was against me in Washington. The first game I'm coaching here is against Peter. It's weird."
Also in that interview, Boudreau pointed out the differences between starting with the Capitals and doing the same here in Anaheim. "It's more challenging," he said. "When I went to Washington I'd coached seven of the players from the year before. I knew the players. Here you're coming in pretty cold and pretty blind. You know the players and the reputation and those things, but you don't know them individually. So, it's going to take a little bit of time just to know them. I'm not using that as an excuse. I expect to win every game. But to know them the way you want to know them is going to take a long time."
I expect to win every game. You gotta like that motto.
"If you know me, my short-term is to win. My long-term it to win," Boudreau said. "I'm a very positive person, and I never think there is a hole too deep that you can't climb yourself out. I've already gotten everything written down on what we have to do to make the playoffs and beyond. Now it's up to me to make the players believe this is a feasible and possible situation to do."
I can report first-hand that Boudreau's optimism and the sensation of a fresh start has already instilled a positive vibe among the Ducks staff (including me, as you can tell by the 1,400 words I've dedicated to this). Meanwhile, someone from the Capitals staff sent over three of these Boudreau bobbleheads, now proudly displayed on a couple of desks here.
The entire Ducks and Honda Center staff was treated to a pizza luncheon this afternoon in which Boudreau made a quick cameo and speech. (While he spoke, a TV in the Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Club was coincidentally showing an NHL Network replay of last night's Washington loss to Pittsburgh.) Boudreau didn't speak to the staff long (out of character for a guy who has earned the nickname "Gabby"), but he did finish with this line:
"We're gonna have some fun."
What would really be fun is a win tonight against a Flyers team that comes to Anaheim for the second straight year without former Duck Chris Pronger, who is out four weeks following knee surgery. The other former Duck, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, is supposed to play tonight despite battling a cold that kept him out of last Saturday's game with the Rangers.
"You watch them out there doing little drills and picking top corners and everything else. You want to see it in a game because it's easy to do it when there is nobody that really doesn't like you playing against you," Boudreau said this morning. "Tonight I'm sure there will be some guys who aren't as friendly. We're playing a tough team and I believe they will be ready."
But no matter the opponent, this is an exciting time for the Ducks, the first of 58 games they have to climb out of this hole. And to hear Boudreau tell it, they can make it happen.
"This is a team that before the season started, if you read a lot of the clippings, should really contend for the West and Pacific crown and I think they're very capable of doing it," he said. "I want them to believe in themselves. That's the message for today, believing in themselves."