Daniel Sprong went from 4th line minutes and the occasional healthy scratch to 2nd line duties alongside Adam Henrique and Nick Ritchie in a matter of days. No doubt that the Ducks new forward acquisition was happy about that.
Sprong had mostly played 4th line minutes this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was well known that head coach Mike Sullivan had run out of patience with the 21-year-old, and many Penguins fans believed he did not get a fair shot.
That shot is now coming with Anaheim in legitimate top 6 minutes. It also was came in his Ducks debut. Literally.
Brandon Montour put the Ducks up 1-0 early with a shot from the point with Crawford perfectly screened by Nick Ritchie in front.
Just 20 seconds later, Sprong got a feed from Henrique in the neutral zone. He let go of the puck almost at the goal line. Most thought he had rung it off the cross bar, but the referee emphatically signaled for a goal. Replay showed that Sprong had delivered the puck through a coin slot over Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford’s shoulder, off the top of the net and out. Talk about breaking the ice as fast as possible.
Chicago cut the lead in half in the 2nd period off some great puck movement that saw Duncan Keith delivering a pass to an uncovered Erik Gustafsson. The defenseman one-timed it past John Gibson, who tried to slide over but didn’t arrive in time.
The Blackhawks tied the game off a rush from Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, and Alex DeBrincat. Ryan Kesler made an ill-advised decision to try and go for the already covered Toews and left DeBrincat alone behind him. Toews’ pass got part of Kesler’s stick, but DeBrincat showed great hand-eye coordination and made contact with the bouncing puck, putting it into the back of the net.
Early in the 3rd, however, the Ducks would regain the lead. At practice yesterday, news got out that Kase had skated on the 4th line with Carter Rowney and Kiefer Sherwood. While it’s apparent that Anaheim now has overflowing depth of right wingers on the team, the natives were restless. Fortunately, those 3 were among the best on the team against Chicago.
All of their work was rewarded when Rowney sent a pass cross-ice to Ondrej Kase blacking down the right side boards. With only one defender a few feet away from him, Kase sniped it top corner over Crawford to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead.
Jakob Silfverberg put the game away after forcing a turnover in the neutral zone by Duncan Keith just as Crawford went to the bench for the extra attacker. The empty net sealed the victory for the Ducks and gave them 5 straight wins, including 7 of their last 8.
Best and Worst
Best: Daniel Sprong’s debut
Sprong’s debut wasn’t just a goal surrounded by choppy play as we’ve seen from several other players this season. The Ducks controlled almost 55% of the shot attempts with the young Dane on the ice, including a staggering 80+% of the scoring chances.
Not only that, he showed some brilliant hockey IQ after coming out of the box on a penalty. When his rush failed, he skated the puck out of the Hawks zone and back to his own blueline. As soon as Chicago went for the change, he turned and burned back up ice to generate a chance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone try that before. And it almost worked.
Worst: Sitting on a lead is still a thing
The Ducks got sloppy near the end of the 2nd after a fantastic first frame, seemingly being content with an electric start. The few leads that Anaheim has held this season have often been followed by letting their foot off the gas. This allowed Chicago, who did not play particularly well, to get back into the game.
That kind of play is going to backfire spectacularly if the Ducks make the playoffs.
Best: 5 in a row
After a tough road trip that saw Anaheim win 4 of 5, adding another one to the streak has given the team some swagger. They find themselves just one point out of first place in the Pacific with a more comfortable position than they were in a year ago. How many people saw this coming after the results earlier in this season (no you didn’t put your hand down you liar).
3. Brandon Montour
2. Ondrej Kase
1. Daniel Sprong