With divisional opponents Arizona, Vancouver, and San Jose stumbling over the weekend, the Anaheim Ducks non-conference game against the Pittsburgh Penguins took on special standings implications. Despite the Ducks having played more games than the two teams remaining ahead of them in the Pacific standings, a critical pair of points against the Penguins helped Anaheim cinch the clear-differential in division ever closer.
Best: How 'Bout That Fourth?
While the line of Nate Thompson centering Mike Santorelli and Chris Stewart ended up as the Ducks worst in shot attempt differential for the entirety of the game (Thompson was a team-low -16 shot attempts at all strengths, and -13 at five-on-five), what magic they bottled to create the game-winning goal. Fresh off a game-winner the previous outing, Santorelli cooly left it for Thompson in the right-side circle for a perfect centering pass that Stewart showcased his 30-goal scoring hands on to one-time the decisive score home. As has been written elsewhere, the Ducks need to find secondary scoring to continue this push back into playoff positioning before the All Star Break. With the fourth line coming through for the second game in a row, it's a sizable boost for the squad.
Worst: Let's Talk About The Coaches Challenge
It was a shame to see Rickard Rakell's work on the only Ducks power play of the game wiped away because of a dubious overturn. Dubious, because all of the angles shown in the stadium as well as on the local Prime Ticket broadcast indicated that the call was a tossup at best, yet somehow the linesman on their six-inch screen were able to ascertain enough to call off the goal.
It's not that in theory the coaches challenge is a bad thing, it's that without having standardized camera angles, it makes things a harder sell to the watching fan base. While there has been talk that the NHL nervous system center in Toronto has angles not available to the broadcasts or the in-arena viewers, that's wholly counter-intuitive. If the goal is going to be overturned, the best course of action is to show the view that gave the officials enough certainty to reverse their original call.
If not, maybe it's time to start installing fisheye lenses in the boards at the blue line, or making the sky-cam that runs over top the rink ALA the EA Sports NHL series a mandated regularity for the league. Having that degree of certitude in every rink (knowing the yokels that love standing up and obstructing the view at Joe Louis Arena, as well as the odd time STAPLES Center has their Premier Seats filled) is vital for making the challenge beyond reproach.
Best: That Power Play Though
Sure, there was only the one opportunity when Sergei Plotnikov ran Gibson in the first period. But for what it was, the Ducks had been lacking that kind of movement in the zone, interchange amongst the players, and passing competency leading to phenomenal chance for the better part of a calendar year. Marc-Andre Fleury is fortunate that he only faced the one odd-man chance from Anaheim, as the unit looked both vital and dangerous in their single opportunity. Fellow AC staff writer Liz Brownstein noticed the Ducks allowing both of their defensemen to lead the play into the offensive zone to establish possession- when a team has defenders like Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen, their puck carrying capabilities give Anaheim a tremendous advantage as far as carry-in and setup goes for the power play.
Best: A Featured PK Late, Wrapping Up A Strong D Night
Would you believe that the Ducks held a Pittsburgh team featuring the likes of offensive wizards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, with lesser geniuses Chris Kunitz and David Perron figuring in the attack, to only four high danger scoring chances for the game at even strength? In all circumstances the Ducks had a 13-8 high danger advantage, while eking out a 24-22 scoring chance edge. It's only appropriate then that after Kevin Bieksa took a critical, goal-saving slashing penalty against Malkin to prevent what was a sure game-tying tally late, that the top-ranked penalty kill in the league would see the result out over the final 1:20. Anaheim held the big name Penguin guns scoreless on three odd-man opportunities, and aside from a breakdown with the third line all being caught below the faceoff dots early in the game, didn't allow Pittsburgh the chance to create consistent danger.
3) John Gibson
Sure, Gibson was fortunate in seeing a shot ring off the post, and Bieksa take a vital (and warranted) slashing minor late to deny what would've been a game-tying goal. Still, Hashtag Gibby Time is 4-2-1 since being called up from San Diego and made 23 saves to help the Ducks claim the victory. Gibson's presence has coincided with the Ducks defense allowing fewer high quality chances against, with Gibson forced to make seven medium danger saves and four high danger saves for the game. Correlation isn't causation, but it's a nice thing to see Anaheim allowing fewer high quality chances against.
2) Rickard Rakell
Once Jiri Sekac returns to physical form head coach Bruce Boudreau is going to have a heck of a decision on his hands. Do you go with the now proven over ten games chemistry of a new RPG line in Rakell-Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf, or do you try and recapture the SAT% magic that Ricky was at center with Sekac on his wing and another forward slotting in for the third line? Either way, Rakell was hard done to not earn the seeming power play goal that he had scored (offside as it was ruled), while he and the rest of the top line dominated play both at even strength and all play.
1) Corey Perry
To get the equalizer as early into the second period as Perry did was massive for Anaheim, particularly considering the teams past precedence for unravelling when officiating appears to twist against them. Getzlaf's knowing of his first line partner to sense that he would break free down the right side of the slot was uncanny, and while Fleury probably should've done better against the wrister, when you're hot you're hot. It's been nine games since Perry hasn't put up at least a point over consecutive games, and he's scored five goals and dished three assists in those past nine games.