Coming out of the Olympic break the Ducks had a 5 game homestand and a real opportunity to pull ahead from the rest of the NHL. Instead, the Ducks went 2-1-2 for 6 points, and in that time the St. Louis Blues have moved into 1st overall in the NHL and the San Jose Sharks find themselves just a couple of points behind the Pacific Division leaders. The Ducks won their 1st 2 games, lost the next 2 games in a 6 round shootout, and dropped their final game in regulation.
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The 1st game the Ducks played was actually against the Blues, and it was a very close fought game, but in the end the Ducks came away with the 1-0 win. Hiller was good, but it was the Ducks overall team defense that was spectacular. The Ducks limited the Blues to just 18 shots on goal through the entire way. The Ducks offense didn't exactly light it up, they were held to just 19 shots, but Andrew Cogliano was able to break through the Blues defense and score the only goal of the contest. As the score would indicate the game was very close throughout and could have gone either way but in the end the Ducks were able to prevail. This win gave the Ducks a season sweep of the Blues. However, the Ducks can't be too over confident if they meet the Blues in the playoffs. Since this game the Blues have significantly upgraded their team by bringing in Ryan Miller.
The Ducks 2nd game and win came against the Carolina Hurricanes. Through the 1st half of the game the Ducks built a seemingly insurmountable 5-0 lead, and although the Hurricanes did try and stage a comeback and managed to score a few goals, the Ducks managed to hang on for the 5-3 win. The Ducks were practically flawless through the 1st 30 minutes of this game. The big line was scoring (Corey Perry had 2 goals and an assist) and Cogliano had scored a shorthanded goal, his 19th of the season, a new career high for him. After building the huge lead the Ducks took their foot off the gas and stopped playing as hard. There is a part of me that is upset by this, but overall, I understand. When you have a 5-0 lead after 30 minutes and a 5-1 lead after 2 periods, it's hard to come out with that same passion in the final period. And that's not to say that the Ducks played terrible in the 3rd period, they just weren't as good and didn't seek to score all that much more. The Ducks were the better team in this game, and were the dominant team through most of it.
The 3rd game the Ducks lost was a 4-3 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Of the 5 games that the Ducks played since the Olympic break, this one to me was the most worrying. The reason being that of the 5 games, this was the game that had the longest stretch of bad hockey for the Ducks. Other than the game against the Blues, the Ducks dominated long stretches of every single game (this one included), but very rarely were they severely outplayed, especially for long stretches of time (although the loss to Toronto wasn't great either, more on that shortly). Frankly, the Ducks were absolutely dominated in the 1st period. If not for the powerplay (which did have 8 shots on goal that period), the Ducks would have had pretty much no good scoring chances and would have looked just pathetic on the ice. Those 20 minutes were the worst period the Ducks have had since returning from the Olympic break. But in the 2nd period the Ducks completely turned the game around and dominated pretty much the entire way, and if not for a late faceoff win for Montreal that led to their 3rd goal, the Ducks would have had the lead going into the 3rd period. The 3rd period was far and away the most even period of the game, but the Ducks still looked the better team. In the end the Ducks lost in the shootout, and when it comes to the playoffs, the shootout is no longer a factor, so I'm not hugely concerned about the Ducks losing a game that way (though not getting the 2nd point does sting). In the end the Ducks deserved to win this game based upon the 2nd period, but deserved to lose based upon the 1st.
The 4th game saw the Ducks fall in the shootout again, this time to the Pittsburgh Penguins. And despite the loss, this was the Ducks best game since the Olympic break. They limited the vaunted Penguins to 17 shots on goal over the course of 65 minutes, and limited Sidney Crosby to 1 shot on goal (although that was on a breakaway in overtime). Through the 1st 2 periods the Ducks looked completely dominant. The Penguins had no answer for the Ducks top line and the forecheck of the entire team often kept the Penguins pinned up. The only reason the game was tied after 3 period was because of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played an absolutely brilliant game in net. And the Ducks will lose games to hot goaltenders, it happens, and it will probably happen in the playoffs as well. The important thing is that even though the Ducks lost in the shootout, they showed themselves to be the superior team for most of the night to one of the powerhouses of the East.
The final game was a 3 to 1 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was Randy Carlyle's 1st game in Anaheim since the Ducks fired him a couple years ago. Similar to the game against Montreal the Ducks were down 2-0 after the 1st period, but not for lack of effort. The Ducks were not severely outplayed and actually had numerous high quality scoring chances, but were unable to finish because they couldn't hit the net or the superb play of Jonathan Bernier in goal for Toronto. The Ducks had numerous chances but could not capitalize. Perry in particular looked dangerous all night long, and just missed on a number of occasions. He finally scored the Ducks lone goal late in the 2nd, but by then the Leafs had scored a 3rd goal, and with how well Bernier was playing things looked bleak for the Ducks. But the Ducks didn't go down without a fight. They absolutely dominated the last 5 minutes of the 2nd and were the better team throughout the 3rd, but like the game against Pittsburgh, the Ducks ran into a hot goalie.
Finishing at 2-1-2 is lower than the Ducks wanted to finish this homestand, but it's still not a terrible record, and with the NHL's odd point system the Ducks still finished a game above .500 during the homestand. Right now, the Ducks are a bit snake bit. Outside of their top line (Perry has the teams last 3 goals), the team isn't scoring a lot. Earlier this season, if they had played these 5 games the exact same way they would have won 4, if not all 5 games. The Ducks are going to have to buckle down and find how to win these kinds of games again. And they'll try and do that during their short 3 game road trip that will last for only 4 nights.
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