Last night, the Anaheim Ducks returned home after a successful 8 game road trip. After dropping the 1st 2 games, the Ducks went 5-0-1 over the final 6 games, catapulting themselves to the top of the NHL standings. So many times, when a team returns from a long, successful road trip, the 1st home game back is disappointing, and often ends in a loss. Last night, the Ducks were not going to let that happen. Usually, instead of giving a game recap, I focus on the positives and negatives that I saw in the game. For this post, I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to give a game recap, and show exactly how the Ducks took over this game and made a statement that they belong at the top of the NHL standings.
The game started out fast paced, with neither team getting a lot of dangerous chances, but the Coyotes were the better team. And then came a bad line change between 2 young defenseman, Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. Fowler went to the bench as the puck was turned over in the neutral zone, and Sbisa couldn't get to his spot in time, and long time Duck killer Shane Doan scored on a breakaway. Just 4 and a half minutes into the game and the Ducks were trailing. This was a completely different script from the Ducks 1st 5 home games where the scored early and they scored often.
Neither team was dominant and the game remained very even for the next little while. They weren't very many whistles, both teams had chances, but Phoenix had the best of them. And then, Devante Smith-Pelly and Hampus Lindholm both made a statement, saying that they need to stay in Anaheim, even when the team gets healthy. Both are young players, and are potentials to be sent to Norfolk, since they don't have to be sent through waivers. Phoenix was exiting their zone, and Smith-Pelly came up behind the player and just stripped the puck from him. It was an incredibly smart play by this young player. He's been good since he was called up, but this was the best play that I've ever seen him make. The Ducks quickly went the other way, and Smith-Pelly dished the puck to Mathieu Perreault and crashed the net, along with Teemu Selanne. Both of them pulled the defense with them, and Lindholm cruised through the slot, and no one was around. Perreault found him, and Lindholm fired the puck home for his 1st NHL goal. To make the moment even more special, this was the 1st game that Lindholm's father was able to attend.
After that, the Ducks never looked back. Even though there was only 5 minutes left in the period, the Ducks just took over the game. Immediately following that goal, Perry and Getzlaf both had great chances, and then Rakell and Winnik had good chances. And then Teemu used his speed, sent the puck to Perreault, he found Smith-Pelly, and he nailed the post. And that's how the 1st period would end, in a tie at 1 goal apiece, but the Ducks completely dominated the Coyotes in those final 5 minutes. The same Coyotes that were 1 point behind the Ducks in the standings, the same Coyotes that had won 5 in a row. The same Coyotes who had a goalie who hadn't lost in regulation in his last 10 games. The same Coyotes who the Ducks had just walked all over for 5 minutes.
The question was, could the Ducks continue this torrid pace as the 2nd period began? And early on, both teams had chances, and then, Bryan Allen commited a penalty, giving the Coyotes the 1st powerplay of the game. The Ducks did a great job, limiting the Coyotes to only 1 good chance, that Hiller was able to take care of. And then, the Ducks went shorthanded again. This time, it wouldn't end so well. While fighting for the puck at the point, Getzlaf lost his stick, and moments later, the Ducks tried to clear the zone. But the puck hit the stick, stayed in the zone and the Coyotes scored and took a 2-1 lead.
And the funny thing is, I wasn't worried. Sure, the Ducks had been the better team since they scored the goal, and hadn't taken the lead. And once again, their atrocious penalty kill had let another goal in and let the Coyotes take the lead. It was the perfect scenario for the game to get away from them. But I wasn't worried. As I was typing my notes while watching, I even wrote “I'm not worried about that goal.” And the reason was simple. The Ducks were the better team, and had just allowed a goal because of an unlucky bounce. And good teams give themselves good bounces. And even knowing this, I wasn't worried. Something about how the team was playing just screamed that the goal didn't matter. They were going to come back and win this game. I knew they would. Bad bounces be damned. The Ducks were not going down in this game. They were not going to lose their 1st home game in over 2 weeks.
A few moments later, Allen committed another penalty, and the Ducks were shorthanded again. I still wasn't worried, I trusted in the Ducks pk. And then, Bonino was going to get a breakaway and got hauled down. All of a sudden, it's time for some 4 on 4 hockey. Which didn't last long as a Coyotes player crashed into Hiller, giving the Ducks a 4 on 3 powerplay. That turned into a 5 on 3 powerplay, and then, the Ryan Getzlaf show began. With a blast from the point, that deflected off a defenders stick, the game was tied in a matter of moments. And the Ducks kept coming. The Ducks didn't score on the 5 on 4 powerplay that followed, but put several more good chances on net, with Getzlaf leading the charge.
Late in the period, with the Ducks pouring on the pressure, the Coyotes committed another penalty. But the Ducks wouldn't give up the puck. Playing a game of keep away, the Ducks kept cycling the puck in the offensive zone. Finally, with time winding down, Lindholm got the puck from Getzlaf, and fired a shot from the point, and it went in. Perry was parked in front of Smith, and got the tip, and just like that, the Ducks had the lead, with 1.1 seconds left in the 2nd period. The Ducks had control of the puck in the zone for a good 20 second or so as the period was winding down. They kept cycling the puck, not letting the Coyotes touch it, not letting a whistle blow, until they got their chance. And get it they did. The Coyotes had absolutely no answer for this ferocious attack by the Ducks.
As the 3rd period began, the Ducks were looking to extend their lead and the Coyotes were looking to tie the game. And for a few shifts in a row, the Coyotes looked like they just might do that. They had their best pressure of the night, but despite the pressure, the Ducks limited Phoenix to outside chances, and what did get through, Hiller was equal to.
Getzlaf, and the rest of the top line, were just dominant in the 3rd. They controlled the puck and kept creating chances. Finally, Perry got hooked down, giving the Ducks another powerplay. Bonino won the faceoff (he was over 70% in the circle!), and Fowler shot the puck about as hard as he can, and found the back of the net.
From then on, their was no looking back for the Ducks. They simply were the better team for the rest of the night. And there's one more play that I want to mention, the final goal. Cogliano got rocked by Doan, he was just absolutely hammered into the boards. The Coyotes had pulled their goalie, and as Cogliano got up from the hit, he started limping towards the bench. The Ducks forced a turnover, and the puck came right to Cogliano, and he fired the puck home, and kept skating to the bench. This play just summed up Cogliano. He has yet to miss a game in his career, and even though he was in pain, he was aware enough of the game to score a goal and finish the game off.
The Ducks were amazing against Phoenix. The number of great plays that I could list are endless. Every player on the ice contributed in a positve way. Perreault kept stealing the puck in the offensive zone, Teemu used his speed wonderfully, Perry looked dangerous all night and had the gamewinning goal, Penner had strong backchecking pressure (say what?!?!), Allen blocked a multitude of shots, Sbisa fired some great shots from the point, Hiller made some great saves. I could go on about all of these players, but the 2 best players were Lindholm and Getzlaf. Lindholm picked up his 1st career goal and made great decisions with the puck all night long. He made Perry's goal happening by firing the puck from the point. He played well defensively and was a rock out there. And Getzlaf was just a beast out there. When he was on the ice, you knew it. He took this game over. It wasn't just the points that he got (though the goal and assist were quite nice), but it was his overall play that stood out. He took the puck and wouldn't let it go. He took the puck away from the Coyotes countless times. He was always doing something positive for the Ducks. This was one of the best games that I have ever seen him play.
And that is how the Ducks took this game over and proved that they belong at the top of the NHL standings.