Last night was essentially another one-goal victory for the Ducks as the Stars drew within striking distance before the Ducks held on for an empty net goal. Still, it was by far the Ducks' best performance of their six game winning streak. They carried the play, and their primary forecheckers brought a consistent effort all night. The defense held and was active in the offense.
Arthur, in a preview for Second City Hockey on the next game against the Blackhawks, you're a little glib when responding to the notion that the Ducks' five game winning streak was indicative of a team that had corrected its issues this season. After seeing a quality Ducks start, what do you think HAS been corrected?
I can't decide if it's the coaching or the players' attitudes. It feels like a chicken and the egg situation. Brian Hayward focused on the 1-3-1 forecheck last night and Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry playing key minutes beyond their work on the top line. So are the players more effective because they are being placed in situations that give them a better chance to succeed, or did they decide to commit to success before taking on their new roles?
Whatever it is, I think the improvement in performance hinges on those changes. Maybe it's a coaching thing. Maybe it's a buying into the system thing. Maybe it's a confidence thing. But when I see Ryan Getzlaf digging on the forecheck with a two-goal lead, when I see the defensemen swarming and moving the puck for a full minute with the extra attacker on a delayed penalty and when I see Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan playing responsible hockey to get the puck out of the zone with the opposing net empty, I see a marked improvement in what Carlyle calls "execution."
I'm certainly willing to believe it's coaching. Maybe the coaching staff finally found a way to get Ryan to move his feet more. Maybe the forechecking system finally clicked. But hey, maybe these guys just woke up, bought back into the system and decided to start playing consistent hockey.
The Ducks' playof late is very confusing to me. I'm not sure they've been doing anything different or corrected anything. Clearly, coaching adjustments were made, but that's hard to use as a justification when the problem seemed to be a lack of effort.
In the last 5 games, Anaheim has only given up more than 40 shots once, compared to the beginning of the season when they opened with 3 straight games surrendering 40+ shots. They followed those efforts by surrendering 39 and then 33 shots. As the shot totals decreased, and the Ducks played less time in their own zone, things got better. Lydman has been a big part of settling down the defensive play. His addition to the lineup gave Carlyle a clear top pair to roll over the boards.
The Ducks were still logging a loss for every win, but they weren't playing in a rut. The top line has improved, perhaps as Hayward said owing in part to the added minutes for Perry and Ryan. Koivu has gotten hot, and the timely scoring has helped the Ducks generate a good string of games. Overall, though, I think the Ducks just started to get some bounces go their way and are finally becoming a cohesive unit.
That is the Ducks team I expected to see when the season started, a team making safe and easy decisions in their own zone and letting the top players take over the offense. They are definitely playing better, but I think that's a result of the entire team settling into their roles. I've always believed that teams play their best when every player knows his job. I think the Ducks are embracing their roles and operating in the system. I don't think they've made any corrections; they're just evolving over the course of the season.