The Ducks’ problems ran deeper than the rare four-day layoff – no games, no practices – from the time they were embarrassed in Buffalo on Tuesday to the time they were embarrassed in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The layoff couldn’t explain why the Ducks survived the first period but were walloped in the second, why the Kings knew where almost every Jonas Hiller rebound was going to end up, or why Corey Perry – the team’s leading scorer – chose to take himself out of the game for seven minutes of the third period with his team trailing 4-1.
“You expect after four days off that they will be rusty in some areas,” Randy Carlyle said, “but there was one area we were rusty in and that was competing.”
(I used that quote in the game story too and, while I don’t like to double up, a blunt Randy Carlyle cannot be quoted often enough.)
After being pulled from a start for (already) the third time this season, Hiller couldn’t explain why his team came out more intense to start the first period than the second – a period in which the Ducks were outshot 15-8 and outscored 4-1.
“We kind of lost our game there,” he said. “They were able to find an extra step,
an extra notch. In the second period, they outcompeted us. It was
definitely not good.”
Three of the four goals Hiller allowed were either directly or indirectly the result of rebounds that landed right on Kings sticks. Terry Murray admitted afterward that pregame and mid-period strategy contributed to his team’s knack for the puck – a knack that seemed to disappear in the third period with Curtis McElhinney between the pipes.
Hiller is too good a goalie to have been figured out by every team in the league, but clearly Murray was on to something. When Hiller wasn’t getting peppered, he was getting lucky on shots that missed the net (the Kings missed on 13 shots over the first two periods). It’s something the Ducks will have to counter before these teams meet again on Feb. 23.
To chide Perry for a lack of discipline is nothing new, but this season he’s mostly been able to avoid the costly, untimely penalties that held him back early in his career. His 41 points lead the Ducks and are tied for sixth (with one A. Ovechkin) in the entire NHL. Those stats meant nothing once he asked Wayne Simmonds to fight after taking a slashing penalty midway through the third period – a request Simmonds wisely obliged.
But Matt Beleskey, who scored the Ducks’ lone goal on a re-direction of a Toni Lydman shot, said that “we were never out of it tonight.”
“A couple of tough bounces and the penalty I took hurt us,” he said, likely referring to the delay of game penalty that led to Dustin Brown’s power-play goal in the second period (though he had three penalties to choose from).
When the offense lags – and Anaheim has only posted fewer than 19 shots twice this season – Carlyle usually puts Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf together when the Big Line starts the game apart. Carlyle didn’t do that tonight. He couldn’t for the seven-plus minutes that Perry sat in the box.
For the first time in a long time, Ryan started the game as the third-line center (between Joffrey Lupul and Brandon McMillan). He stayed there, except on the power play. Beleskey skated with Getzlaf and Perry for the whole game, and the “Masterton Line” of Blake-Koivu-Selanne also held for 60 minutes.
It would be easy to blame the lack of offense on the line combinations, but a lack of effort trumped any lack of chemistry tonight. Ryan went 2-for-2 in the faceoff circle, which raised his faceoff percentage to 43.1. His poor faceoffs are usually one of the better reasons not to use Ryan as a pivot.
Plenty more in tomorrow’s editions. A few notes that didn’t make the newspaper:
Ryan actually had the best luck of any Duck on the draws. Getzlaf went 6-11, Marchant 0-3, Koivu 7-6 and the team went 16-24 combined.
The Ducks blocked 24 shots (led by Andreas Lilja and Lydman with four each), including 13 in the final period.
George Parros didn’t get a chance to fight fellow Princeton alumnus Kevin Westgarth, who was a healthy scratch. The two have still never fought in a regular-season game. Kyle Clifford fought Parros very briefly in the second period, a fight that was a letdown for anyone – even if you weren’t pulling for some Ivy-on-Ivy violence.
I’ll be sitting on the “Duck Calls” show with Josh Brewster after Tuesday’s game in Phoenix on 830-AM (KLAA).