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(All times Pacific unless otherwise noted.)
Updated January 28 at 11:51 a.m.
Just a couple of items so that you don't think All-Star break means a break for me too:
- I'm leaving tomorrow morning for Raleigh for my first ever All-Star Game (not playing, of course), which should be a good time. Then I, and some other big-time Ducks staffers, will be staying in town for NHL Club Business Meetings, where I'll be learning what's on the horizon for the Ducks and the rest of the NHL from a digital/social media/mobile standpoint. Should be interesting.
I'll be of course hauling a laptop, so I'll see what I'm able to come up blog-wise with during the weekend.
- If you want to see where Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller and the rest of the All-Stars are selected in the cool, new Fantasy Draft, that will be televised tonight at 5 p.m. Pacific on Versus. A recap will be streamed live here, starting at 6:30 p.m. If you have NHL Network, here's the All-Star content they will be airing. We'll be posting other live streaming feeds and linking to other All-Star content on the site throughout the weekend.
- In case you missed it, Ryan Getzlaf has been cleared to skate with the rest of the Ducks starting Monday (he's been skating on his own this week) and likely will return to the lineup during the trip through Western Canada that begins Feb. 9.
- According to Randy Youngman's column in the OC Register today, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu were in the gallery yesterday during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torry Pines. Youngman writes: Selanne said Coach Randy Carlyle promised the team it wouldn't have to practice until Monday if it won its last game before the All-Star break, as it did. "We made sure we won," he said, laughing.
- And finally, congrats to my sister, who made me an uncle for the third time (not sure it works that way) by giving birth to a healthy baby boy named Cole this morning.
Updated January 26 at 11:48 a.m.
Letdown game, schmetdown game. That was the message the Ducks delivered by beating the Blue Jackets last night.
Okay, none of the Ducks actually used that expression, but any thoughts they might have a letdown after an emotional game in Montreal were put to bed early in Columbus. This game, coming at the end of a road trip and being the last chance to shine before the All-Star break, was too important for the Ducks to take the foot off the gas.
And with that in mind, they got in the driver's seat early on the Jackets, thanks in part to an early five-minute boarding major by Derek Dorsett on Corey Perry in which the Ducks got two goals in just over a minute. Dorsett threw Perry into the wall behind the Columbus net less than four minutes into the game, leaving Perry shaken up enough to head to the locker room for a few minutes.
“It didn’t feel good obviously,” Perry said. “I hit my chin off the dasher boards. That’s pretty much what happened. It just kind of rattled the cage a little bit. I took my time before I came back.”
Perry recovered enough to join the power play for a bit, but he wasn't out there when Teemu Selanne and Cam Fowler each scored goals to put Anaheim up 2-0. Selanne's came on great feed across the crease from Bobby Ryan, and with the major penalty still intact, Fowler ripped a slap shot past a Ryan screen and under Steve Mason. That made the Ducks an incredible 13 for 27 on the power play in the last nine games (they're currently second in the league behind Chicago in power play percentage).
"The 5-minute power play we got, that was the difference tonight,” said Selanne. "We got good momentum going."
A power play goal by (who else?) Rick Nash in the latter part of the first pulled Columbus to within a goal, but Anaheim got major insurance from Jason Blake early in the third to make it 3-1. Blake pulled off a pretty roof job with the backhand, to give him his 200th career goal, and while Columbus got closer with a Derek Brassard PPG midway through the third, they would get no closer.
The Ducks, who so many times this season have sat back on leads in the third, only got five shots over the final 20 minutes last night. But Jonas Hiller (again solid with 35 saves) pointed out that things felt a little different last night. “I think it was already a good sign when we scored our third goal in the third,” he said. “We weren’t sitting back. That’s what we were talking about before we went out for the third.”
Indeed, unlike the Montreal game (where the Canadiens tied it late), the Ducks didn't commit any penalties over the final 10 minutes and won a few big defensive zone faceoffs. And again, guys like Toni Lydman, Andreas Lilja and Andy Sutton were back to their shot-blocking ways, a big reason the Ducks are fourth in the NHL (and first in the West) in that category.
Last night the Ducks once again found a way to win, something they did three times on this hugely successful road trip, and something they've done during this string of success (10 wins in their last 13).
“Even those nights when we haven’t played that well we’ve still found a way to win the games," Selanne said. "That’s a sign of a good team.”
Agreed, and although the players have to be welcoming some much-needed rest during this All-Star break -- having played an NHL-high 52 games -- it's almost a shame we don't get to watch this team play again until February 2. As Hiller put it, "We've played a lot of hockey so far so we definitely could use that break ... On the other hand, we're feeling it right now."
No matter what happens between now and then, the Ducks will be no worse than sixth in the Western Conference when things start up again. And that's right around the time they're expected to get back Ryan Getzlaf, who has been skating on his own at Honda Center this week while the boys have been on the road.
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NHL.com has a nice feature today on Teemu Selanne and how he's playing like anything but a 40-year-old man. On the topic of whether this is his last season, they run this quote:
"In a lot of ways, when I think it's going to be my last year, like I've done the last four years, I try to think this is going to be it and I try to enjoy every day. I'm not going to leave anything here. That has been really good for me.
"But I think this is it."
I can say that a few of us around here have noticed that every time Teemu autographs anything lately (including a poster for my dad a few days ago in which I asked him to sign it "To Ward, You suck" and he laughingly agreed) he writes "2011" under his signature. Bottom line, let's not forget to enjoy this guy as much as we can, while we can.
Updated January 24 at 11:19 a.m.
I happened to watch Saturday evening's Ducks-Canadiens game in a sports bar in Palm Desert, following an afternoon on the golf course. That's partly why that game made me think of a couple of old, cliché golf expressions. Say you hit your drive into the trees, then punch it out into the next fairway, then hit a shot that bounces on the cart path and rolls onto the green and you make a 40-footer for par. Someone will inevitably say, "It's not how, but how many" or even more clever, "There are no pictures on the scorecard."
The record will show that the Ducks beat the Montreal Canadiens on January 22 in Montreal by a score of 4-3 in a shootout. But like so many other wins during this run (nine in the last 12 games), the path to that victory was a little bumpy.
Actually, the Ducks played possibly their best hockey of this critical road trip for most of the night, building a 3-1 lead though two periods on goals by Cam Fowler, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry (the last with just 17 seconds left in the frame). But Anaheim couldn't hold that lead to the finish, as Montreal got within a goal with 3:40 left and later sent it to overtime with just 12.6 left on the clock.
On a night that was all about Saku Koivu (more on that later), that last gut-wrenching Canadiens goal came on a power play that ironically was set up by Koivu's tripping penalty. Montreal pulled goalie Carey Price to create a 6-on-4 situation, and got the equalizer when Max Pacioretty jammed in a rebound under Jonas Hiller. (I remember thinking at the time, I feel sick.)
It was a devastating blow to a Ducks team that had looked so good for so much of the night (although they were heavily outshot in the third). But just like in Ottawa earlier in the week, they pulled out the two points thanks to the heroics of Ryan and Hiller in the shootout. Ryan's quick wrister to beat Price looked very much like the one that beat Brian Elliott and the Sens four nights prior. And once again, Hiller denied all three shooters, sticking out the leg pad on Brian Gionta to seal the victory, as he stood up and threw both fists to the sky (very end of this video).
"It's a big two points for us but it didn't go the way we planned, with them getting the tying goal at the end and myself getting three penalties," Koivu said, "but at the end I'm happy that it's done."
It was a fantastic ending to a night that had an incredibly emotional start, as Koivu -- who spent 13 seasons in Montreal, the final 10 as captain -- was given a loud standing ovation by the crowd of 21,273 at Bell Centre just before the opening faceoff. The chill-inducing moment was made even cooler by the fact that the other Ducks starters stayed near the bench area so that Koivu could be out there alone for the prolonged applause. And ironically, they showed their respect to Koivu by not doing what he asked, as he motioned with his head for them to join him at center ice for the faceoff and they refused. To the fans, Koivu raised his stick in the air to the crowd and pointed to his heart. Here's the video:
Koivu later called it possibly the toughest game he'd ever played. "It was emotional enough to get ready and wait for this game, but then the reaction that I got again from the fans, there's not really words that describe the feeling that I had out there," Koivu said. "A great night. It's going to be a memory that's going to go with me for the rest of my life." (More on that in this fine OC Register piece from Eric Stephens and this from great Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher.)
Koivu got even more respect afterward by being named the game's second star (via fan vote online), allowing him to skate out on that ice and receive the adulation from the crowd one more time. And it had to be made all the more sweet by the fact that his Ducks pulled out the victory in that building.
"Saku's a very, very well respected individual in our room," Ryan said. "Obviously you can tell by the emotions of him and the fans tonight that he was very well respected here. We certainly wanted to win for him and we're glad we did.
"It was said before overtime. There isn't an individual in the room that didn't recognize that this one was for him."
Updated January 21 at 11:49 a.m.
There's not really a whole lot to say after a game like last night's 5-2 loss in Toronto, so you find yourself trying to find solace in the little things. You're watching the nightly highlights and you see that the Kings lost again, which is nice (although they fell to the Coyotes, who are now a point ahead of the Ducks in the standings. At least it wasn't another Western Conference three-point game). And you see that Pittsburgh lost 2-0 to last-place New Jersey, a reminder that yes, good teams sometimes lose games they should win.
It's not a lot, but it somewhat softens the blow of a disappointing defeat at the hands of the Maple Leafs, who were just one night removed from a 7-0 drubbing in New York. It would have been one thing if the Ducks succumbed to a goalie standing on his head against his former team, but while J.S. Giguere was good enough last night (26 saves), he wasn't the reason. “We played about 12 minutes of hockey tonight,” Randy Carlyle lamented afterwards. “You can’t play 12 minutes of hockey and expect to win in the NHL.”
Things did look promising for Anaheim in the early going, especially when Dan Sexton scored the game's first goal with a pretty shot from a sharp angle that befuddled Giguere. They continued to look good when Brandon McMillan scored on the rush, with a little help from Giguere kicking the puck behind himself. (Funny how Johnny Ahlers accidentally calls Giguere "Hiller" on the video.)
That gave the Ducks a one-goal lead that threatened to get wider when they had two power play opportunities in the middle of that period. But a Ducks team that came into the night an impressive 9 of their last 18 on the man advantage didn't get much going on either PP. Suddenly the Leafs scored four unanswered and it was over.
Said Bobby Ryan of those missed power play opportunities, "We lost momentum. That’s not what a power play’s supposed to do. We’re supposed to go out, execute and generate momentum. If we’re not scoring, at least turn the tide to our favor."
So what do the Ducks do after a loss like that? Same thing they'd do if they won last night -- forget about it and move on. We've got Montreal tomorrow night (which just happens to be Saku Koivu's first trip back there since coming to Anaheim). And yeah, it's another big one for the Ducks.
P.S. Check out this cool story about Habs fans possibly lobbying to make Koivu the No. 1 star of the game, no matter the outcome. And if you want to relive a very cool, chills-inducing moment, here's video of the eight-minute standing ovation Koivu received in Montreal when he returned from a bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2002.
Updated January 20 at 11:39 a.m.
Tonight's matchup between the Ducks and Maple Leafs is all about the goalies. Anaheim is facing a former franchise legend in Jean-Sebastien Giguere, while riding their current netminder, Jonas Hiller, who couldn't be any hotter than he is right now.
That's what makes the timing of this piece in Sports Illustrated so ironic, which focuses on the fact that NHL teams lean on their goalies much less than they used to. Writer Brian Cazaneuve points out that with Philly's Michael Leighton recently being sent to the AHL, none of the final four teams in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs still have the goalies who helped bring them there. And here was a pretty interesting fact the article brings up: Between 1952 and 1989 no franchise won a Stanley Cup championship without a future Hall of Fame goaltender on its roster. The jury is still out on the last six Cup-winning keepers—Detroit's Chris Osgood has the strongest case of the bunch, but he is no lock.
While Giguere may or may not be a future Hall-of-Famer, he was a huge reason the Ducks nearly won the Cup in 2003 and ultimately did capture it in '07. That's something Randy Carlyle acknowledged in talking about Jiggy to media this morning. "Orange County is a better place because of Jiggy's presence," Carlyle said. "He was a huge part of our franchise. But there comes a time when you have to move on.
"Jonas has done very well for our hockey club. Any club's success begins with your goaltender and out."
That's certainly true for the Ducks, and something they have displayed numerous times during this stretch of eight wins in the last 10 games in which they certainly haven't played their best hockey in every one. (See quotes from Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne below.) Hiller will be back in there tonight against the Leafs, while Jiggy will man the net on the other side of the rink.
"I'm going to be really excited to play against them," Giguere said in this well-done story in the OC Register. "Obviously, I know so many guys on that team. It's going to be fun to suit up and compete against those guys that I used to play with. It's going to be some kind of day for sure."
Giguere told OCR's Eric Stephens that he thought Hiller was one of the top 5 goalies in the league and that he understood why the Ducks made the move they did when they traded him last year. "This is not how I was hoping my future in Anaheim were to go," Giguere said. "But I didn't really take it personally. At the end of the day, I think they picked Jonas over me. And I probably would have done the same thing."
Giguere missed a month while recovering from a groin injury, and was back in net last Saturday for a shootout loss to Calgary in which he had 32 saves. Ironically enough, the Ducks have been in Toronto more than the Leafs in the past couple of days, as Toronto played in New York last night, getting routed 7-0. Giguere actually made an unscheduled appearance in the game, being put in net after No. 1 Jonas Gustavson gave up three goals in the first period. (Gustavson was eventually re-inserted into the game.)
That loss doesn't make Toronto a bad team, it makes them a dangerous one, according to Carlyle. ”From their perspective, they’re going to look at it as you can’t change what happened last night but you’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again tonight,:" he said. “And obviously we’re going to see their best. Because they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their home fans. They had a bad game and they’re going to flush that and come after us.”
Tonight's game is of course not just a reunion between the Ducks and Giguere, as Toronto also has former Ducks Francois Beauchemin and Mike Brown (missing tonight's game while serving a three-game suspension for a hit on Ed Jovanovski). Of course, there's also goalie coach Francois Allaire and GM Brian Burke. Meanwhile, Jason Blake is facing his old mates for the first time since coming to Anaheim in the Giguere trade.
All those guys aside, you've got to feel like tonight's game will come down to the two guys with the masks, and it's another opportunity for Hiller to show how good he is to people who may not have noticed yet.
“You don’t see him play,” said Carlyle to a group of Canadian media yesterday. ”And that’s the drawbacks of being in the West. We play later at night as far as the Eastern time zone [is concerned]. People don’t see him as much. We know how valuable he is. I’ll guarantee you that."
Updated January 19 at 10:42 a.m.
Say what you want about the shootout -- it can be a pretty cool way to decide a hockey game.
Few other moments in sports combine the feeling of almost unbearable anxiety and the potential for unbridled elation so closely together, adding a whole other level of excitement to a regular season, middle-of-January NHL game.
And that's exactly what we had last night with the Ducks in Ottawa. Each of the three times a Senators player approached Jonas Hiller in the shootout was five seconds of nervous tension (come on, Hillsy...come on, Hillsy). And each time he made a stop or got some help from the post became a moment of pure bliss. On the other side of the ice, each time a Ducks sniper skated in on Sens goalie Brian Elliott was the potential for euphoria (come on, Corey; come on, Bobby) and that's exactly what we all felt when Ryan slipped a quick wrist shot under Elliott's glove.
A minute later, we felt that joy again when Hiller (come on, Hillsy; COME ON, HILLSY) made the game-clinching stop on Erik Karlsson to seal (or is it steal?) a 2-1 victory. (On a personal note, my dad and I, who were already standing on that final attempt, actually hugged when Hiller made that stop.)
It was more than appropriate that Hiller made the last save of the game, because it was his work in net (39 saves) that allowed the Ducks to even have a chance at those two points. "I don't know if he earned a star tonight but he certainly won a game," Ryan said. "We got outplayed in a lot of aspects of that game and he did his job. It was incredible."
"I know you guys don't see it much on the East Coast but we're quite used to those kinds of performances," Ryan told the gaggle of media. "That's why he's an All-Star and that's why he's our No. 1 goalie. It's a pretty special player there."
Of course, Elliott (26 saves) also played a very good game for Ottawa, allowing only Corey Perry's incredible first period goal (more on that later). He also got a little bit of luck late in the game, as Teemu Selanne looked like he might have won it for Anaheim with just under a minute left in regulation when his slap shot on the move clanged off the far post.
"I don't think it was that good a game from us," said Selanne. "We looked pretty sluggish there and I think they had more scoring chances than we did, but obviously Jonas was great in the net. He made some big saves and gave us a chance to win so we'll take these two points but I can't say we're very happy with how we played." (That quote came 48 hours after his Edmonton postgame comment of, "We take the two points, but we are not very happy how we got them.")
Indeed, the Ducks didn't generate nearly the number of scoring chances the Sens did, but the tireless Perry made one of them count with a goal that can only be described as sick. After tipping a Ryan shot off Eliott from point blank, Perry managed to pick up the rebound and roof the puck while falling on his backside. Here it is below (love the guy at the bottom of the screen in the old Selanne Winnipeg Jets jersey standing up and pumping his fist):
That goal was No. 3 on SportsCenter's top 10 plays last night and deservedly so.
Interestingly enough, it was Perry who got a bit of an assist (though one that won't count on the scoresheet) on the game-winning goal. After he was unsuccessful in his shootout attempt in the first round, he gave Ryan some advice on his attempt, something Ryan recounted to the OC Register last night.
“Corey and I talked about it very briefly becuase I don’t shoot a whole lot in shootouts,” Ryan said. “So when your number’s called, you want to make a difference."
(By the way, am I the only one who was shocked to learn that Ryan was just 1 for 12 in his career in shootouts before that one?)
“I saw Corey go in and [Elliott] kind of had a diffferent approach to it," he continued. "He put the one leg down and Pears shot right into it. So he said when he came back that you got to stay away from that side. If you’re going to make a move, you got to get it up. I thought maybe he was going to put that pad down on the blocker side again. He went into the butterfly. Traditionally, that low glove has been my shot. I just decided to stick with it instead of trying to make a move tonight. It finally paid off.”
Paid off indeed, straight into the Ducks' eighth win in the last 10 (that feels good to write) and a beautiful way to start a critical road trip that continues tomorrow night in Toronto. In that game, the Ducks will be facing a goalie who provided them plenty of past glory. But they're bringing a guy who's creating plenty of it right now.
“When you’ve got a goalie back there that’s playing like he is right now, confidence is definitely higher on the bench,” Perry said last night. ”Guys expect to win every night. That’s a great attitude to have.”
Updated January 17 at 12:16 p.m.
Randy Carlyle often says that you never criticize a win, but I had one tiny little nitpick about last night's:
I THINK I JUST LOST A YEAR OFF MY LIFE.
What was at one point a 3-0 comfort cruise over the Edmonton Oilers at Honda Center became a 3-2 hang-on for dear life, a win that was only clinched when the Ducks survived a 6-on-3 power play that for several seconds was a 6-on-2. Let me say that again -- A SIX ON TWO.
Here's how that happened. After Edmonton turned the tables on the Ducks with two goals in 26 seconds in the middle frame, they had a golden opportunity to tie it late in the game when Toni Lydman (high sticking) and Andreas Lilja (boarding) took consecutive penalties to give Edmonton a two-man advantage. That quickly became a three-man advantage when the Oilers came out of a timeout with goalie Nikolai Khabibulin on the bench, and then it turned into a four-man advantage when Saku Koivu lost his stick and had to sprint to the bench for another one.
Somehow the Ducks, with the help of Curtis McElhinney in net, managed to survive, getting a reinforcement back when Lydman was let loose from the box. And it was Lydman who ultimately sealed the game (and calmed a few thousand hearts) when he backhanded a loose puck out of danger and toward center ice as the clock mercifully ticked down to triple-zero.
As much of a relief as it was for the Ducks, it had to be equally (if not more) frustrating for the Oilers, who are now 0 for their last 38 on the power play and haven't gotten a PP goal since December 23. And his poise in net over those hectic final moments capped off an adventurous night for McElhinney (26 saves), who got the start after Jonas Hiller played 38 minutes of the previous night's 6-2 frustration in Phoenix.
After seeing just four shots in the first period -- in which the Ducks took a 2-0 lead -- McElhinney had a second period that was unfortunately a lot more interesting. Things were going swimmingly until McElhinney fell forward while making a nice point blank stop on Jean-Francois Jacques, and he went chin-first into the back of Max Lapierre's skate blade (lots of French involved in that sequence). McElhinney left the ice and was received stitches on a cut to his neck, but was back after just a few game minutes.
He was in there just in time for the Oilers to score twice on him in 26 seconds -- one on a rebound and one on a one-timer he didn't have much chance to stop -- and make it a one-goal game. But that ended up being the only blemishes on McElhinney's night -- that is, if you don't count the stitched-up cut on his neck. And during those final moments, McElhinney, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, kept his head when all about him (meaning the fans) were losing theirs. (Yeah, that's right, Rudyard Kipling.)
That, and two big goals from Teemu Selanne (619th and 620th in his career ) and Luca Sbisa (2nd in his career) led to a mammoth win at Honda Center. Mammoth because the Ducks left this morning for a four-game road trip that takes them through Eastern Canada and ... Columbus, which won't see them play a home game until after the All-Star break.
When it was all over last night, Selanne told media he was pleased with the win but lamented the fact that it came down to those furious final moments of all-out survival.
"We take the two points," he said, "but we are not very happy how we got them."
Updated January 13 at 10:58 a.m.
Odds are, somewhere among the thousands of fans at Honda Center last night, there had to be someone watching their first Ducks game in person. And if they weren't that big of a hockey fan before, they certainly are now.
Last night's game with the Blues had pretty much everything you could want in a hockey game -- well, aside from a close finish. There were lots of goals (11 combined, including 7 from the home team), a hat trick by one of the home team's most popular players (Bobby Ryan) and lots of fighting (four fights in the third period alone, including a couple of all-out brawls).
Those in attendance certainly got their money's worth, and most importantly, the home team won -- for the sixth time in the last seven games.
Remember Ryan's scoring slump in December? Yeah, that was so last year. Ryan's hat trick last night gave him six goals in the last three games, taking him past the 20-goal plateau for the third straight year. I imagine more than a few fans watching last night started thinking "hat trick" the minute Ryan got his second goal of the game in the first period. His first came on a Ducks power play that went 3 of 4 last night, as he took a cross-ice pass from Joffrey Lupul and slung it inside the far post, slamming the glass with both fists in celebration.
After Jason Blake scored on a nice bounce off a defenseman's skate to make it 2-0, Ryan got his second goal, though most of the credit for it had to go to Corey Perry. The workhorse fell down while fighting for the puck behind the net with Eric Brewer, then from his back managed to tap the puck in front, where Ryan hammered it home. Afterward, Ryan gave all the love to Perry for that goal, saying, "I was in the right spot at the right time."
But the Ducks let their foot off the gas in the second, giving up two David Backes goals that brought the Blues to within one. (The first broke a scoreless streak of 178 minutes, 34 seconds for Jonas Hiller, a stretch in which the Ducks scored 10 unanswered goals.) But Ryan gave the Ducks some huge insurance just 30 seconds into the third, tipping in an Andreas Lilja shot with his back to the net. Perry was the first to get to Ryan after that, slamming him against the glass with a bear hug as ballcaps came raining down onto the ice.
And the Ducks weren't done there. Perry scored on a wraparound when goalie Ty Conklin got caught behind the net, Lubomir Visnovsky showed off his rifle by ripping a shot off Conklin's glove and Brandon McMillan punched in a pretty Andy Sutton feed on the power play to make it 7-2.
All that was left were a couple of meaningless Blues goals and a lot of fighting. Shades of their Oct. 11 match when the Ducks got beaten 5-1 in St. Louis, the teams combined for 15 penalties last night in that third period alone after the Ducks went comfortably in front. The first bout involved George Parros and Blues d-man Barret Jackman, a tussle Parros justified by telling the OC Register, “I just finished a check there and he slashed me. I went over to him and made sure I wasn’t going to take a slash for nothing.”
good ones from last night here.)
Indeed, those fights could have been blamed on frustration brewing between two teams going in opposite directions, not only in that game but in this calendar year. The Blues dropped their fifth straight game last night (they're 0-4-1 in 2011), while the Ducks polished off a 5-1-0 homestand.
Sutton, a guy who's been admitedly frustrated with the way he's played since coming back from his thumb injury, had that pretty assist to McMillan during some rare power play time. And he possibly saved a goal early in the second when he stripped the puck from behind on Matt D'Agostini, who was alone in front of Jonas Hiller. Sutton, speaking to the OC Register, put Anaheim's recent strong play in perspective.
"We're starting to get a quiet confidence about what we're doing," he said. "Going into the third period, earlier in the season, there was some panic. There was no sense of panic [tonight].
"We just knew we were going to win the game."
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In case you haven't seen it yet, we've set up a live stream of the conversion of Honda Center for tonight's Center Ice Country Fair (also known as Casino Night). Take a look at it here.
Updated January 12 at 12:15 p.m.
With professional athletes -- and especially hockey players -- so often speaking in cliches, it's refreshing when one of them shows genuine candor or emotion. So when Jonas Hiller talked yesterday about being named an All-Star for the first time, you could see the jubilation in not only his face, but in the gathering of reporters and Ducks staffers around him.
Hiller, with a toothy grin under that mop of sweaty hair, told the throng, "The last couple days I've been talking about it and felt like it would be really cool and a great honor. There are lots of good goalies out there. I wouldn't want to be the one who has to pick."
Asked if he lost any sleep the night before the Tuesday morning announcement, Hiller said he got "good sleep," but that's probably because he found out Monday night. Then he admitted, "But I was actually dreaming about this thing."
He added, “There are not too many players or too many goalies who can go. If you’ve been there 10 times, you’d probably say, ‘I’ve seen it. I’d rather do something else.’ But for me, it’s a first. It’s a great thing and I’m really excited.”
You can check out Hiller's comments on this video. (I keep meaning to ask someone what the dollar bill taped to the wall in his locker means.)
Corey Perry got named to the All-Star Game for the second time and Cam Fowler is among the 12 rookies who will take part in the Superskills, but you probably already knew that.
As we've mentioned before, while Hiller has been strong all season for the Ducks, he got blazing hot at just the right time when it comes to All-Star nods. He's riding a two-game shutout streak and hasn't been scored on in the last 154 minutes, 50 seconds.
That streak will be on the line again tonight in a matchup with the Blues that pits two teams going in opposite directions right now. The Ducks have won five of their last six (all of them with Hiller in net) while the Blues have dropped their last four in a row. They've been plagued by injuries too, as former Duck center Andy McDonald (concussion) and wingers T.J. Oshie (ankle) and David Perron (concussion) are all on injured reserve.
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Speaking of candid quotes, I liked this one from Cam Fowler in this story on the OC Register site, in which the 19-year-old was asked about how he has avoided fatigue this season with the rigors of the NHL schedule.
"For me, it’s just living the dream here playing in the NHL," Fowler said. "Every day I wake up, I’m excited to come to the rink. That kind of helps me gets through some tough days.”
Updated January 10 at 10:46 a.m.
There are satisfying wins and there are "MAN that one felt good" wins, and the Ducks had them both over the weekend.
Friday night's 6-0 trouncing of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Honda Center was a crowd-pleasing way to come out of a middling defeat to Nashville two nights prior. Not only that, but it was a slump-busting night in a number of ways for the Ducks. Teemu Selanne (0 goals in his previous eight games) and Bobby Ryan (one goal in his previous 10) both scored twice and the Ducks power play (1 for its previous 14) cashed in three times.
Yes, it was a gratifying win, but there is nothing quite like beating the Sharks, which the Ducks did last night 1-0. The common denominator in those two big wins -- aside from the fact Ryan scored in both of them -- was one Jonas Hiller. His shutout of the Jackets on Friday night was probably the quietest of his career, as the Ducks really didn't need his artistry. But last night, they needed every one of his 37 stops, as Ryan's second period goal was the extent of the scoring for either side.
Much of Hiller's brilliance came in the first two periods, when both teams were trying to find the game's first goal. In the first, he made a couple of huge stops on Sharks rookie Logan Couture, a guy who hasn't had much trouble scoring this season. (In fact, you can watch them both in a row here.)
Ryan gave Hiller all the lead he would never lead with 5 1/2 minutes left in the second, with this thread-the-needle goal through a Joffrey Lupul screen, that Ryan celebrated with a big shout before being mobbed.
Credit also goes to the Ducks defense after the Ducks took that lead, as they gave up a respectable 10 shots in the third period while trying to keep it, including none in the final minute with the San Jose net empty. They also blocked 21 shots on the evening. And here's a little thing from last night that's not so little: Saku Koivu, who in the absence of Ryan Getzlaf was matched up a lot with Joe Thornton, won 15 of 21 faceoffs on the night, 10 of 13 against Thornton.
But really, last night was all about the guy who wears the 1 on his back. “We didn’t score as many goals as the last one so I absolutely didn’t want to get scored on,” said Hiller, making it sound simple enough. “It worked out well again. I think everybody feels good out there and so do I.”
He's feeling good at just the right time if he's interested in making the All-Star Game, as tomorrow the NHL's operations department will select the 36 players who will play in the game. And if there is a better goalie in this league over the past few weeks than Hiller, I'd like to see him. Last night's shutout of a good Sharks team was his third in the last four starts (and, by the way, was just the fourth instance of back-to-back shutouts in team history and first since 2002). Meanwhile, Hiller leads the league in appearances (39) and saves (1156), while ranking tied for second in wins (21), third in save percentage (.929) and fourth in shutouts (4). Here's why Brian Hayward thinks Hiller should make the team. Six goalies are chosen among the 36 players for the game.
He was asked immediately after being named the game's No. 1 star by Kent French about his feelings of being named an All-Star. "It would be a big honor and something I've always dreamed of," he said, almost drowned out by the roar of the remaining crowd. "I just try to get it done on the ice and hope someone sees it."
One can only hope (and hopefully it helped that Commissioner Gary Bettman was at the game last night). But lucky for us, we've been seeing it, and it's a big reason the Ducks have won four of their last five. Late last night, Bobby Ryan's tweet -- in which he gave jokingly mild praise to Hiller -- said it all:
"Hope everyone enjoyed the game," he wrote. "Great night to be a Duck!"
- - -As if the weekend wasn't packed full of Duckness enough, there was the inaugural Skills Showdown on Saturday, held in front of about 6,000 at Honda Center. The highlight of the afternoon, in addition to Cam Fowler's victory in the fastest skater, was George Parros improbably winning the Shooting Accuracy challenge with a perfect 4-for-4 performance, much to the delight of the crowd and his Team White mates.
Afterward, I saw Parros in the hallway and said, "Did you really go 4 for 4?" and he said, "I sure did, Brady" while poking me in the chest.
Here's the video:
Updated January 7 at 1:38 p.m.
Sentiment can change so quickly in this game, which is why tonight's date with Columbus looms so large for the Ducks.
A few days ago, Ducks fans were riding high after the team beat both of last year's Stanley Cup finalists on their way to a modest three-game winning streak. Then Wednesday night they fall to Nashville at home while getting very little going offensively, and we are frustrated. Now the Ducks turn around and face Columbus tonight at Honda Center, yet another critical game for Anaheim. Critical because the Ducks continue to tread water in the tightly packed Western Conference scrum, and because a win tonight helps take the sting out of that Nashville loss.
The Blue Jackets' position in the standings is yet another illustration of how competitive the West is. At first glance, you see the Jackets in 13th, but peer a little closer and you realize they're just three points short of playoff position. And how about the Ducks, sitting in ninth right now but just a point short of San Jose ... in fifth.
The Jackets have been hot and cold this season -- starting off by winning 14 of 20, then going 6-11-3 afterward -- and are dealing with a tiny bit of turmoil lately. Veteran defenseman Mike Commodore, after getting scratched in seven of the last eight games, asked for a trade. The Jackets responded by placing him on waivers (though he and his $3.5 million per year contract have yet to be claimed so far). Click here for more on that story.
Meanwhile, the Jackets have two defenseman -- Anton Stralman and Marc Methot -- with such bad flu symptoms that they've been quarantined from the rest of the team. To make matters worse, their two trainers also have the flu.
Columbus is just 1-7-2 on the road this year, but that one win came at Honda Center on November 19, the fourth straight win for them in this building.
Jason Blake, still batting that shoulder injury, skated this morning with the rest of the Ducks and Randy Carlyle said he'll make a decision on him during warmups tonight. "He looks much better and his chances are improving as far as playing tonight," Carlyle said this morning.
The Ducks could use him on a night that illustrates more than ever that a "big game" doesn't always come against division rivals or Stanley Cup champs.
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Pierre Lebrun has a great piece today on ESPN.com entitled, "It's time to give Jonas Hiller his due." The first line:
He has faced the most shots in the NHL this season and carries the fourth-best save percentage in the league, but how many people outside Southern California have noticed Jonas Hiller is having an All-Star season with the Anaheim Ducks?
By the way, Hiller has gone 8-4-1 with a gaudy 1.81 goals-against average and .946 save percentage over his last 14 starts.
More from Lebrun: There's only room for five more goalies at the All-Star Game on Jan. 30 after (Pittsburgh) fans made Marc-Andre Fleury a starter. The competition for Hiller and Quick is stiff -- Tim Thomas, Ondrej Pavelec, Carey Price, Cam Ward, Tomas Vokoun, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist ... well, you get the picture.
It says here, however, that Hiller deserves a trip to Raleigh.
Updated January 6 at 12:49 p.m.
There are times when the score that scrolls across the SportsCenter ticker doesn't exactly tell the whole story. Last night, NASHVILLE 4 ANAHEIM 1, was one of those times.
(Another example coincidentally came last night at the World Juniors with RUSSIA 5 CANADA 3, in which Ducks goalie prospect Igor Bobkov was named player of the game. For an explanation of that, click here, but we'll stick with Ducks-Nashville for now.)
A quick glance at that score would indicate a Predators blowout in the Ducks' home rink, but those who watched the game know it was much tighter than that. The Predators built their case on two less-than-stellar goals in the first two periods, then two empty netters in the final minute (the last one being of the "you've got to be kidding me" variety).
Meanwhile, the Ducks just couldn't seem to get much going on the offensive end, despite a whopping 40 shots on the night. All but one of those were shooed away by Pekka Rinne. The Nashville goalie, whose name sounds like something that goes great with a sprinkle of parmesan, has been tough on the Ducks over the years, sporting a 1.96 goals-against average in nine games. He was at it again last night, denying the Ducks until Saku Koivu finally broke through 11:46 into the third period on a shot off a Dan Sexton feed. The goal was the reward of hard work along the wall by Koivu and Teemu Selanne, and it cut Nashville's lead to just a goal.
Nashville gained that lead on two (I'll say it) ugly goals, the first coming five minutes into the game when Jerred Smithson tried to jam the puck under Jonas Hiller. On the ice, the call was no goal, as officials determined it was frozen under Hiller. But a lengthy replay review overturned that, as the puck only became visible over the stripe after Andreas Lilja dug it out with his stick blade. That replay also seemed to indicate that it wasn't the puck that was pushed into the goal, but Hiller's leg pad that covered it.
"I have no idea how it got in or anything," Hiller told the L.A. Times. "I don't know how they saw that, but it's part of the game."
It was kind of a rough way to give upo a goal, as was the second Nashville tally four minutes into the second period. A Sergei Kostitsyn pass into the crease seemingly hit off Luca Sbisa's skate and dove into the open net. Later, the goal was credited to Patric Hornqvist, as the puck apparently hit off his skate.
Either way, it put the Ducks into a hole they didn't climb out of (thanks in great part to Rinne and a few posts) until Koivu scored in the third. And all Ducks efforts to duplicate that goal were thwarted, notably in the final minute with Hiller on the bench for an extra attacker. Kostitsyn all but put the game on ice by skating in for an empty-netter to make it 3-1. Then Shea Weber poured salt in the wounds by firing the puck off the wall in his own end and watching it trickle into the still-empty net with 0.2 seconds remaining.
And there's your final: NASHVILLE 4 DUCKS 1.
Koivu said it well to reporters afterwards. "It's a bit frustrating," he said, "because we had a good thing going."
- - -
If you haven't seen it yet, the two-part "Leave it to Fowler" feature on Cam Fowler living with the The Niedermayers is fantastic. Part 1 aired a few days ago and Part 2 debuted last night. (My favorite part of Part 2, when Scotty tells Cam to get his arm off the family car and says, "Respect the van.")
Here are both parts:
Updated January 5 at 2:24 p.m.
That's 4-6 weeks from the time of the injury (December 28 at Phoenix), meaning Getzlaf could conceivably be targeting a return just after the All-Star break at the end of this month.
That length of absence is good news when you consider Getzlaf could have been out for much longer, something he acknowledged when he talked to media for the first time since the injury -- this morning in the hallway outside the Ducks locker room.
“It was pretty scary for the first few days after,” Getzlaf said of the aftermath of taking a Shane Doan shot to the forehead. ”After the first CT scan, we weren’t really sure what exactly was wrong. There was a lot of different fractures and stuff going on up there."
But a follow-up made things a little more clear and more optimistic. “We went through another more invasive one two days ago and looked at yesterday with the doctor. Everything was good. It was what we wanted to hear. There’s some fractures up there that definitely need to be healed but they’re nowhere near my eyes or my brain and stuff like that. It’s definitely a positive thing from yesterday.”
You can watch Getzlaf's entire session with the media here:
“We’re very, very fortunate that the time frame they’ve put out for us is one we think we can manage,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. ”But it’s going to be a big hole to fill for an extended period of time here.”
It's a hole at center that, for the time being, will continue to be filled by Bobby Ryan on the top line. Another center spot (likely on the third line) will be taken up by new acquisition Maxim Lapierre, who finally received his work visa and is cleared to play, starting with tonight's game with Nashville. Lapierre, if you haven't read about him already, gained a reputation in Montreal for being a guy who likes to antagonize. “I like to yap,” he said. “I like to talk a lot on the ice. I think pretty much everybody knows that. It’s a big part of my game. It’s always good for the team because a lot of times the other team stakes stupid penalties. I’m always going to do that to help my teammates.”
You can see Lapierre do some chatting with media following yesterday's practice in this video.
Jason Blake, who is troubled with a shoulder injury suffered Sunday night vs. Chicago, is questionable, but Dan Sexton was recalled yesterday in case Blake can't go tonight.
Meanwhile, the Ducks face a Predators team tonight that has its own share of injury problems. Center Cal O’Reilly broke the fibula in his right leg Sunday night in a win over Columbus and is out indefinitely. He joins forwards Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Steve Sullivan (lower body), and Martin Erat (upper body) on IR for Nashville. And Jordin Tootoo hasn't been with the team since entering a rehab facility just after Christmas.
The Preds are also part of that Western Conference logjam in which seemingly every team but Edmonton is in playoff contention. A quick glance at the conference standings makes Nashville appear far behind the Ducks, as they sit in 10th and Anaheim is sixth. Look a little closer and you see that the Ducks are just two points in front of the Preds and have played four more games.
So it goes without saying, it's another big one for the Ducks tonight. And it looks like the next 39 after that will be just as big.
Updated January 3 at 11:56 a.m.
If there is a freeze frame image to take away from last night's 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks last night at Honda Center, it's this one:
Jonas Hiller on his back with the puck firmly in a catching glove that's hovering over the goal stripe, Chicago's Jack Skille looking to the rafters, undoubtedly uttering one or a series of expletives.
The save (watch it here if you haven't seen it, or even if you have) came with a little less than 12 minutes into the game, as Skille tried to sneak a rebound inside the left post and the athletic Hiller lunged back to somehow snag it with the trapper. Officials went to replay review to see if Hiller's glove (and consequently the puck) went over the stripe, but the call on the ice was no goal, and it was upheld.
Skille's noticeable frustration and disbelief ultimately became a theme of the night -- and the third period -- for the Blackhawks, who managed a 19-2 shot advantage over the final 20 while trying to erase a one-goal Ducks lead. But they got nothing by Hiller. And that save, it could be argued, may not have even been Hiller's best of the night when you consider the one that came with a minute and a half left in the game.
That's when Chicago's Viktor Stalberg seemingly had a sure goal as he tried to punch a rebound into an open net (go to the 5:40 mark of this video). Teammate Dave Bolland changed the direction of the shot with a tip (how often to you see a tip on a shot that already came from the bottom of the circle?) and Hiller flew across the crease to knock it over the net with the glove. (In retrospect, Bolland's tip may have cost the Hawks on that one.)
"He made some highlight reel stops and really saved our butts," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. "What else can you say?"
Butts saved indeed, as the Ducks leaned on Hiller a ton in that third period, trying to make goals by Andreas Lilja (his first this year) and Corey Perry (his 10,000th this year) hold up. Toni Lydman said Hiller was, "like a wall tonight" and called him "the final frontier." (I like that.)
Ironically, the only goal Hiller gave up on the night came off his own stick with 1:52 left in the first and the Blackhawks on the power play. Hiller dove to make a stick save on Bryan Bickell from point blank, but knocked the puck into his own net with that same stick.
"I tried not to think about it too much," Hiller said, "and kept going."
Kept going right into another huge victory for the Ducks (seriously, they're all huge in this division), a third straight. And the Ducks became the only team in the NHL this year to beat the Stanley Cup runner-up (Philly) and the champions (Chicago) in consecutive games.
Oh, and they did it again without the services of Ryan Getzlaf, who missed his second game with nasal fractures. Another forward, Jason Blake, left the game in the first period with a shoulder injury suffered after taking a hit behind the Chicago net. He didn't return to the game and, though the injury doesn't appear serious, his status is not yet known since the Ducks don't practice today.
And nobody deserves that day off more than the shaggy-haired Swiss guy whose number on his back matched his rank in last night's game. Of course, Hiller was his usual self in doing more deflecting last night -- this time it was praise.
"Guys were blocking shots and blocking guys out again," he said. "We need a contribution from everybody. At the end, you win as a team and lose a team. We’re playing as a team right now and that is why we are winning."