Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
The Ducks got an early Christmas present Sunday night as Joffrey Lupul returned to the lineup after almost a calendar year away from the NHL game. The winger took the ice wearing the number 19 and looking to get right back into the thick of things with about 15 minutes of ice time.
For those of you that may be new to the site, I should clarify that Daniel and I are actually pretty big fans of Joffrey Lupul, the on-ice product. Jen's work sometimes obscures that fact, but make no mistake that we think he can make a difference while in the lineup and was sorely missed.
That opinion may have heightened our expectations for a Joffrey Lupul return just a tad, but Daniel, what did you think of Lupul in his first game back in the Ducks lineup?
I wasn't really surprised with Lupul's comeback. There were flashes of the 20+ goal scorer we got for Pronger. If he gets a little more on that puck in the 3rd, we're talking about how amazing it was that Lupul scored in his first game back. There were a few things that really stood out to me.
First, I thought his first stride was phenomenal. For a guy coming off a back injury that sidelined him for almost a full calendar year, Lupul was skating pretty well. Not only was he making really solid first strides and getting his acceleration up, but he was using that speed to pressure the puck. He was still a little tentative to take the body, but he was applying some pressure on the forecheck and being effective. I also loved that he was willing to mix it up with Wojtek Wolski at the end of the game. That was a bit of the tenacity that Lupul is going to need in order to survive the ups and downs during this long season.
What I didn't like was how Carlyle used him. I just can't see Lupul fitting in with Blake and Koivu. Koivu has demonstrated that he can play with Bobby Ryan, so putting those two together in the absence of Selanne makes the most sense. Not only that, but it would have given Lupul a chance to get back to the place where he was most effective last season, the top line.
Of course, Lupul is going to have to do a little bit of work on the third line. It will help keep his minutes down and give Carlyle a chance to audition his linemates in case he doesn't end up usurping Bobby on the top line. But I think Lupul is wasted on the second line. In a lot of ways, he's in the same situation as Bobby. Either he needs to find a way to work on the top line or anchor his own third scoring line.
I liked him in his first game back. There was definitely a little bit of rust, there were a couple of tough turnovers, the puck hopped over his stick on its way to getting converted into the empty net in the 3rd, but he looked good overall. He was throwing bows in front of the net, and he got off three shots in his handful of shifts, so there were glints of the player that I liked in limited action last season.
Hayward was really pushing the 'renewed commitment to hockey' story during the broadcast, but I honestly don't think that Lupul needs that angle to be valuable to this team. If he can shoot, be physical and just play his game for whatever time he's out there, he has a chance of fighting the culture of inconsistency on this team. Being exactly the player he was for the Ducks last year (but healthy, of course) would be HUGE.
Lupul wasn't as successful on the penalty kill last year as Corey Perry has been this year. He didn't find the second line chemistry last year that Blake did. But the guy still did everything that was asked of him. He brought the best brand of his game to the rink every night, and he was willing to play D, pass, even block shots with his face. Last night, he looked like a guy ready to get back to doing those things, and I think that's a good sign, no matter how long it takes for him to actually get back to doing those things.