In defeating both the Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes, the Ducks improved to 4-0 at home and 6-1 overall this season. While neither game was the blowout of the previous 2 games, both were hard fought victories for a Ducks team that won't quit.
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I was only able to watch parts of the Ducks-Coyotes game (yes, I do have a social life outside of hockey, yes, a part of me wishes that I didn't), so I won't be commenting on that game as much as the one against Calgary. But I was able to catch a decent amount of the action, including some of the goals, all of overtime, and the shootout.
As with my previous write ups, I'll start with the negative, and as before, I have to start with the Ducks disastrous powerplay. And while some of their powerplays looked great, at this point, it doesn't matter how good they look, the Ducks need to start scoring on their opportunities. If they don't, their win streak is going to end very soon. Against Calgary the Ducks went 0 for 2, and followed that up by going 0 for 4 against Phoenix. Against Calgary, the Ducks even gave up a shorthanded goal. Kyle Palmieri has been playing the point on the Ducks 2nd unit and tried to keep the puck in. But he bobbled it and Lee Stempniak pounced on the puck, skated in alone on Viktor Fasth and scored, bringing the Flames back into the game. At home this season, the Ducks have yet to score a powerplay goal and they've allowed a shorthanded goal. You don't get much worse than that.
The 3rd period against Calgary was not good. Through the 1st 2 periods, the Flames had taken 18 shots on goal. In the 3rd, they fired the puck at Fasth 17 times and scored on one of them. Meanwhile the Ducks only mustered 4 shots on net. And, as evident by the shots on goal, the Flames carried the play that period. Their 1st 2 periods were strong, but the Flames just upped the ante in the 3rd, and the Ducks didn't respond. Full credit to the Flames, they played a fantastic 3rd period. It's a good thing that the Ducks were able to hold onto the lead, but out of all the Ducks wins this season, this was easily their most problematic period.
For whatever reason against Calgary, the ice just seemed terrible. The puck was bouncing everywhere, making it difficult for both teams to keep the pressure on for long durations. The puck bobbled over sticks, it was difficult to handle and made playing the game difficult for both teams.
In their 2 blowout victories, the Ducks did a great job of staying out of the penalty box. Against Calgary, the Ducks were shorthanded 4 times, and then 6 more times against Phoenix. And though the penalty kill looked good, the Ducks cannot afford to take so many penalties, especially while their powerplay is completely nonexistent.
And now, onto the Ducks positives. And the 1st point that I have to bring up is their fast starts. In all 4 home games this season, the Ducks have scored the 1st goal of the game, all within the 1st 10 minutes of the game. By getting the early goal in every game, the Ducks are putting a ton of pressure on opposing teams, forcing them to fight just to get back in the game. If the Ducks can keep scoring 1st, they are going to win a lot more games.
Even though they took way too many penalties, the Ducks penalty kill has been bailing them out. They killed off all 10 penalties in the last 2 games, and have yet to allow a powerplay goal at home this season. If not for how disastrous the penalty kill was through the first couple of games this season, they would be a lot better than 21st in the league with a 79.2% effective rate. I don't know what's been different, but one thing that has changed has been the addition of Emerson Etem. He missed the 1st few games of the season with an injury, but ever since, he has been a monster while the Ducks have been shorthanded. He and Cogliano form an incredibly fast and dangerous unit. They are going to score some shorthanded goals this year.
And just a little bit more on Etem, he is so damn fast. Whenever I take notes on a game, there are multiple times where I simply marvel at his speed and write it down. He's getting to loose pucks, he's beating defenders, he's getting some great chances. Even if he doesn't score, he is making a positive impact on this team. I'm loving his play and hope he is a Duck for a long time to come.
Even though he got burned for the shorthanded goal against the Ducks, Kyle Palmieri made an amazing play against Calgary. The Flames were trying to clear the zone, and Palmieri managed to intercept the puck, just hold it onside (the puck literally skirted the edge of the blueline), turn into the slot, and beat the goalie with a perfect wrist shot. It was just an amazing play from a young player who is just getting better. He's had a great shot for a couple of years now, but I think he's finally figured out what he need to do to become a true goal scorer in this league. It's not just about the shot, it's about the work and effort that you have to put in to get that shot off.
Last season Dustin Penner played in 33 games and scored 2 goals and 14 points. So far this year he has played in 5 games and has 2 goals and 4 points. While he's not playing out of this world hockey, and he still needs to significantly improve some aspects of his game, he is putting together a nice season. He is going to the net and being rewarded for it. Against Calgary he crashed the net and Getzlaf fed him a perfect pass and he cashed in the easy goal. In the limited powerplay time that he has seen he has been going to the front of the net, trying to screen the goalie and/or get a deflection. If he keeps playing the way he is now, I'll be satisfied with him. If he gets better, I'll be quite happy.
Teemu Selanne is on a 2 game goal scoring streak. He scored on a breakaway against Calgary (off a great pass from Silfverberg) and opened the scoring against Phoenix off a nice feed from Perreault. In both instances he picked his spot perfectly and just beat the goalie. He followed that up with a great goal in the shootout. While I highly doubt that he's going to keep up his current pace through the rest of the season, Teemu's swan song is off to a very nice start. But more than his goal scoring, he just looks like he's having fun on the ice, and that's translating to him busting his ass. When Selanne is having fun he is working hard.
And I of course have to mention the goalies. Both Fasth and Hiller picked up a win in the last 2 games. While Fasth didn't look completely comfortable in the game against Calgary, he still played great and the goals against were not his fault at all. He is reminding me a lot of Hiller early in his career. There is a lot of talent but he doesn't always seem to look too comfortable or confident when making some of the more difficult saves, but he is still making them. And though I didn't see much, Hiller played a strong game against Phoenix, and is currently 4th in the NHL in save percentage with a .954, damn fine numbers. The Ducks have 2 goalies playing well for them right now (although Fasth is out with a minor injury for at least a game or 2), and that bodes well for them this season, and their future.
And the final positive for me from these 2 games is the consistency of the Ducks lines. Even though these 2 games weren't the Ducks best, their lines stayed pretty much the same (with the exception of the powerplay, that thing has been a revolving door as the Ducks try and get someone to score with the man advantage). All 4 lines have consistently played together, and it's showing on the ice. The players know where each other are and are reading off of each other really well. And because of this consistency, the goals are coming from all 4 lines. And the defensive pairings have been stable too. Ever since Fistric was scratched and Lindholm brought in, the Ducks defensive pairings have been virtually unchanged, and they are all playing together really well. When the Ducks get healthier (Sbisa, Souray), it's going to be really hard to sit some of these younger players because of how well they have been playing, and how well the entire team has been playing.
The rest of the team played well in the last 2 games, but it was the above players who really stood out to me. At least, in terms of how much of the game I got to see. While not the Ducks best 2 game stretch, the fact that they won both is great. I would have been happy with a win in just 1 of those games. But they managed to get the 2 points both nights, and currently are riding a 6 game winning streak. Next up is Dallas, and then an 8 game road trip.
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