Final Score: Anaheim Ducks 2, Minnesota Wild 1
Welcome back, Matt Beleskey! The winger took to the ice for the first time since February 15th as a starter alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Clayton Stoner was the Duck who drew immediate attention as the puck dropped though, as he threw down the gloves right away with Chris Stewart. After a little tug-of-war, a well-timed right by Stewart took down Stoner and the two refs who picked a poor time to break the two up.
John Gibson had a little early trouble with controlling shots that Minnesota nearly cashed in on multiple times. A shot off the blocker was sent skyward and in front of the net, and a falling Zach Parise just couldn't get the puck around a sprawling Gibson's left pillow. Not long afterwards, a harmless wrister from the outside of the right faceoff circle would have missed the net entirely, but to be safe, Gibson made the play on it, and the puck ended up squeezing between his blocker and pad, and slightly changed direction towards the goal. Not the best start for the young netminder, but fortunately, the mistakes weren't major enough to show up on the scoreboard either.
Tomas Fleischmann took the first penalty of the night after an attempt at crashing the net ended up with the new kid steamrolling Devan Dubnyk. The PK unit cut the Wild's advantage short after a shorthanded attempt was started by Andrew Cogliano who hit Getzlaf with a pass at the Minnesota blue line, and Matt Dumba brought down the Ducks captain to give the visitors 30 seconds of 4-on-4 before getting to work on their first abbreviated power play chance of the night. The NHL's top penalty kill had little difficulty negating the Anaheim power play.
Right after returning to full strength, it was Gibson's turn to get rocked by Francois Beauchemin. Fortunately, while adjusting his mask/flaunting the lettuce for the fans, it was a reassuring sight to see him shaking off the hit with a huge grin across his face. His team didn't share the same sentiment a few moments later, however, after James Wisniewski got sent off for roughing up Nino Niederreiter. The Wild PP unit failed to make good use of their time, and with the exception of a decent follow-up chance to Gibson's right side as Wiz left the box, the Ducks didn't have to overly exhaust themselves in their efforts to slow down their opponents.
On the ensuing rush up the ice after Minnesota's second failed power play, Jakob Silfverberg cut to the high slot before leaving a drop pass for Beauchemin, who cocked back and cranked a rocket past Dubnyk's glove. With his ninth goal on the season, Beauch set a new season PR, and more importantly, gave his team the game's first goal to the displeasure of a suddenly quiet Xcel Energy Center. Ducks 1, Wild 0
There wasn't much hockey left to be played after Beauchemin's tally, 47 seconds to be exact, so the home team didn't have a lot of time to counter. Despite being outshot 16-7, the Ducks left the ice after 20 minutes up 1-0 thanks to Boom Boom Beauchemin.
After getting doubled up with change on shots in the first, Duck fans would have reason to be nervous as the second period began, since, you know, the team has been kind of bad in a lot of their middle stanzas.
Simon Despres misplayed a puck in the defensive zone, giving Minnesota a shallow 2-on-0 opportunity that Stewart whiffed on. An oopsie from the Wild bench ensured that they couldn't develop any building momentum from that chance any further after getting called for too many men on the ice.
A few minutes later, as Dubnyk went behind the net to play the puck, Perry tried to ride the boards to extend his team's offensive possession. After taking minimal contact from the Worm, the Wild goalie took a page from the book of one particular Minnesota hockey icon.
[Ed. Note: there was some contact, but it was very dramatic from Dubnyk. -CK]
At the tail end of the ensuing power play, Thomas Vanek threw a shot from a very shallow angle on Gibson, who was set up in a split-butterfly. The shot caromed off the pad and in front of the crease, which is usually the risk a goalie takes when in that position, and a streaking Zach Parise tapped the puck into an open net. Wild 1, Ducks 1
After coincidental minors from Wisniewski and Niederreiter, the Ducks looked to use the 4-on-4 layout to redeem the Wild goal coming off a call that was very debatable, for lack of a better word. Putting pressure on Minnesota in their end, Despres held the zone on a Dumba clearing attempt and threw the puck to the net. Silfverberg, parked in front of Dubnyk, got enough of his stick on the shot to redirect it through the wickets and into the net. Furthermore, another new season high was set, as Silfverberg upped his goal total to 11 on the year for the first time. The hockey gods are just, boys and girls. Ducks 2, Wild 1
In the waning minutes of the period, Stoner was sent off for a two-minute time-out for holding Parise, and Minnesota had a man advantage for the remainder of the second. No Wild opportunity provided a better chance than Andrew Cogliano's (surprise), who was sprung on a breakaway, but Dubnyk hung tough with the league Ironman and got his blocker on what would have been a painful goal to Minnesota.
The horn sounded to end the second with 49 seconds remaining on the Wild power play. The Ducks held a 2-1 lead and cut into the Minnesota shot advantage in the process with a 10-8 period count in favor of the good guys.
Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise almost teamed up for the tying goal on two separate occasions immediately after puck drop, but due to some slight mistiming, Gibson's net stayed clean. The Ducks couldn't get much going after Stoner left the box, and Minnesota continued to fight in the Anaheim end for the equalizer.
To the delight of the Wild faithful, their team got a crucial chance for that ever-so-important goal when Ryan Kesler got caught tripping Erik Haula behind Gibson's net. The majority of the penalty was controlled very well by the Anaheim PK corps, who generated another chance of their own from Andrew Cogliano?!? NO WAY! After finding himself on a one-on-one with Mikael Granlund, Cogs dangled around the Wild centerman before slinging a shot that missed the net [Ed. Note: Another shocking event. -CK] on Dubnyk's glove side. As the power play wound down, the Minnesota special teams turned up the heat, and no Duck answered better than James Wisniewski, who was responsible for two huge blocked shots. The second one, however, caught Wiz pretty good, and he was forced to limp to the bench for a well-deserved rest/evaluation.
The Wild refused to let their foot off the gas, and threw everything they could at Gibson, desperate for another goal. With about a minute and a half remaining, Dubnyk scrambled to the bench for the extra attacker and Minnesota absolutely teed off on a reeling Anaheim defense with their sixth man. Gibby remained steadfast throughout the onslaught, but no save was bigger than a desperation dive to his right post to commit absolute robbery on Niederreiter, who had a very sizable portion of goalmouth to shoot on.
After the ensuing faceoff, Beauchemin and Kesler trapped the puck in the corner to kill time until friendly sticks arrived with help and cleared the zone to ice the game. The Ducks held on long enough to escape the Twin Cities with a 2-1 win, despite being outshot 33-24.
The Good: Snapped three-game losing streak. Retook the lead for the President's Trophy. Swept Minnesota. Gibson. Beauchemin. Silfverberg. Just the very fact that the Ducks won. It wasn't their best effort tonight, but the fact remains that a win is a win, and new career highs for two of our guys plus a strong night by Gibby all make a strong "glass half full" perspective.
The Bad: Dump-and-chase. I've personally never been a fan of this approach to entering the offensive zone, but it's especially ineffective against teams like Minnesota. When you're going up against a defense that has Ryan Suter and has constantly been in the 99th percentile among teams in the league for shots allowed per game, the dump-and-chase method is basically hockey's equivalent of punting the ball away. In the first period in particular, it led to a good amount of icing calls against the Ducks, and could explain why the offense could only get 24 shots to Dubnyk all night.
The Ugly: Very much an incomplete game by the Ducks tonight. They got soundly outplayed in the first despite scoring the period's only goal, and were almost exclusively sitting back on their heels throughout the third. Yes, the Ducks earned the season sweep over the Wild tonight, but make no mistake, Minnesota is a very good hockey team that will make the playoffs, and it's a very real possibility that they could be Anaheim's quarterfinal opponent. Nobody really strikes them as carrying a "Cup contender" vibe, but they've been arguably the league's best team in 2015 due to a stingy defense and strong goalie play. Although they'll likely settle for a wild card spot, it's not unheard of for a team that possesses these traits to go on a very deep postseason run, like, say, another California squad from 2012 that won't be referred to here by name. Point being, tonight's game very well could have gone Minnesota's way, and it's a good example of the reality that if the Ducks can't play for 60 minutes against this team (or any team, really) should they meet in the playoffs, it's possible we might end up relating to Colorado fans from last year when the semifinals roll around.
3rd MVD: Penalty kill. With the exception of Minnesota's power play goal (which shouldn't be attributed to the PK unit as a whole), they did a fantastic job at protecting Gibson tonight. I'm including the Wild's last push in this slot, and elaborating on it specifically as well since Anaheim was still down a man, but even when the team was dogging it big time due to a long Minnesota possession, they still dug up enough energy to disrupt passing and shooting lanes, keeping the home team to the perimeter and forcing them to settle for rebound efforts if a Duck didn't get his stick on it first. Wisniewski eating a few shots for the team and Getzlaf breaking up a Wild power play opportunity without his stick are just two of the larger examples of how sturdy the penalty kill was on the night.
2nd MVD: John Gibson. I'm going to go ahead and start by addressing something that someone will undoubtedly jump on if I don't. Gibson's rebound control was again poor at times tonight. It led to some close calls in the beginning of the game and was directly beneficial to the setup of Minnesota's only goal tonight. I've seen that some people like to go so far as to say for this reason, he needs to get sent back down to the A. However, he is still one of, if not the biggest reason the Ducks pulled out the win tonight. The rebound control does need to improve, yes, but he stopped almost everything he needed to stop, and ultimately, that's what matters most. The thing that I like about Gibson is that he's tough to send into a slump. In games that he's started in after a loss this season, he's 5-1-0 with a 2.00 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. He bounces back incredibly well after bad nights, and while I'm not saying it's a sustainable trait, it's been a respectable run so far, especially for a kid who's only 21 years old.
1st MVD: Jakob Silfverberg. Great awareness on Beauchemin's whereabouts to set him up for his goal, and of course, his tally was slick as well. Four shots on the night, plus a couple of hits and points, add three minutes of ice time towards that shorthanded team that had themselves a night, and you had yourself one Swede who was doing a little bit of everything good except power play work tonight.
Next Game: vs. Nashville Predators, Sunday, March 15th, 5:00 PM PST