Date: Sunday, October 21st, 2018
Time: 1700 PT / 2000 ET
Location: Paul Kariya will call this the Arrowhead Pond, but we must correctly name it the Honda Center
TV: FS-W, NHL.TV
Radio: AM 830
The Enemy: Pretty much just Dahlin
You who are new about the place may have read the title of this piece and been tempted in to peruse what momentous occasion was occurring. What incredible event transpiring has had fans divided and oft at each others’ throats shouting their ire? What affair could be so grandiose as to beget such fanfare? What is this experience that has been so many years in the making?
For those about to dive in to my writing for the first time here, I salute you.
Tonight, the most incredible of occasions is about to commence. A moment that seemed so incredibly unlikely for so many years. Tonight. Game #9 of the 2018-2019 season marks a near historical mark. You yourself may not quite understand its significance, but nonetheless significant it is:
That’s right, we’re over 10% of the way through the season, and the Buffalo Sabres have not yet been mathematically knocked out of the playoff race.
What’s that Ducks fans? You don't care? Well, that's fair enough. Neither do the Buffalo fans that aren't showing up to their team’s home games. I guess I’ll move onto other things then.
The number 9 has a special significance for fans in Anaheim. Only two players have ever worn the jersey, and these players are simultaneously so very similar and very different. Both players came to Anaheim in the top end of the Entry Level Draft. Both players occupied the first line left wing slot for the Anaheim team. Both players received great love and great disdain from the fan base. Both players finished amongst the greatest of goal scorers for the Anaheim team. In fact, both players, ranked number 2 and number 3 for most 30 goal seasons in an Anaheim sweater, played with Teemu Selanne, the number 1 ranked player in this metric. Yet tonight is about only one of these former #9’s. From now, and forever more, only two players will ever have had suited up with that special number upon their backs. Yet, only one of these players will be remembered. 100 years from now, when the children of today’s children look up to the rafters, they will see “KARIYA” stitched above the 9.
For today at 2 PM, well before the game is due to commence, the doors will open to the fans. At 3:15, they will asked to be in their seats for a ceremony. A ceremony that will officially bring Paul Kariya home to Anaheim, and for his number to hang so closely next to a number that was so often seen on the ice with him. It’s fitting that the 9 should now be beside 8, that the old timers who saw it with their own eyes can remember it, can pass on their stories. That the youth can hear the stories and stare upwards in wonder. That the players themselves can skate out onto the ice, forever now under the influence of those who built the fabric of the franchise.
Make no mistake, the Ducks as we know them, exist, almost entirely, due to the men who wore the numbers in the rafters. Number 9, maybe more than anyone else in Anaheim’s history, may be the reason that the Ducks still call Anaheim home. For those who are unaware of Kariya’s importance, due to being too young to have seen him, or even if you are newly a Ducks fan, I invite you to read the stories and memories that fans have written in the comments section here, here, and here. For those of you who have those memories, both good and bad, I would ask that you share them so that others may feel the emotions of the day.
To the game then.
Though there are no longer any Ducks who played with Kariya, the team will want to come out and make a statement on the night of his jersey being retired. Luckily for them, they’re playing the Buffalo Sabres, a team whose calling card over the past upside down 9 (that’s a 6 by the way) seasons has been mediocrity. Like the Ducks, the Sabres played last night, and also like the Ducks they somehow managed to avoid playing a real hockey team (they played the Kings, and as expected, spanked them). This is the second time this season that the Ducks have been gifted the chance to play their second game of a back-to-back against a team also playing on the second night (or in the Sabres’ case, second afternoon) of a back-to-back. Combined with the relative lack of games against high level opponents, the Ducks have been living a charmed life.
Thus far, they’ve taken full advantage, and lead the Pacific Division. Crushing all comers with a stifling defense, the Ducks are currently second in the league in goals against per game. Perhaps, as one would expect of a team with such a deep batting defense, the Ducks have chosen to play a passive offensive game. Rather than attack with abandon, or pepper the opposition with shots, or long cycles deep in the offensive zone to tire out the opposition, the Ducks have chosen to play an opportunistic approach to goal scoring. That is to say, they take their chances when they are available. Whether it be a partial breakaway with a backhand from 30 feet out along the boards or another similar scenario, the Ducks have made those chances count.
Conversely, the Sabres are not taking the league by storm. Sure, as mentioned above, they’ve not yet been mathematically eliminated from the post season, but they haven't exactly set the world on fire either. Much of this falls on their poor ability to defend on special teams, although one would have to question whether the Ducks’ power play would be able to take advantage, given their troubles. Nonetheless, for those who wish to read a little more about the Sabres’ penalty killing system, our competitors at Die By The Blade recently put this article together. It’s a good read, and should set you up in anticipation, given the unlikely event of the Ducks getting a power play opportunity.
With that said however, much like the Ducks, the Sabres seem to be having difficulties generating offense at even strength as well. Both teams are near the bottom of the league for shot metrics (both raw, shots on net per game, corsi attempts, and scoring chances). The differences seem to be in execution. The Sabres sit near dead last for even strength scoring, while the Ducks sit on the lower end of the mid-league grouping. Then obviously the greater difference is in goals against. In the games that the Sabres have not had elite (> .940) netminding, they've been thoroughly spanked in near embarrassing fashion. Given the Ducks’ propensity to give up shots and scoring chances, this could almost be said for them. Except for one thing. Or more aptly, one man. John Gibson. “The Asset.”
Make no mistake about it, the difference between where these two teams sit in the league is John Gibson. Yet tonight, Gibson’s mentor is the yogic arts, Ryan Miller will man the net. Thus far on the season he’s performed excellently. We’ll see how he fares against a team that lit up the
AHL’s LA Kings team last night.
Get Your Binoculars Out
For those Ducks fans who may be looking for a new cult to follow, off the beaten track of Team Gibson, I invite you to get behind Pontus Aberg. A recent waiver wire pick, Aberg has already done the rounds, going from the Ducks, to the Gulls, to the top line of the Ducks. In last nights game, he started slowly before building into the game. Hits, and takeaways, fill his stat sheet. While he may not have registered an assist on Ben Street’s goal, he was an essential part of that play by initially moving the puck towards the net, and by setting a subtle pick separating Street from his defending player. For now, he’s my Ducks player to watch.
Looking towards the Sabres for players of interest is a little harder. As one would expect from a team which has struggled for so many years, there is a surprising lack of talent for the coach to work with, and for opposition fans to get interested about. With that said, tonight’s game will give Ducks fans a chance to observe future 10x Norris Trophy winner, Rasmus Dahlin, in action.
Coming in as the #1 draft pick (from the last Entry Level Draft) is always going to paint a target on a player’s back. Yet, in Dahlin’s case this may be somewhat unfair. He is only 18 years old, and is playing one of the toughest positions in hockey. That position, of course, being the only player on his hockey team. He also plays on the defense.
Thus far, in his short career, he has shown he’s capable of playing a good number of minutes for a young player (logging ~19 per night). Minutes which appear to be increasing as the games go by. That is to say, the coach, a former stud muffin defenseman himself, is beginning to trust his young charge more and more as the games go by. Thus far, Dahlin is also getting more than a shot on net per game, and is sitting near enough to 0.5 ppg pace. Not exactly earth shattering numbers, but more than sound given the low scoring nature of his teammates - for comparative purposes he’s ranked 4th on his team for assists per minute of play.
While, to date, Dahlin may not be blowing your socks off, I assure you I was only using the slightest bit of hyperbole suggesting he may win 10 best defenseman awards. The kid really is that good.
Is Rasmus Dahlin good enough to penetrate the brick wall that the Ducks have masquerading as human in net? Tune in to find out yourself.
Additional note: As a brief aside, the Ducks might have missed the boat last night in playing Gibson. It’s a small thing, but a 3+6=9 victory on the 9th game, raising #9 to the ceiling would have been something silly to love. An Eaves 1+8=9 game winning goal would have been nice too, if that were a possibility. Although one plus side is that Miller gets to be the guy in net against his old team.