The Anaheim Ducks probably could’ve used a preseason.
A tight turnaround to make the 2021 NHL season happen meant trimming down the schedule as much as possible. Preseason games, which would require additional travel and rest time were deemed as unnecessary for the season to happen.
But after ten months away, the Ducks drew the short straw in facing the Vegas Golden Knights to begin the 2021 season. They couldn’t afford to wade into the season and fix the kinks in their game on the fly.
Some things can’t be avoided, it seems.
The Golden Knights came out firing on all cylinders. First, it was Jonathan Marchessault, who was fed the puck by Alec Martinez in the middle and weaved between Ducks defenders to roof it glove side on John Gibson. Within the first two minutes, the Ducks were down 2-0. An unrelenting forecheck from Ryan Reaves behind the net knocked the puck out front, where Tomas Nosek was waiting to tap it in. In the first three minutes, shots were 5-1, favoring Vegas.
To the Ducks’ credit, they wasted no time to respond. Four minutes and some change in, Max Comtois scored his first goal of the night off a feed from Sam Steel, also marking the Ducks’ second shot on goal. A few minutes later, on a play started by newcomer Kevin Shattenkirk, Comtois struck again to tie things up before the period was half over.
The Ducks didn’t dominate play in the first — Vegas led shots on goal 12 to 7, but Anaheim led unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi) at 5-on-5 by 15 to 10.
The second period was the best hockey the Ducks played last night. Going into the second period with a tied score despite the Golden Knights notching a quick 2-0 lead meant the game was within their reach.
The Ducks largely controlled the second period, though the Golden Knights made a strong push in the middle. At all strengths, the Ducks led in Corsi 21 to 14 in the middle frame alone, and 17 to 13 at 5-on-5, as they tried to break Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner, finding nothing posts and saves.
John Gibson even got to shine in the second period, makes several big stops and maintaining the tie.
It would be Vegas to break the tie, however. Less than a minute into the final frame, Golden Knight captain Mark Stone put the team up 3-2. Though the game was still anyone’s, the Ducks started to look gassed and were again held to just seven total shots on goal in the third period.
Stone led Vegas’ comeback push, assisting on a goal from Max Pacioretty halfway through the period, putting Vegas up 4-2. An empty net goal from Alex Tuch sealed the deal.
As a season opener in the year without a preseason, it could’ve gone much worse. John Gibson, despite allowing four goals, still looks like the John Gibson that can steal games. Kevin Shattenkirk has an noticeable impact on the Ducks’ defense — though it’s obvious the depth of the D-corps is going to be tested this season.
The best news of the night, though, is that the Ducks’ third line of Max Comtois, Sam Steel and Troy Terry looks really good despite their collective youth and inexperience.
Opening the season against on of last season’s best teams is never an easy task. That the Ducks didn’t concede control of the game is encouraging.
Let’s hope this is just the process of wading into the season.