It wasn't exactly pretty, and the Ducks clearly have a lot of things that they need to work on, but they walked away with 2 points and their 1st win of the season. And when it comes down to it, that's what counts.
The Ducks played a good game against Minnesota. It was by no means great, and there were a lot of holes, but it was good enough. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to focus on for these game recaps. Right now I'm leaning more towards breaking down what the Ducks did right versus what they did wrong. I think it will be more interesting for me to write and you to read, since game recaps that are just summaries are available from any number of sites and blogs.
So, to begin with, what went wrong for the Ducks:
The 1st thing that I have to touch on was their penalty kill. The Ducks finished killed off only 2 of 4 penalties. And I don't care how good the last penalty kill looked (more on that later), but a penalty kill of 50% is simply unacceptable. As I stated in my post about the Ducks final preseason game, if their penalty kill does not improve, the Ducks will have a terrible season. So far, the Ducks penalty kill has been abysmal through two games. There's a reason good reason why the Ducks let the Wild back in tonight, and a good reason why they got trounced in Colorado (ok, so that wasn't just the penalty kill, but that certainly added to the misery of the 1st game), and that reason is their penalty kill. At even strength, the Ducks aren't a great team, but they are playing really well. I thought against Colorado the Ducks were the better even strength team, but they had some terrible breakdowns and the Avs capitalized. Tonight, the Ducks weren't as good at even strength (especially through large stretches of the 2nd period), but it was still worlds better than their play while shorthanded. If the Ducks want to get back to the playoffs and have a shot at defending their Pacific Division Championship, the penalty kill has to improve.
2nd, this team needs to learn how to make an outlet pass. There were multiple times where the Ducks simply could not clear the zone. This was especially true in the 2nd and 3rd periods. Hell, not clearing the zone well led to the game tying goal that eventually forced overtime. There were several times where the Wild kept the Ducks bottled up and wouldn't let them clear the zone. The thing was, often times, it wasn't because of great play by the Wild (not that I'm trying to diminish how well they played, they played a hell of a game), but poor play by the Ducks that led to the puck coming back into their zone. The Wild played very well positionally. In order to beat them, the Ducks needed to move their feet to receive or make a pass, and that rarely happened. Because of their seeming inability to move (or to even communicate for long stretches), the Ducks were forced to just dump the puck out to center ice or along the boards, and Minnesota would quickly counterattack. I don't know how many times this happened tonight, but it was way too many. Once or twice a game is fine, hell, once or twice a period is ok, but the constant turnovers at their own blueline almost killed the Ducks tonight. They cannot continue to play like this.
The Wild top line was dominant tonight. The Ducks top line was not. They hemmed the Ducks in and got chance after chance and Parise ended up with a couple of goals, and some glorious chances for the hattrick. Getzlaf, Perry, and whoever the left winger have got to be better. They didn't play terribly, but Getzlaf and Perry need to step their game up.
I hate to call out specific players, but Francios Beauchemin had a terrible game tonight. While he made some great plays in overtime (more on that later), he did not play well overall. He and Fistric were not a good pairing tonight. Through the 1st two games of the season it is clear to me that Beauchemin is not fully recovered from his ACL surgery. The usual recovery time is 4 to 6 months for the surgery that he had 4 and a half months ago. And while it is amazing and great that he can play right now, he is clearly not 100%, not even close to it. Honestly, if the Ducks didn't have so many other injuries on defense (Sbisa, Souray), I'd be tempted to scratch him. I know that he's an iron man and doesn't miss many games, but he is simply not fully recovered yet. Hopefully he can get some rest after the game against Winnipeg and be better for the home opener on Thursday. When Sbisa does come back, I think either Beauchemin or Fistric should sit. Neither have been very good, but it will be hard to sit Beauchemin, so I'd like to see Fistric sit. He hasn't looked very good either.
The Ducks were terrible in the faceoff circle tonight. They only won 26 faceoffs, compared to the 47 that Minnesota gone. That absolutely has to change. They have some good centermen, especially with the addition of Perreault. But tonight, they could not win a draw.
And now, on to what the Ducks did right tonight:
To begin with, I have to mention the Ducks 3rd line of Koivu, Cogliano, and Winnik. They played a great shift in the 1st couple minutes of the game, and ended it with Koivu tipping in a point shot from Beauchemin to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead early on. And the Ducks didn't let up after scoring the goal. They followed it up with several good shifts. This 3rd line was great last season, and that play seems to be continuing. If they can keep playing like this, they will make it impossible for Boudreau to split them up when the entire team is healthy. And that's a good problem to have, lines that are playing so well they simply cannot be broken up. And if they keep it up, that is exactly the problem the Ducks will have.
Tonight, Teemu rested (I'll post about this decision later), and Penner played his 1st game of the season. He didn't have a great game, but in just over 10 minutes of ice time, he finished with 1 assist (his 1st point as a Ducks since 07), a +1 rating and a shot on goal. Not great numbers, but any time you are +1, pick up an assist, and don't make any bonehead plays, I'm ok with you. I wouldn't be surprised if he is scratched again against Winnipeg, but if he plays like this for the rest of the season, I'll be satisfied with his contribution to the team.
And, to go along with Penner, the Ducks 2nd line looked great tonight. Silfverberg got his 2nd goal (to put the Ducks up 3-1) of the season on a beautiful shot, and it was from a great pass by Perrault. Silfverberg just floated free in the slot for a brief moment and Perreault found him with a perfect pass, and the play was finished with a perfect shot. The Ducks 2nd line won't be dominant this season, but it's going to score some goals. These two are starting to develop some chemistry, and if Selanne, Penner, or someone else can click with them, then the rest of the league is going to have to worry about more than just Getzlaf and Perry.
The Ducks powerplay finished the night 1 for 3, and it looked pretty good through all 3 chances. The top unit currently has Getzlaf, Perry, and Bonino. Bonino currently centers the 4th line and seems like an odd choice to be out there on the #1 powerplay. And yet, he just seems to make this team go. Last season, when he played, the Ducks were a dominant team. And when he was injured, the Ducks struggled mightily. Even with that knowledge, he still seems like an odd choice on the top pp unit. And yet, he was the player who cashed on the powerplay tonight. Not the superstars Getzlaf and Perry, not the young guns Palmieri and Silfverberg, but Nick Bonino. I can't explain it, but he just seems to make this team go. He isn't the most skilled player, but he gives his all every shift. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on this team. And even though I can't exactly explain it, I'm glad that he's had so much success.
While the penalty kill was atrocious, I do have to give a shout out to the final kill of the night. Other than Heatley hitting the post, this Ducks pk looked great. The pressured the Wild well and didn't let them have any other chances other than the Heatley one. If the Ducks can look more like this and not the 1st two penalties, they will still be scored on while shorthanded, but the numbers should improve dramatically.
Hiller didn't have a great game tonight, but like the rest of the team, he was good enough. He didn't give up any soft goals (though I have no doubt that he wants some of them back) and made some solid saves. If he wants to become the full time starter he is going to need to be better than this, but tonight was definitely a step in the right direction for him. And I do have to mention that he made some great saves when the game was tied with about 2 minutes to go. If he didn't bale the Ducks out there (or the numerous times the puck was turned over), this game would never have made it to overtime.
And my final positive of the night has to be overtime. First of all, Fowler had a great overtime. There are a lot of Ducks fans who have been ragging on him lately, but I still say give him time. He's still young and needs to mature. And he was great in overtime. Hustling, backchecking, and picked up his 1st point of the season with the secondary assist on the game winning goal.
Even though he had a rough game, Beauchemin played well in overtime. He helped break up a 2 on 1 with Fowler, and then assisted (for his 2nd assist of the night) on the game winning goal with an amazing pass. While those two plays don't make up for his play earlier in the night, the fact that he had two assists tells me that his offensive instincts are fine. Hell, I'm betting his in game instincts are fine, both offensively and defensively. The issue is his knee. He simply cannot play like he usually does. If he could play more sheltered minutes on the 3rd pairing, he would be doing just fine right now. But because of injuries, Beauchemin is being forced into top minutes when his body is simply not ready for it. He's always been a warrior, so hopefully he'll heal quickly and get back to where he was a season ago.
And finally, I have to talk about Mathieu Perreault. He picked up the primary assist on Silfverberg's 2nd period goal and scored the game winning goal in overtime. It looked like the game was about to go to the shootout, but he made a break for the net, Beauchemin made a perfect pass, and Perreault finished it. And just like that, the Ducks walked away with their 1st win of the season. He played great tonight, and I thought he had a decent game against Colorado, especially since that was his 1st game with the team. Hopefully his play can keep improving. If he can give the Ducks that 2nd line center that they have been missing for years, the Ducks will be a very dangerous team. But, even if he doesn't blossom into a full fledged 2nd line center, there is no question that he is going to be a valuable member of this team, and that was a damn good trade by the Ducks to get him.
Overall, it wasn't the Ducks best game, but they got the 2 points. Next up is Winnipeg, and Teemu will be back in the lineup. Let's hope the Ducks can get him a win for his last game there.