GAME # 70
Monday, March 12th, 1900 Hrs PST
TV: SNE, SNO, SNW, PRIME, FS-MW
Radio: AM 830
The Enemy: https://www.stlouisgametime.com/
Anaheim duck paddles into this one coming off the back of two demoralizing back-to-back losses versus one of the top teams in the league and one of their potential competitors for a Western Conference wildcard slot (depending on how results break of course). But what better way to pick yourself up out of the rut and put yourself into the groove, than with a sad case of the Blues?
Once considered a perennial playoff fancy - although perennial underachievers - St Louis has given up on this season and are in the midst of a race to the lottery. At the trade deadline, they moved the oft-injured but silkily skilled and productive Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for a small package of futures. Since arriving in what I imagine is the North American version of Siberia, he’s gone off for 2 goals and 5 assists in 6 games. Interestingly enough, his departure hasn't seemed to slow down the Blues much, as they’ve gone 2-2-1 since the trade, and recently put the smack down on the LA Kings, to the tune of 7-2. This should give the Ducks some cause to be wary, as prior to this loss, the Kings were in as good a form as the Ducks had been prior to their last games. Nonetheless, the Blues are in a sad state of affairs, having gone 2-6-2 record over their previous 10 games, and have more or less fallen out of the playoff race, sitting in 6th place in the Central Division, and 3 points out of the final wildcard playoff spot.
For the Ducks part, they should want to show that they can put away a struggling team. A loss to Nashville is somewhat understandable, as is an away loss on the second night of a back-to-back against a playoff team. St Louis, however, is a different beast. They’re struggling, they’re not a playoff team, and they’re playing in the Ducks building. That alone has all the hallmarks of a Ducks victory. Yet there is always danger lurking with this team. In both recent losses, the same problems that have long been critiques came home to roost. The Ducks seemingly cannot put together 3 periods of hockey. As one of our writers, @Felix_Sicard, has said. The Ducks have a system.
The Ducks play hockey
The Ducks play hockey
The Ducks watch John Gibson play hockey.
Oddly enough this trend was somewhat reversed in the first game, but true enough in the second - although it was the second period that they truly got lit up against the Stars, despite the box-score saying differently. This inability to play a complete 60 minutes of hockey, is somewhat ironic given that the current coach was brought back with the sales pitch that he would be the expert motivator with the strict demeanour to hold everyone accountable. Stabs at the outright lies we were sold aside, the Ducks should be desperate to create some good habits versus a struggling team. They’ll obviously want the win to help consolidate yet another playoff berth, but they should want to do it in a relentless style that showcases that they’re ready and hungry for the post-season.
All Eyes On Me
Naturally, my eyes will fall on Vladimir Tarasenko in this game. Having hit 40 goals once, and flirted with the mark on two other occasions over the past 3 years, Tarasenko has fallen away slightly this season and will only hit the 30 goal mark (he’s currently sitting on 27) due to a ~3% drop in shooting percentage from his career average. Nonetheless, he is a talent of the highest order and one of the best goal scorers in the game. That alone is worth the price of admission. Tarasenko is currently sitting on 5 points in his last 5 games (3 goals, 2 assists), and coming off a 2 point night against the Kings on Saturday. He’s coming in hot, and will be a worth your entertainment dollars should you find yourself free and wanting to see a Ducks game before the season winds up.
Unlocking the Game
There are two things I’m very curious to see from this game.
Firstly, if the Nashville and Dallas losses showed us anything, is was that the Ducks still struggle against teams that move the puck fast. Nashville, in particular, continually made long outlet passes to fast skating forwards who were already skating through the neutral zone with pace. This is notable for two reasons: 1) The Ducks are currently icing two older and slower bodies on defence, who will struggle to keep up that pace even with good positioning; and 2) Marcus Pettersson who has been drawing in and out of the line-up in place of one of the two older veterans, appears to struggle skating backwards against faster-skilled players. For these reasons, I’m very curious to see if Randy Carlyle will come up with a strategy that will limit these offensive movements when players such as Vladimir Tarasenko take to the ice. Carlyle has oft been touted by General Managers of teams he’s coached (and we have two of three with the Ducks currently, with Brian Burke missing), as a wonderful strategist and matchup coach. It was, in fact, one of the reasons that we fans were given to his hiring. On the eve of the playoff’s and fighting for a spot, now is the time to bring that tactical nous to the forefront.
Secondly, the Stars showed a remarkable ability to pick off the Ducks defensemen’s outlet passes. It’s long been a critique of Carlyle's defensive system that it inhibits clean breakouts. Having 4-5 players cluster into one of the corners effectively cuts the ice into quarters which technically produces 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 puck battles, with the Ducks having the advantage of manpower. However, this reduces the number of players who are available for the breakout, which means that in many cases the Ducks will throw the puck up along the boards. This most often results in a 1-on-1 puck battle, but with the Ducks skater entering the contact with a slower speed (having started skating from a standstill) and thus at a disadvantage. The slower skaters, should they get free, are also at a disadvantage entering the neutral zone as their slower pace allows opposing skaters to either block the passing lanes (as Dallas did) or to get a skater back and force the Ducks to dump the puck into the corner to initiate the offence. While this has long been an issue (one of the many) with the system Carlyle has implemented for the past decade, Dallas had very clearly clued to. But for Ryan Miller and his incredible luck, they could easily have made the Ducks pay the price on multiple occasions directly following these turnovers. It’s unlikely that Carlyle will change his system, and indeed it would be crazy to even consider it on the eve of the postseason. However, I would like to see the defensemen make better choices when making stretch outlet passes, going forward.