It has been pointed out by much of the media that Southern California is not a hockey town.
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True, the term "Southern California" seems to imply a region, not a town, but in this hyper-sensitive metropolitan area where everyone wants to be their own metro area, it is the politically correct term.
Politically correct -- that is something Anaheim general manager Brian Burke does not spend a lot of time worrying about, yet the correct politician was on hand for the ceremonial faceoff of Monday's Stanley Cup Finals opening game.
Arnold Schwarzenegger -- aka the Governator -- received a loud round of applause after being introduced by PA announcer Phil Hulett. Although it is customary for politicians to be booed at sports event, this was different.
In star-studded SoCal, arguably the biggest local celebrity of all was on hand. At a hockey game. In Southern California.
Yes, these Ducks are making inroads in the local market. The media attention is not where it needs to be, the interest of the general public is not where many would like, and the general city-wide feeling that this is the Stanley Cup Finals is not present.
Yet at the same time, the Honda Center was as full as it has ever been by the time the teams took to the ice. Dozens of people were lined up for hours outside the box office waiting for tickets to be released. The cheapest seats from the team's ticket exchange and online brokers were selling for $400-500, and lower level seats were nearly double that cost.
Even the Lakers were never like this.
The atmosphere outside the building an hour before game time resembled a circus.
Owners Henry and Susan Samueli set up a giant circus-like VIP tent in the parking lot for guests such as Jerry Bruckheimer, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the same time, about a dozen police on horseback marched past the tent, resembling a grand entrance for a circus.
Inside, the game was anything but a circus.
After nearly a week of talk, it was time for some action. By the time 60 minutes had been played, a number of things were evident.
Anaheim's checking line of Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, and Travis Moen did an outstanding job of shutting down Ottawa's big line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson -- on this night at least.
The Ducks' checking unit outhit the Capital Punishment line 14-2, outshot them 12-5, and scored the game winner late in the third period.
Moen, parked in the slot, took a pass from Rob Niedermayer and fired the puck past Ray Emery with 2:51 left in the final stanza. The winning goal coming from Anaheim's checking line seemed strangely appropriate, considering their domination was the story of the game.
Ottawa's big line also turned over the puck five times as the Ducks appeared to expose a supposed weakness in the Eastern Conference Champions. Prior to the conference finals, Jamie Heward speculated Ottawa turns the puck over as much as or more than any team in the league, and it burned the Senators on this night.
Even the first goal came off a turnover, albeit a forced turnover. Drew Miller, brother of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, got a little revenge for the family when his hit caused Wade Redden to hurry up his clearing attempt along the left wing boards midway through the first period.
Selanne picked up the puck before it left the zone, then found Andy McDonald for the Ducks' first goal of the game. Until that point, Ottawa had been dominating the game.
The Senators quieted the crowd 1:38 in with a power play goal by Mike Fisher. His shot went off the glove of Giguere and then bounced over the Anaheim netminder. For the next nine minutes, Ottawa controlled the game. The Honda Center crowd was silent, the Ducks looked flat, and the Sens seemed to have everything going their way.
Still, Ottawa did not have a shot on goal in the period's final 14:24, and after McDonald tied the game, Anaheim had the decided edge in the rest of the opening period.
Ottawa took advantage of three power play opportunities in the second period and regained control of the game. Redden's knuckleball-like shot from the high slot eluded Giguere on the first of the man advantages, giving the Sens a 2-1 lead after two periods.
Although the shots were 10-10 in the middle stanza, the game seemed to be going Ottawa's way. Emery was solid in goal -- his positioning was superb and he came up with acrobatic saves when it was needed. Some observers feel Emery gives up too many rebounds, but even on a night when they came under fire from many fans, the Ottawa blueliners were there to clear away any second opportunities.
Ryan Getzlaf scored a goal scorer's goal to tie the game 5:44 into the third when his backhand shot from the right wing went under Emery and into the back of the net.
Pronger/Niedermayer watch: Interestingly, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer were often paired together on the top defensive duo, as they often joined the Pahlsson-Moen-Rob Niedermayer line against Ottawa's first line. If the Senators want to see less of the two Norris Trophy winners paired up, they need to find more secondary scoring.
On the other hand, Pronger and Niedermayer each played more than 29 minutes in game one. With no Ottawa rearguard playing as much as 25 minutes, the difference in depth could be a factor in a long series.
What you might have missed: At one point, a forechecking Pronger nailed Fisher below the Ottawa goal line. The positioning of Pronger shows Anaheim's willingness to pinch on defense -- something that was evident several times in game one. On the other hand, Fisher's positioning is a testament to Ottawa's committment to team defense -- something that was also evident in their ability to clear any rebounds left by Emery.
Grimm's Tales Three Stars:
1. Sammy Pahlsson, Anaheim. The gritty Swede led the Ducks with eight hits, added four shots, and won 13 of 24 faceoffs. Centering the checking line, Pahlsson was a huge reason Ottawa's big line was not a factor.
2. Rob Niedermayer, Anaheim. Pahlsson's linemate had six shots on goal, five hits, and set up Moen's game-winner. Many felt he was Anaheim's most effective forward in the opening game.
3. Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa. Only two hits -- a low number for Volchenkov -- but an astonishing 10 blocked shots. Then again, that is becoming a normal number for the Russian blueliner.
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