It could have been a product of the Phoenix Coyotes’ defense. It could have been a product of the Ducks’ team speed. It could have been an aberration, or it could be a turning point.
Whatever the case, the Ducks had not scored four goals in regulation for more than a month — and only six times all season –before Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Phoenix. Two came on the power play which, considering the Ducks were up a man for more than 11 minutes, is to be expected.
The other two came not from the dump-and-grind style that became the Ducks’ trademark under Randy Carlyle, one that had other teams bulking up to push and prod their way to the net after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. Both were breakaway plays, dependent upon up-and-down speed by Kyle Chipchura and Matt Brown as much as their persistence.
Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov did well to turn away many more breakout scoring chances by the Ducks, who scarcely held the territorial advantage.They were outshot 30-15 through two periods before several third-period penalties to Phoenix allowed Anaheim to settle into the offensive zone.
What’s more, both even-strength goals came from a pair of energy-liners; the hands of Brown and Chipchura are best served clenched, and only occasionally used to finesse a puck across a goal line.
So are the “Big, Bad Ducks” giving way to the “High-flying Ducks”?
“It’s so hard nowadays to score with that style,” veteran forward Todd Marchant said of the dump-and-grind. “It really is very difficult. You either have to make an unbelievable individual effort, or their team has to make a big mistake. You’ve got five guys below the top of the circle. A lot of the time, it’s a shot from the point that ricochets off three people and into the net. That’s the way you score goals. You can score those goals by working hard and going to the net. Tonight it worked for us.”
While it may work in the future, head coach Randy Carlyle chalked up his team’s success Saturday, in part, to its ability to exploit the Coyotes’ brand of defense.
“Phoenix, they like to play a pressure game — a strong forecheck and they’ll involve four people in the offensive zone, and they’ll do lots of interchanging up top to throw confusion at you,” he said. “We were able to bar the door a little bit with the help of our goaltender. We were able to chip the puck out into the neutral ice and got into some races. We drew some penalties and attacked.”
Though it often goes unnoticed, especially when scoring is scarce, Saturday’s success put the Ducks’ team speed in the spotlight for an afternoon. Brown is as fast as he is tough, and Chipchura is a lithe 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds.
Neither of them had the prettiest breakout sequence, however; that belonged to Ryan Whitney, who threaded a 100-foot-long pass through traffic onto the tape of Dan Sexton’s stick midway through the second period. Sexton then made a move to free himself for a slapshot from the right circle, and Bryzgalov allowed the goal frame to make the save.
“Speed in the NHL is about anticipation and execution,” Carlyle said. “Every team has speed. If you execute well on the back end, and transfer the puck effectively to the forwards, they have confidence they’re going to get the puck, so there is maybe a jump, a little bit of a head start — one or two steps before the opposition, before the defending team gets an opportunity to recognize what’s going on.
“We were able to do that in a couple situations.”
A couple more, and we’ll call it a turning point.