Despite a worthy effort by the Anaheim Ducks against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they could not solve Ben Bishop. So while they have shown a 180 degree improvement from October, the Ducks still lack a finishing touch (pun intended). The Ducks had their chances but just couldn't find a way to close in on the Lightning. So going into last night's game against Pacific Division rival San Jose Sharks, there was a lot of talk and emphasis on winning points.
The Ducks are still outside looking in, trailing Vancouver by one point and Arizona by two. We are now in December and fast approaching the holidays--a season marker for many teams to kick their butt into gear. And that's exactly what the Anaheim hockey club sought to do coming into the third meeting against the San Jose Sharks.
Here is your Best and Worst of the Ducks-Sharks meeting in Anaheim:
Worst: Unnecessary Penalties
The first period wasn't "the worst" by any means, but it was fraught full of penalties from both sides which really prevented any flow or momentum from either team. There was a total of 7 penalties, 4 belonging to Anaheim, and the last second penalty carried over to open the second period with the Sharks man advantage. Sure, we'll take the fight between Chris Stewart and Micheal Haley, but the other penalties were simply lack of discipline.
Take a look at the chart above....In spite of the 0-0 first period ending, the Ducks still allowed the Sharks to dictate the pace of the game. The Ducks were chasing the Sharks and took penalties as a result. To take the last penalty in the 20th minute by Horcoff was completely careless. It gave the Sharks the opportunity to open up the second period with great momentum, which they basically maintained through the entire period.
Best: Hags-Horcs-Cogs shutdown line
Though this line didn't throw any numbers on the board, it sure did prevent numbers from the other side from being thrown onto the board. The Carl Hagelin-Shawn Horcoff-Andrew Cogliano unit was given the assignment to shutdown the Joonas Donskoi-Patrick Marleau-Joel Ward line, and they really did a fantastic job at it. That San Jose line was kept to only one SOG through all three periods, with the sole shot coming from Marleau. This is pretty impressive considering the number of attempts Ward is known to take this past season. The Hags-Horcs-Cogs line stifled the offense of San Jose's second line.
Worst: Second Period Lull
Womp womp. Doesn't surprise too many of us but there it is--the second period lull. (Please refer to the chart above.) Once the Sharks began the second with the man advantage, the Ducks could really only chase the Sharks.
There were a spare few chances the Ducks mustered during the second, but there were no real dangerous offensive opportunities. Nick Ritchie was handed his first goal on a Sil(f)ver platter thanks to Jakob Silfverberg, but he whiffed in front of the net. The kid just couldn't connect. Furthermore, he pulled a complete rookie mistake by touching the puck before his player got off the ice. But the blame can't just be put on Ritchie (obviously) for less than mediocre play in the second. The entire team was just off offensively and defensively.
Honestly second periods just always confuse the hell out of us. We want to know what the hell they do to our team from minutes 21-40. The Ducks always come out looking lost offensively and defensively. The lack of forecheck and backcheck in the second period is frustrating to watch.
Worst: Inability to connect offensively
As good as it was to get the win, the Ducks really did struggle throughout the entire game to connect offensively--hence the 1-0 score. There were some good chances sprinkled throughout the first and second, with the majority coming from the third, but the Ducks could not get the puck on their sticks.
We all love the defensive showcase that the Ducks did put on in the third period, but it was frustrating to see so many missed opportunities to finish. While we love the win, the Ducks need to be able to start putting together some goals going further into the season. Last night's goal came from the fourth line. So while depth scoring is great and all, there just hasn't been enough goal contribution from players that are being paid to score (i.e. Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Silfverberg). "So close" isn't a goal--the Ducks don't need "so close" any more....they need the finishes.
Best: Bruce Boudreau moving Nate Thompson up to the Kesler-Silfverberg line
NRitchie was having somewhat of a rough night. Nick had a couple miscues, including a complete whiff at Silfverberg's perfectly placed pass on the empty side of the net, as well as a Too Many Men on the Ice call. Completely understandable in the fact that he only made his NHL debut this season a few weeks ago and still has loads to learn before really being "NHL Ready". But to Bruce's credit, with only a 1-goal lead, he had to make sure that these small miscues didn't end up costing a tying goal. Once Mike Santorelli scored the lone go-ahead goal, Bruce chose to sit the 4th line as well as Ritchie, in favor of Nate Thompson. Thompson took over the winger position and really aided the Kesler line with the backcheck and forecheck.
Best: Third Period Shutdown.
By far THE BEST THIRD PERIOD showing defensively made by the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks only allowed the Sharks 2 SOG through the entire period, with the last two coming from the empty net man advantage in the last minute of the game. After Santorelli scored, the Ducks took complete control and dominated the Sharks on both ends of the ice. The Ducks did not allow the Sharks any room for possession as they took over the space behind the goal, along the boards, and through the neutral zone. The Ducks took lessons learned from the Chicago game and played the best defense by showing relentless forecheck. The Sharks were floundering and could not regain foothold of the third period. This third period was the closest to a nearly perfect defensively played third period that the Ducks have ever played.
3) Shawn Horcoff
I know we traditionally would give a star to whoever scored the lone goal, but Shawn Horcoff has been a pretty solid acquisition from the offseason. A rather understated player, but Horcoff has been improving by the game. He's not fancy or fancy offensively, but he knows his role and gets the job done along the boards and in front of the net. He is a workhorse and finds his way in the middle of the offensive area and in front of the goaltender. His line with Hags and Cogs is really coming along defensively. Sure, we wish we would see more dangerous offensive chances in front of the net, but they often create the momentum transitioning into the offensive zone for the next shift.
2) Cam Fowler
The kid has really grown up hasn't he? He has definitely emerged as the leader of the defensive corps. He led the game with TOI at 26:50. He has contributed offense immensely in the power play while simultaneously playing solid defense in the backend. Considering that he has to cover his defensive partner's ass and muster up a nice clean zone entry, it's a pleasure to see 24 year old (Happy Birthday!) Fowler grow into his own.
1) John Gibson
Second shutout this week. Kudos to John Gibson for making it Gibby Time here in Anaheim. Though the team really shutdown defensively in front of his net, when it came down to making the important saves through the second and in the last waning seconds of the third, Gibson made those saves. He didn't struggle at all tracking the puck and seeing through traffic. His short stint here while Freddie has been sidelined has already spurred rumors of possible trades for Andersen or Khudobin.