First Period Summary: Expecting to ride the pine pony tonight, Brian Elliott got a bit of a surprise when he was told he was starting between the pipes after Jaroslav Halak began to pack his bags for Buffalo. Those last minute announcements don't give a goalie a ton of time to get mentally prepared, so it probably wasn't an ideal situation for him when he found himself under fire early in the game. The Ducks came charging out of the gate and immediately began putting pressure on the Blues' starting six, and it didn't take long for it to pay off. Andrew Cogliano was found sneaking behind the St. Louis defense by Saku Koivu, and on the breakaway, elected to go with a simple forehand-backhand move and tucked the puck under Elliott's pads for his 18th goal of the season. Ducks 1, Blues 0
The Ducks found themselves on another breakaway a couple minutes later when Corey Perry came in on Elliott, but shot wide of his glove. St. Louis was by no means backing down, and was collecting a fair amount of time in the Anaheim zone, but the momentum was clearly in the Ducks' favor.
After Perry's breakaway chance, St. Louis began to wake up and started possessing the puck a lot longer, as is customary to Blues hockey. Even though they were the team eating up more clock, they were struggling to find many solid scoring chances, settling for a lot of outside shots while the Anaheim defense cleaned up any rebounds that found their way to the top of Hiller's crease. Just over halfway through the period, a big scrum broke out behind Hiller's net, leading to some 4-on-4 hockey. The extra ice provided more of the same kind of hockey that the game was featuring between Cogliano's goal and this point; a lot of alternating possessions that weren't leading up to much of anything.
With five minutes remaining in the first, a kick save by Elliott led to a Blues breakout that culminated in their best scoring chance of the game to this point. Alexander Steen came flying into the zone, made his way into the slot, and put a hard wrist shot low on Hiller's glove, but the Olympic goaltender was equal to the task.
After that 'conference' behind Hiller, the game began to develop more of a physical presence, which was reinforced by Ryan Reaves getting called for roughing on Daniel Winnik. The Ducks power play ended up looking like what we've gotten accustomed to seeing lately: unorganized and subsequently ineffective. The best chance of the man advantage came from T.J. Oshie, who took a shorthanded chance from the top of the faceoff circle that he shot just over the net. The end of the period turned a 180, as St. Louis began taking more of the momentum that the Ducks began with. The Blues were less than an inch from getting on the board courtesy of Jaden Schwartz, who took a shot from the high slot that rang the pipe.
At the end of one, the Ducks held on to a 1-0 lead with the Blues possessing the shot advantage at 6-4.
Second Period Summary: The second period picked up where the first left off. St. Louis held on to the puck in Anaheim's zone for a little bit, Anaheim tried to clear the puck past center ice, St. Louis took the puck back. Lather, rinse, repeat. Like the Blues at the beginning of the game, the shots that the Ducks were taking were limited to the blue line vicinity. The sequence was broken when an Anaheim two-on-one materialized from what seemed like thin air. Teemu Selanne and Mathieu Perreault came bearing down on Elliott, and the veteran sent the anticipated pass over to Perreault that he fanned on. Easy come, easy go.
The Blues were getting a lot more shots off than the Ducks despite the relatively even count, but their aim was pretty shoddy. At about the seven minute mark of the period, the Blues had missed the net on 13 of their shots, especially Kevin Shattenkirk, who was almost exclusively aiming for Hiller's high glove. Matt Beleskey gave the Ducks PK unit their first taste of action on the night, and they had the task of dealing with a power play unit who played absolutely nothing like Anaheim's tonight. The amount of times that St. Louis allowed the Ducks penalty kill to clear the zone was comparable to the number of shots that they allowed Anaheim's power play to take. Needless to say at this point, but the Blues' special units were nothing short of dominant up till now, yet the scoreboard still didn't show any proof of it.
After Beleskey's penalty expired, the Ducks began to regain some of that steam that they began the night with, slowly but surely beginning to take more quality scoring chances. Ryan Getzlaf and Francois Beauchemin both had a decent chance to light the lamp as they were crashing the net, but neither could make contact with the puck on the rebound. With two minutes and some change remaining in the period, Alex Pietrangelo suffered a skate malfunction, giving the Ducks a man advantage of sorts that brought with it a lot of pressure from the men in black. The desired outcome of a two goal lead remained too elusive, however, and Elliott eventually stopped the game so his teammates could change out their corps.
Never a team to back down, St. Louis retaliated with another charge, but puck luck was not on their side. Shattenkirk found himself in the slot, wheeled around, and beat Hiller, who was already down in the butterfly. He didn't beat the post, though, or either of them for that matter, as he managed to hit both before his shot rebounded back out into play. The end of the second period saw the Blues' goalless streak reach 124:36, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort.
The Ducks returned to the locker room still holding on to a 1-0 lead, and managed to turn the shot count in their favor, 15-14.
Third Period Recap: The Blues broadcast that I was watching decided that the beginning of the final period would be a good time to mention that their team was 4-9-2 when trailing after 40 minutes. The Ducks, on the other hand, when they have the lead after two, were a very impressive 31-1-2. Vladimir Tarasenko continued to establish himself as one of the biggest white jersey-clad threats of the night with his deceptive release, but his trouble with finding the net continued. Mark Fistric gave the St. Louis power play another crack, but the next two minutes surprisingly resulted in a special teams role reversal. The Ducks penalty kill neutralized the league's sixth best power play with ease, allowing the game to take on the image it did in the first few minutes with the home team keeping Elliott on his toes.
The game's edginess began to show itself again when Fistric returned to the sin bin for cross checking. By a stroke of good luck, the refs decided to even the playing field by giving the victim, Maxim Lapierre, two for embellishment. Both teams played the ensuing 4-on-4 about evenly, and after the penalties were released, pleasantries were exchanged once again by the two teams, much to the approval of the Honda Center contingent.
When the clock dipped below five minutes, the Ducks began to play more passively and prioritize the defense of their one goal lead over the pursuit of an insurance tally. A lot of people believe that parking the bus is an ill-advised idea, myself included, but the pressure that the men in black put on the Notes was suffocating; they could consistently bring the puck into the Ducks' zone, but not much else as it would immediately be cleared out again. Elliott was pinned back in his goal until about 25 seconds left in the game, but that would not be enough time to solve the Anaheim netminder as he earned shutout number five on the season.
The Ducks win their first game back 1-0 in a defensive battle. Final shot count ended up at 19-18 in favor of the home team.
Ken Hitchcock's team is returning to St. Louis...
The Good: The Ducks prevented the visitors from getting any second chances tonight, which is obviously huge in tight games such as these. Part of this had to do with the Blues missing the net on a ton of their shots, part of it had to do with all the blocked shots, and the rest was Hiller's puck control and the defense perched in front of his crease clearing out all the trash. The defense didn't mind giving up a lot of shot attempts, but they played lockdown hockey tonight and took away most of the chances that posed any threat.
The Bad: If the special teams ever want to dig their way out of the middle of the pack, this game was not a good example of how to do it. Granted, both the St. Louis power play and penalty kill are excellent, but the kind of dominance they displayed on the Ducks' units for most of the game was pretty ridiculous. It's very fortunate that they weren't able to find the back of the net during any of their three power plays, and for that, I'll refer you back to 'The Good' above.
The Ugly: Finally an opportunity to address the elephant in the room, this spot is awarded to the blockbuster trade that occurred a couple hours before puck drop involving one Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. St. Louis was the team that I was more worried to see in the playoffs than anyone else, but now with Miller and Ott joining the squad, I'm borderline TERRIFIED at the thought of facing these guys in the postseason. [Ed. Note: Also there was a spectacular amount of diving in this game from both sides. Beleskey and Perry each got away with one and David Bakes skated on three splashes ON THE SAME SHIFT! -CK]
3rd MVD: Ryan Getzlaf. Although he didn't land on the scoresheet, the Captain was consistently a presence on the ice and set up a couple pretty plays that weren't converted on.
2nd MVD: Jonas Hiller. Team Switzerland's tendy brought his A+ game back from Russia with him, stopping all 18 shots he saw and making it look easy in the process.
1st MVD: Andrew Cogliano. Cogs scored the only goal of the game, and his speed allowed him to put a lot of pressure on St. Louis players all night, and even came close to generating a shorthanded chance by himself.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Boudreau. This game marked the 300th career win for the Anaheim coach, making him the fastest coach in NHL history to reach that milestone. Attaway Brucie!
Next Game: Sunday, March 2nd at 5:00 PM PST, vs. the Carolina Hurricanes