Final Score: Ducks 2, Wild 1
First Period Recap: Games between the Anaheim Ducks and the Minnesota Wild are always close, and this one right from the bat appeared as though it wasn't going to be any different. Both teams were denying quality scoring chances through some tough pressure and solid defense.
Even though Minnesota managed to register the first four shots on goal of the game, they weren't getting any quality chances.
Those all went to Anaheim.
The Ducks out-chanced the Wild 7-1 in the period and the Wild didn't even register that one until late in the period.
Were it not for the play of Josh Harding, the Wild would have been run out of the building before the first 20 minutes were even in the books.
Kyle Palmieri got the Ducks first huge chance when he got ahold of a turnover and put a quick wrister on goal that Harding awkwardly fell on to make the save.
The best chance of the period came when Sami Vatanen found Matt Beleskey in space streaking over the offensive blueline and hit him with a pass. Virtually all alone, Beleskey made a quick move to the backhand which Harding slid over to deny with a spectacular save to keep the score even.
The period came to an end scoreless, but Anaheim outshot the Wild 11-10 and earned the far greater chances through the first period.
Second Period Recap: The second period didn't change much for Minnesota as Anaheim once again came out dominating the possession and scoring chances.
After Minny registered the first two shots of the period, Anaheim earned the next 10.
One of which went in.
With Mark Fistric out of the lineup with an injury, young Alex Grant drew back into the lineup. You may remember Grant scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in a huge game up in San Jose. It's not unheard-of for a young rookie to get a stroke of luck and score on his first shot in the big leagues. But how many do it on their second one too?
Alex Grant has done that.
Grant took a long pass from Cogliano off the boards and skated it all the way in to the Minnesota zone before letting a low, hard wrist shot go from the right circle that zipped under Harding's blocker short-side. As great as Harding had played to this point, there's no question he wants that one back.
Grant to this point has two career shots on goal, and a shooting percentage of 100%. How about that, eh? Not bad for a kid who wasn't supposed to see any time with the big club this season. [Stick those "unsustainable" numbers in your pipe and smoke them, you fancy stats gurus.]
On a Ducks power play, both Dustin Penner and Corey Perry came inches from making it 2-0. A nifty back-pass from Perry found Penner open on top of the goal crease, who ripped the shot off the crossbar and the left post. Perry got the rebound and fluttered the shot, giving Harding barely enough time to reach his glove up from the seat of his pants and snare the puck.
This clearly pissed Perry off, and it didn't help when one shift later he collided with Hampus Lindholm in the offensive zone, turning the puck over and rattling the Ducks goal scorer pretty well.
Teemu Selanne came about as close to breaking his scoring slump as you could possibly come just minutes later.
Selanne found himself open with a little bit of space in the left circle and ripped a shot over the top of the net. Seconds later Dustin Penner put a beautiful pass through to the Finnish Flash, who put it on goal but somehow Harding managed to get his glove over and take it away.
Teemu couldn't be more snakebit right now if he were literally covered in angry snakes.
Later in the period, Ryan Getzlaf recovered a puck in the Minnesota zone and worked a pass back to Hampus Lindholm at the point. Lindholm's shot missed by about two feet over the top of the net, but bounced right back out in front where Corey Perry jammed it behind Josh Harding for Anaheim's second goal of the period.
With the Ducks flying, the Minnesota Wild were counting their blessings as they headed to the locker room trailing 2-0, having been outshot 14-7 in the second.
Third Period Recap: They say a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. Don't ask me who they are because I don't know, but they're definitely correct. After dominating the first two periods of play and limiting the Wild to only X scoring chances, the Ducks tried to put up the wall and hold out till the game ended.
The Ducks never really pressed the issue for most of the third period, seeming content to simply make the smart defensive play and get the puck out of their end. It worked... kind of.
However it didn't take long for that strategy to begin to look like a mistake.
Three minutes in to the period Ben Lovejoy was sent to the penalty box for boarding. While he didn't make a lot of contact the call was a pretty obvious one.
Time and time again it seems like any sort of a struggling special teams unit can come in to Anaheim and the Ducks will give them success. The Wild's top-10 power play unit coming into this game had scored only twice in its last 20 chances and was the cause of some concern for the Wild.
Well it took them all of 47 seconds to work the puck to the front of the net where Jason Pommonville whipped it to his backhand and shoveled it past a sprawling Jonas Hiller for his 15th goal of the season. Suddenly that comfortable and in many ways unlucky 2-0 lead was a very uncomfortable 2-1.
And Wild kept coming. Their mobile defense soon began to take command of the game, and clogged up everything through the neutral zone, rarely letting the Ducks through with any speed whatsoever. Jared Spurgeon specifically played a fantastic third period. Despite his small stature, his speed and hockey sense had him constantly making the right play, even when he was drastically overmatched on the size front by the Ducks big line.
Dustin Penner earned a few chances with his combination of size and somewhat deceptive speed that won him a few chances, but Josh Harding stood up tall to both of them.
Just past the halfway mark of the period the Wild had their best chance to tie the game when Charlie Coyle got a puck away from the pressuring Ducks forwards. Normally smooth-skating Sami Vatanen was anything but as he ate it in the neutral zone and suddenly Coyle was in on a breakaway. He got the move off he wanted to but a big push from the right leg of Jonas Hiller and he was able to get his left pad across to take away the bottom of the net and make the save.
The Wild would continue their torrid attacking pace for most of the rest of the period though the energy from that massive Jonas Hiller save re-energized the Anaheim team and began to level it off somewhat.
Even though the Wild dominated the third period, they only managed to get seven shots on Jonas Hiller, one more than Anaheim to finish the game outshot 24-31.
The Ducks win their fourth in a row and remain without a regulation loss at Honda Center with a 2-1 victory tonight.
The Good: The Ducks seemed to place a pretty heavy emphasis on their defensive strategy tonight and it worked pretty well. Eight members of the team had a positive Corsi rating, and the team itself was above 50%, meaning they won the possession battle. This isn't a small feat when you consider their opponent iced guys named Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, and Jason Pommonville.
The Bad: Once again the Ducks did not play a 60-minute hockey game. Against the Islanders they only played about 22 minutes, and tonight they only appeared to play about 40. It's an improvement but I would like to see this team get back to playing full 60-minute efforts and really going for their opponent's throat when they've got them down.
The Ugly: The Ducks need to learn that their best defense is not necessarily sitting back and protecting Jonas Hiller. They play their best defense when they're sniffing around the net looking to score. Our top line specifically has the ability to dominate games due to their size and strength on the ice, and they would avoid tentative situations like most of that third period if they would just keep pushing.
So Ducks fans are loud. Like, REALLY loud. And the arena is only half full.— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 12, 2013
Next Game: Sunday, December 15th at 5:00pm vs. the Edmonton Oilers (aka- "Boo Justin Schultz Night")