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Ducks @ Flames MORNING THOUGHTS

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Lack of a full 60-minute effort proves costly for Ducks.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Anaheim Ducks, for the first time this season, had their veteran core in the lineup. With Corey Perry returning after an 11-game absence due to a knee injury, the trio of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler would finally be able to help contribute in the same game. The timing couldn't have been better as Anaheim desperately needed two points against their division rival as they only sat three points ahead of the Flames in the standings, while Calgary still has two games in hand. So the return of your alternate captain, to make the team as healthy as it’s been all season, and a matchup with a heated division rival on the road, in which earning points are critical, should be enough motivation for a team to open the game strong. Well one team did, but it wasn’t Anaheim.

The Ducks played by far one of their worst opening periods this season. Calgary was the more physical, quicker, disciplined and hungrier team. The Ducks were outshot 17-8 in the opening frame and fell behind a 2-0 deficit that was directly the result of costly turnovers.

It was an embarrassing opening period on the road in hostile territory. The Ducks Captain summed it up:

“We couldn’t have got in the room fast enough after that one,” Getzlaf said. “That was one of the worst periods of hockey we’ve played.”

The second period would generate some inspiring play as the Ducks would begin to control the puck more and generate a more consistent offensive attack but it wouldn’t be until late in the period that tempers would flare which would help provide a spark for the Ducks to carry momentum into the third period.

The third period was a complete 180 from the opening frame as the Ducks looked like the hungrier team. The Ducks controlled most of the play but continued to take costly penalties. Francois Beauchemin would draw a 4-minute double minor which ironically would create Anaheim’s first goal of the night.

Anytime a team can kill of a 4-minute man advantage and generate offense while doing so is a huge confidence builder. The Ducks had all the momentum after the kill which resulted in the Captain providing the equalizer moments later. The game seemed certain to head into overtime until the Ducks resorted back to their sloppy ways with less than a minute to play. With only 16-seconds left on the clock, Calgary would get the final go ahead goal after a neutral-zone turnover, erasing all hopes of the Ducks earning a point in the standings.

“Anytime you lose in the last couple seconds like that, it’s tough,” Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg said. “You don’t come by these losses a lot but obviously they sting you quite a bit.”

“You’re 16 seconds away from getting a point,” Randy Carlyle said. “That’s the most discouraging part. I look back on it and say when you have a first period and you’re down 2-0, that you’re not going to win many hockey games. And if you do, a lot of things have to go exactly right.”

BEST AND WORST

BEST - The Ducks penalty kill was outstanding in the game. Although you never want to take untimely penalties in a game where you’re facing a deficit, the PK unit stepped up when it needed to and kept the game within reach allowing the Ducks to make a push. The PK unit killed off all four penalties including the 4-minute double minor in the third period that helped generate momentum for the offense. Not only did the Ducks get their first goal while shorthanded, they actually had a chance to tie the game when a Silfverberg shot rang off the post.

The team has played well shorthanded this season. The Ducks currently sit 5th in the league with an 83.8 PK%. That's pretty remarkable when you consider that the Ducks are ranked 2nd in the league in penalty minutes per game at 11:08. However, the Ducks need to lessen the amount of penalties, especially late in the game. It can be a momentum killer having to consistently play shorthanded.

WORST - Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Ducks finished the game just as they had started it, with costly turnovers that directly led to Flames goals. All three of the Calgary goals came directly after a Ducks player coughed up the puck. The Ducks need to do a much better job controlling the puck in their defensive-zone and making smarter plays in the neutral-zone. Defensive breakdowns and mental lapses late in the game will need to be something the team works on during their mandatory 5-game break. The team is finally coming together from a health standpoint and will need to find their rhythm in the second half, but costly mistakes as the ones they made against Calgary could be the deciding factor of determining this teams fate as a playoff contender or pretender.

Randy Carlyle sums it up best:

THREE STARS OF THE GAME

1. Jakob Silfverberg - 1 goal (shorthanded)

Silfverberg was terrific during the 4-minute double minor penalty. Not only was he able to get the Ducks on the board while being a man down, he had a chance to tie the game moments later beating Mike Smith again but being denied by the post. Silfverberg was also denied by the post earlier in the game as well. For a team that was having a hard time finding an answer for Smith, Silfverberg came very close to breaking the game open. Unfortunately for Silfverberg, all his offensive positives will be forgotten as he was the one who couldn’t track down Dougie Hamilton late in the game resulting in Anaheim’s loss.

2. Ryan Getzlaf - 1 goal

The Captain continued to play with his energized style and helped build momentum in the third period as he was able to find the equalizer. His one timer off a Rickard Rakell feed was a thing of beauty. He also made terrific passes on the power play and helped spark the Ducks comeback bid.

3. John Gibson - 28 saves

Gibson was tested immediately to start the game denying a point blank opportunity by Mark Giordano.

Although Gibson would eventually be the losing goalie, he made a number of key saves early in the game giving the Ducks an opportunity to fight back. His presence in the third period, while down a man, was huge as he made smart plays with his stick and denied the Flames any opportunity of capturing momentum. However, even with his best efforts, he wasn’t able to solve the team’s untimely turnovers which victimized him.

The Anaheim Ducks will return to action as they travel to face the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, January 13th at 7:30PM PST.