After 3 days off, the Ducks were taking on the Phoenix Coyotes coming out of the Christmas break. It was a game that easily could have turned into a loss. The Ducks were 3-0 against Phoenix coming into the game, and earlier this season the Ducks handed the Coyotes their 1st regulation home loss this season. The Coyotes clearly wanted to exact revenge against the Ducks and hand Anaheim their 1st regulation home loss of the season. And though the Ducks controlled play through most of the night, they never led by more than 2 goals, and 2 quick late goals (one of them off an incredibly lucky bounce) got the game tied up and forced overtime. It would have been easy for the Ducks to let this game slip away from them and just write it off to an unlucky game against a team that was out for revenge. Instead, they played an exceptional game (especially in the 1st and 3rd periods), and despite some really bad luck and a goalie playing a great game, came away with their 10th straight win.
Before I get into the good and bad of the Ducks performance tonight, I need to recognize the Coyotes goaltender Thomas Greiss. He was absolutely fantastic tonight and the reason why Phoenix hung around all night and why the game went to overtime. He made a number of great saves (and got a lucky bounce when Penner hit the cross bar) and was easily the player of the game for Phoenix, and arguably the player of the game for either team.
Also, I want to recognize Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik. Koivu scored his 250th career goal and Winnik picked up his 16th and 17th assists of the season, a new career high for him.
And now, for the good and the bad of the Ducks play, and, as usual, I'll start with what the Ducks did wrong tonight. Thankfully, it wasn't a lot.
To begin with, the worst thing that the Ducks did tonight was give up a 2 goal lead with less than 5 minutes to go in the game. While the 1st goal was incredibly bad luck, and the 2nd goal happened with the Greiss pulled and an extra attacker on the ice, the fact of the matter is that the Ducks had a 2 goal lead with less than 5 minutes to play in the 3rd period and the game went to overtime. For a team at the top of the standings who has Stanley Cup aspirations, that simply cannot happen. They need to buckle down and not let teams hang around. And through most of the 3rd the Ducks looked like they were going to put the game away, but Greiss kept Phoenix in the game until those 2 quick goals sent the game into overtime.
The Ducks had 3 powerplay chances tonight, and while they had some good chances (I particularly liked when Teemu rang the puck off of Greiss' head), it came up empty again. While the powerplay has improved dramatically from the start of the season, it still hasn't been great of the Ducks last few games. While it clearly hasn't cost them, it's an area of the game that the Ducks still need to make significant improvements to.
The Ducks are not an overly physical team, but they do have some big bodies who can throw good hits (Beauchemin, Allen, and Getzlaf to name a few), and should not be so physically dominated in a game as they were tonight. They were outhit 26 to 16 in the game, and near the end of the 2nd period (with about 2:30 left), the Ducks had been outhit 20 to 7. While they closed that gap in the 3rd, the Ducks cannot let themselves be pushed around so much.
And now, to what the Ducks did right tonight.
And I have to focus on the Ducks 3rd of Saku Koivu, Andrew Cogliano, and Daniel Winnik. They accounted for all 3 Duck goals tonight and were just a force on the ice all game long. Koivu opened the scoring for the Ducks. With the team shorthanded, he took a drop pass from Winnik, and while the rest of the team was changing he skated into the Coyotes zone alone. It was a 1 on 3 and he decided to just take a shot and he beat Greiss cleanly (probably the only goal tonight that he would want back). It was a great shot and smart play from a veteran player. He could either dump the puck to the corner or put it on net and see what happened. He chose to shoot, and scored his 1st shorthanded goal since the 09-10 season and the Ducks 3rd shorthanded goal this season. In over time, he won the faceoff back to Lovejoy and then went to the front of the net. Lovejoy passed the puck to Fowler, who gave it back to Lovejoy. He then put the puck on net, and Koivu tipped the puck home for the game winning goal. Cogliano was flying up and down the ice all night and drew on of the Ducks powerplays with his speed. For his goal, he just drove the net hard, and Winnik shot/passed the puck from the near point and the puck hit Cogliano and went in the net. It was a nice reward for a player who had a great game. And finally Winnik. He was strong on the puck all and had several chances. And even though he didn't score, he got the primary assist on 2 of the Ducks goals tonight and made smart decisions with the puck all night long. The assist on Cogliano's goal in particular was nice. He loaded up from the blueline and took a shot/pass that hit Cogliano and then the back of the net. It was a very smart play from a veteran player who has been great all season for the Ducks.
Despite the 2 goals against, Hiller played a strong game tonight. He didn't let in any bad goals (though some would argue the 1st goal was a bad goal) and made some strong saves, none better than when he stoned Antoine Vermette near the end of the game (before the Coyotes tied things up). Beauchemin tried to clear the puck but it rolled right to Vermette in the slot and he immediatley one timed the puck towards the net, but Hiller was equal to the task.
The Ducks played a very strong 1st period, allowing only 5 shots against Hiller, none of them were particularly difficult, giving the goalie a nice easy period. And the Ducks launched 14 shots of their own towards Greiss, with Koivu's getting him. It was a great period to start out with after the road trip and Christmas break.
The Ducks penalty kill was excellent tonight. It killed off both of the Coyotes chances and scored a goal as well. The Ducks limited the Coyotes to just 1 shot on goal during their 2 powerplay chances. They kept the Coyotes to the perimeter, and even though Phoenix was making good passes, they never got any really good looks at the net.
When the season started, the Ducks had some serious injuries on the blueline, and things haven't changed much since then. But this has given some young players a chance, and both Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have been equal to the task. Both of them, along with Cam Fowler, have formed a very young core for the Ducks defense, and though none of them scored tonight (Fowler did pick up an assist on the overtime goal) they all had at least 1 great scoring chance and have stepped up in a big way this season, and tonight was just a perfect example of how these 3 young players are developing nicely on Anaheim's blueline.
With that win the Ducks have now won 10 games in a row and stretched their home points streak to 16 games with a 14-0-2 record at the Pond this season. The victory gives the Ducks 61 points on the season, tied with Chicago for the top spot in the NHL (with a game in hand), and ahead of the Sharks by 7 points (though they have 2 games in hand on the Ducks). Tomorrow, the Ducks will begin a home and home series with SJ. It will be a very difficult test for the team and I'll be happy with the Ducks getting 1 win in those 2 games. This has been an absolutely amazing winning streak, but it is going to end. I'm fine with that, I just care that the Ducks keep playing hard, and when it finally does end, for the Ducks to not focus on the loss and to move on and get ready for the next game and starting the next winning streak.