The Anaheim Ducks dropped their fifth in a row to close out a long and arduous seven game stretch at home where the level of competition was not exactly elite.
Prior to last night, Anaheim had played relatively well at 5v5 over their previous four losses while succumbing to poor goaltending and impotent special teams. One could argue that with a few loose ends tied up, the Ducks could have won those games.
This was decidedly not the case against the San Jose Sharks Thursday night. I’ll illustrate their play by the numbers below, but if you can’t bring yourself to look at them, just know that is was pretty much a mess.
The game began auspiciously enough with Rickard Rakell putting the Ducks on the board just 70 seconds into the opening period. Using the defenseman as a screen, Rakell pulled the puck in and sniped a shot over the short side of goaltender Martin Jones to give his team the quick start they wanted.
The lead did not last long, however, as Tomas Hertl leveled the score on a controversial play. After John Gibson made a stellar right pad save off a Timo Meier shot from a two on one, Hertl followed up on the rebound. The referees reviewed the play and determined that the puck had indeed crossed the goal line completely as Gibson’s leg moved back into the net with the puck attached to it.
However, the replay hinted at possible goaltender interference with Hertl’s stick making contact with Gibson’s pad and possibly pushing it into the net. With Gibson’s momentum moving backwards, however, a challenge probably would have been a toss up with the inconsistent and unclear rules of goaltender interference challenges. With it being early in the game, coach Dallas Eakins decided not to challenge the play and risk a minor penalty if wrong, a decision that was met with mixed reactions from fans.
The second period saw Anaheim break through on a nearly lifeless power play that only had four goals on 53 tries to date. After Ryan Getzlaf won the initial face off, the Ducks got set up in the offensive zone, a task they haven’t exactly been proficient at this season. Getzlaf got the puck in the corner and fired it back out to Rakell at the top of the zone. Seeming to finally understand that shooting the puck is a necessary part of a successful power play, Rakell bombed a slapshot from the top of the circles that made it through to Martin Jones. Jakob Silfverberg was right there and stuffed home the loose puck. 2-1 Ducks and a sorely needed goal on the man advantage.
The lead evaporated a few minutes later when the Meier/Hertl connection struck again. Meier passed the puck down low to Hertl who found open ice in the left circle, used Cam Fowler as a screen, and delivered a pinpoint shot over Gibson’s shoulder and into the top corner of the net.
Brent Burns gave the Sharks their first lead of the night on the power play in the third period when he was allowed to carry the puck straight up the slot as Jacob Larsson, moving backwards, failed to close space as he entered the zone. Burns is a very risk/reward defenseman, but that ability and his shot make it so that success against him means not letting him take clean shots from dangerous areas. This is something the young Swede could learn a thing or two about from his fellow countryman, Hampus Lindholm. Another example of how missed he is in this lineup.
The Ducks got another not-awful-looking power play to try and pull even, but Evander Kane and Logan Couture had other ideas. After a long shift in the offensive zone, Couture got possession and started a rush up the other way with Troy Terry having dropped down to the half-wall and Josh Mahura the only skater back. The speedy Kane caught up with Couture in a two-on-one shorthanded rush with Terry and Ondrej Kase too gassed to keep up. Couture fed a perfect saucer pass to Kane on the other side of Gibson who tapped it into the open side of the net in a backbreaking moment for a Ducks team desperately searching for a win.
Max Jones gave the Ducks some hope when he got help from Radim Simek as his shot deflected off his glove and past Martin Jones to get them within a goal. Jones has apparently taken to heart the words from Dallas Eakins in the wake of his assignment to San Diego last week, with a simplified game focusing on getting more shots off. The dividends are starting to pay out with Jones’ second goal in three games.
Even with the help from Simek, that goal was made possible by what was possibly one of the best zone entries we have seen all season from the Ducks. Speed, numbers, multiple passing and shooting options, a Sharks team back on their heels; this goal doesn’t happen without that entry. If they can put together more chances like that, this team should recover from their recent misfortunes nicely. Gaze upon it in all its glory!
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. With Gibson out of his net but not off the ice yet for some reason in the last minute of the game, Couture blocked a shot that gave him a clear breakaway try. Gibson scrambled backwards but couldn’t get set in time and had to settle for Couture snapping the puck into the net and snapping away the Ducks dreams of pulling even.
With a final score of 5-3, Anaheim dropped their fifth in a row to finish the longest home stand of the season with a resounding thud.
Best And Worst
Best: Gibson’s rebound
John Gibson has been anything but his normal spectacular self over the last several games. For whatever reason, his otherworldly netminding capabilities have been in hibernation as of late. Despite giving up four goals last night, however, Gibson looked much closer to his usual self. He wasn’t goalie Jesus like some of us have become used to, but last night’s performance was an encouraging sign with most of the goals coming from poor defensive coverage.
Worst: What is defense?
It’s obvious that the losses of Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are severely hurting the Ducks right now. But losing them highlights the bigger problem of the glaring lack of depth to help cushion the blow. The systematic dismantling of Anaheim’s once vaunted defensive corps has now put the team into a position where they are forced to play rookies not ready for tough matchups and veterans more suited to third-paring sheltered minutes than shut down situations. Unless a trade for an established successful blueliner is made, this is what the Ducks are going to have to deal with until Lindholm and Manson return.
Even with the Ducks two best defensemen in the lineup, they were still not as stifling as the late 90s/early 2000s New Jersey Devils. It’s unrealistic to expect this team to suddenly become a shut down team even with those two back in the lineup eventually. Good thing this is a retooling year and not a contention year.
Best: That zone entry
I don’t care if I already showed you this entry. I’m showing it to you again. It’s beautiful. More of that, please.
Worst: What’s with the late game personal decisions lately?
Eakins has been making some questionable decisions for which players are on the ice in these late game situations trying to tie the game or take the lead. First with Holzer on the penalty kill in a 6 on 4 situation at the end of the Detroit Red Wings game, and then last night with Derek Grant on the ice with Gibson coming off. Grant being there to take the face off makes sense, but him remaining on the ice with Anaheim desperately needing a goal after that is puzzling.
Maybe there’s information we are missing not being behind the bench, but the optics of these choices certainly aren’t great, Bob.
By The Numbers
3. Logan Couture
2. Timo Meier
1. Tomas Hertl