Throughout the Summer (and lockout if necessary) I'll be combing through the archives of the NHL Vault on Game Center Live, watching classic games from Ducks history and blogging them. The idea is an Anaheim centric spin off of Ellen Etchingham's Great Historical Games Project on The Score's Backhand Shelf blog done in the style of John Buccigross' "live blogs" from a few years back (unfortunately I couldn't find a link to one of those, but you'll get the idea).
For our second installment of Duck Tales from the Vault, I considered skipping the Oct. 20, 1993 game in which some guy named Martin Brodeur recorded his first NHL shutout against the Mighty Ducks. Since I happen to subscribe to the old cliché that you can learn more from a loss than you do a victory, I decided that I should try to get a better picture of the inaugural Mighty Ducks of Anaheim by revisiting the only loss of that season archived in the NHL Vault. I'll jump around from year to year later; for example, Florida becoming the first team in NHL history to play seven consecutive road overtime games might be one I'll skip, but for now we'll proceed chronologically.
Once again, the only thing I know about this specific game is what the description tells me, but this time I have some idea what to expect from the Mighty Ducks, having recently watched their first win in franchise history for my first post of this series. I expect it to be a little dull, considering that when the Ducks were successful against the Oilers they looked a bit like the present day Phoenix Coyotes, they won't score any goals and it is right on the cusp of the Devils bringing the neutral zone trap into Vogue. I am excited to see a young Scott Niedermayer and more of Patrick Carnback, who I took a bit of a shine to last time.
So without further ado, let's hop in the DeLorean and gun it to 88...
START The game has already started when the recording begins. The Ducks have apparently gone offside, but I'll have to wait for a goal or penalty or something to figure out how far into the game we are. Also this is a Devils broadcast of the game, understandably considering the significance, so it may take a little extra work on my part to get a feel for all of the Anaheim players, but it won't be completely foreign as the play by play announcer is none other than Doc Emrick.
~1:00 The Mighty Ducks ice the puck for what is apparently, the third time in the game and we find out that the previous night Terry Yake scored the first hat trick in franchise history against the New York Rangers. This is also the first set of back to back games and the first road trip of the season/Ducks history and they carry a record of 2-2-2.
2:50 A holding penalty is called against Myles O'Connor of the Mighty Ducks letting us know that we're almost three minutes into the game now. So far the only thing that has struck me is the number of recognizable names on the Devils: Niedermayer, Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Ken Danyko, Claude Lemieux, John MacLean, Bobby Holik, Bernie Nicholls, Slava Fetisov etc. The Devils will go on to the Eastern Conference Final this year and win the Stanley Cup the following year so it isn't exactly surprising.
~4:20 Niedermayer plays roughly the first minute and a half of the power play and I can't help but have my eyes glued to him the whole time. The highlight of the shift came as he carried the puck into the Ducks' zone all the way to the goal line, laid the puck off to a teammate hovered behind the net for a second and nearly opened the scoring on the rebound. God, I miss that man.
5:01 Mighty Ducks kill the penalty and ice the puck again. Shots are 3-0 for New Jersey so far, as the puck is brought back into the Ducks zone for the faceoff, color man, Peter McNab notes that the Ducks made over $300,000 in merchandise alone during a home game earlier in the season.
6:33 Randy Ladouceur is called for hooking as he yanks down Randy McKay of the Devils who was on a tear, creating two Grade A scoring chances on the shift.
~7:00 Great defensive play, followed by a terrible one from the Ducks PK: Lemieux gets a point blank chance in front of Ron Tugnutt broken up nicely by the active stick of Joe Sacco. The puck sits in the crease and Alexei Kasatonov has plenty of time to skate it to safety and clear the length of the ice, but instead decides to take a chop at the puck allowing the Devils to hold the zone and get the power play set back up. Luckily for Kasatonov, the Ducks were able to clear and eventually kill the penalty.
9:59 The Ducks still have no shots on goal and this game has been completely controlled by the Devils, but it hasn't been a matter of trapping to the extent one might expect from the team that ushered in the Dead Puck Era. The Devils have clogged up the neutral zone, not allowing the Ducks to cross the blue line since the Ladouceur penalty ended, but other than that the Ducks simply haven't had the puck at all.
McNab elaborates on a point I made in my first Vault post, that the inaugural Mighty Ducks were a much tougher team than I had previously thought. He explains that the Ducks were constructed as a big team in response to the Sharks' and Senators' inaugural seasons the year before. Apparently the Ducks front office attributed the poor performance of San Jose and Ottawa in '92 and '93 respectively to the fact that they were too small to keep up with the escalating physical play as the season wore on. So in the expansion draft the Ducks loaded up on bigger players like Bob Corkum (6'2" 212 lbs)Robin Bawa (6'2" 215 lbs) Todd Ewen (6'2" 220 lbs) Troy Loney (6'3" 209) and of course Stu Grimson (6'5" 227 lbs). Aside from Grimson those don't seem like particularly huge guys by today's standard. Maybe there is something to the bigger, stronger, faster argument made in today's player safety debates.
11:20 The Ducks get their first shot on goal just after the half-way point. Tugnutt stops Nicholls on a hard drive to the net immediately afterwards and on the next shift the Ducks squander a 3 on 1 as Mark Ferner tried for one too many passes. The play ends up with a holding penalty to MacLean.
~12:00 This appears to be a big moment in the game. McNab is making a huge deal out of the fact that the Ducks have not lost when they score first so far in the season (2-0-2). His theory is that the Ducks have hung around long enough that if they can take advantage of this rare opportunity they'll be able to settle in to their defensive game and force the Devils to push the pace and make mistakes. We know they won't but it lends credence to my analogy of the '93-'94 Ducks to the present day Coyotes.
15:26 Slashing penalty to Loney. All the talk from the broadcasters is about the Ducks playing their type of game, keeping the play to the boards and frustrating the Devils. Even though New Jersey has carried the play, they haven't had many chances; most have come from the power play. The Ducks penalty trouble may be what costs them this game.
17:26 A methodical Anaheim penalty kill gives the Devils nothing; in fact the best chance during the penalty was a shorthanded 2 on 1 for the Ducks, but was easily saved by Brodeur.
19:00 Doc informs us that the Ducks have a team enforced $10 fine for any player using the word "expansion -- $25 if around the media - in an effort not to use their situation as an excuse.
19:45 Tugnutt withstands a flurry from New Jersey that started with what would have been a heinous hold by Corey Millen and ends with a high sticking penalty against Stephane Richer.
END First Period 0-0 In some respects the Ducks are lucky to be in this game, having generated almost no offense, but they've played solidly on defense. At some point this strategy is going to break down, it's just a matter of when.
START Mighty Ducks start on their second power play of the game. They get only one shot, from the point, by Bill Houlder, that gets tipped on its way to Brodeur, who loses it in his equipment but has it frozen.
2:15 The Ducks go right back on the power play on a slashing penalty by Bruce Driver but the power play ends up being a series of easy clears by the Devils.
4:14 Interesting personal note from McNab: Kasatonov was acquired by the Ducks in the expansion draft from New Jersey where he had played the previous three years alongside Slava Fetisov, his longtime defense partner on the Soviet National team. However, according to McNab, their long standing friendship had ended prior to Kasatonov joining the Devils due to differences in their political beliefs on how Russia/the Soviet Union should be governed. Because of this, they refused to speak to each other, except for in game situations for the entirety of Kasatonov's tenure in New Jersey.
4:51 Another penalty to the Ducks. This time it's a slashing call against Steven King. I have to believe that the Devils are eventually going to score on the power play. It's not that the Ducks are playing poorly, they're just living on the edge and eventually the Devils are going to break through.
5:45 Both Doc and McNab talk about the positive atmosphere that exists around the Mighty Ducks team. They've been treated first class by Disney, including parades through Disneyland and their morning skate that day "had some snap to it, and some sparkle" according to Doc. More practically McNab credits a large part of that attitude to the fact that most of these players wouldn't have been in the NHL were it not for the expansion draft ($10 fine to me)
6:33 DEVILS GOAL: Richer zips a pass right through the crease to Millen on the back door for his fifth goal of the young season. The Ducks' strategy has been flipped on them, now they've got to play out of their comfort zone to get back in this game. 1-0 Devils
~7:30 Anaheim ices the puck and Grimson takes a little run at Fetisov well after he touched up. Stu didn't make contact, but there were some pleasantries exchanged. The game is starting to heat up a little bit with the crowd getting into it and both teams getting a little more physical.
9:21 Close call! Tugnutt plays the puck behind his own net and hands it directly to Valeri Zelepukin, who hits the post of the vacated goal. At the other end of the ice Farner can't handle a pass to go one on one against Brodeur right in the slot and the play ends with a penalty against Shaun Van Allen. What a difference a goal makes.
10:26 Great PP shift by Niedermayer as he starts the play from his own zone, gets a shot at the blueline, follows it up all the way down to the goal line and reappears seconds later at the opposite faceoff dot for a one timer that Tugnutt stops. WHAT A GUY!
11:21 New Jersey is really pouring it on. The Ducks kill the penalty to Shaun Van Allen but the Devils get a beautiful chance as it expires. Stevens lays a drop pass off to Nicholls (and runs some interference) who dangles down to the crease, but Tugnutt is there.
14:00 Holding the stick penalty to Driver, negated by holding penalty to Troy Loney, the teams skate 4 on 4. Nicholls is hurting from blocking a shot on the truncated Anaheim power play.
~16:42 I cannot believe how much Doc and McNab are talking about the Ducks on a local New Jersey broadcast. Maybe it's because they're a new team, maybe it's because Doc also does national games, or maybe they are just bored. As Tugnutt stands up to the Devils' surge they discuss the quality of goaltenders available in the expansion draft, as the established teams were only able to protect one goalie which has drastically improved the quality of the expansion teams.
~19:30 A rare offensive chance for the Ducks as Carnback tries to get the puck to Tim Sweeney on a mini 2 on 1 but it's poke checked away by Brodeur. With only two real appearances by my boy, Carnback in the game so far, I'm starting to think that he would be better suited on a slightly deeper team as a second or third line center.
END Second Period 1-0 Devils More of the same from the Ducks in the second period: Solid defense, very little offense, and too many penalties. But one of those penalties came back to bite them, and will end up being the game winner.
0:38 DEVILS GOAL: After a turnover at the Mighty Ducks blue line Tom Chorske shovels the puck into Tugnutt's pads, where he can't find it. Bill Guerin follows up and takes a swipe at it, but only shoves it further under Tugnutt's pad. Finally, on the third attempt Alexander Semak taps it over the line. The goal is originally awarded to Guerin, but is corrected to Semak later on. 2-0 Devils.
1:46 DEVILS GOAL: After a clean New Jersey faceoff win, Holik swoops in to grab the puck, makes some space for himself by skating into the corner and feeds McKay for the one timer right in the high slot. 3-0 Devils.
~3:40 Zelepukin dekes Houlder out of his jock on the goal line and jams the puck under Tugnutt. Zelepukin celebrates, Whoomp! (There It Is) blares from the arena speakers, but video review shows that it never crossed the line. No luck for Zelepukin on this night, as he missed an empty net earlier and now has a goal (rightfully) overturned.
~8:30 Odd play: Sacco breaks into the New Jersey zone and flutters one toward the net. Brodeur comes out to field the puck at about head height, but it gets swatted away by Stevens. Something tells me that in later years, Stevens will trust his goalie to pluck that one out of the air himself.
~12:00 Holik nearly decapitates Tugnutt with a one timer from the slot, but the goalie ducks (no pun intended) and the puck catches the glass behind him.
~13:30 More human interest: During training camp a rumor circulated that Nicholls asked to be traded to Anaheim: Not true. According to McNab, Lou Lamoriello may have been shopping the former LA King, so he went to management and suggested that IF he was going to be traded, the Devils see if there was interest from Anaheim so that he could be closer to his son who was in an LA hospital.
14:48 The physicality is ramping up. Carnback is caught with his head down at the side of the net by Nicholls. Grimson takes a run at Stevens, who responds with a little slash. A mosh pit ensues in the corner; the Ducks are called for their eighth penalty of the night. Some more pushing and shoving between Ladouceur and Zelepukin after the whistle, but cooler heads prevail, because it's like 3-0 with five minutes left.
16:51 The Ducks kill the penalty but Corkum goes off for hooking plus an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
18:51 DEVILS GOAL Nicholls is robbed of his 400th career goal but New Jersey gathers the rebound, puts on a passing clinic and Lemieux deflects it in to wrap the game up at 4-0.
It was an easy first shutout for Brodeur, though not for the reasons one would expect. All of his critics shrug off his accomplishments for playing behind one of the best defenses of all time and for one of the most defensive coaches of all time. In this case it was the Ducks' strategy to sit back, play it safe and hopefully capitalize on some chances that resulted in only 17 shots. That bend, but don't break mentality backfired on them because the Devils just never really gave them any chances and eventually opened it up in the third period.
I did indeed learn a lot more about the inaugural Mighty Ducks from this game than the previous, mostly due to the phenomenal commentating of Doc and McNab. But this game also put the team into some perspective and validated most of what I had deduced from the franchise's opening win. I just hope there's a little more action in the next one.