I had the opportunity to watch all three of California’s NHL teams in person during a four-day span recently, and I came away with the following impressions.
The Anaheim Ducks will have long road back to the playoffs. Duh, they’ve lost 16 of 18 games and can’t hold a lead.
I watched them give up four goals in the first nine minutes of the third period to Chicago and snatch a 6-5 defeat from what once was a 4-1 lead. And I don’t blame Jonas Hiller for the Blackhawks’ outburst, though he could have stopped a few of the goals in the third-period blitz. The Ducks’ d-zone coverage was willy nilly (to put it mildly) all game, and particularly so in the third.
But the Ducks’ problems extend beyond a leaky defense, which clearly misses Lubomir Visnovsky. If the top two lines don’t score, the Ducks don’t score. 23 games into the season no forward not named Selanne-Perry-Getzlaf-Koivu-Ryan has more than nine points.
But the top line of Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry-Bobby Ryan is a combined minus-29, so for all the offense they provide (45 points, including 21 goals) they give up a lot more. One forward you can’t fault is Teemu Selanne, who not only leads the team in points (22), but is just minus-3, a Selke Trophy candidate compared to his top-line brethren.
Rumors of a Ryan trade are flooding the Internet, and he’s an easy target given he has just 11 points in 23 games and a minus-6. But do you really want to trade a player of Ryan’s ability so early in his career? If they could pry Shea Weber or Ryan Suter from Nashville, OK. But unless you’re talking a franchise defenseman, forget it.
Frankly, the Ducks take a lot of undisciplined penalties (they spend 14 and half minutes per game in the box, in the bottom six in the league) and seem to complain to the refs a lot … in addition to not always seeming prepared. Those factors point to the coach, but I remain convinced Randy Carlyle won’t be going anywhere. The ownership still remembers 2007.
Monday, I watched the Kings shut out the Sharks at Staples Center.
The Kings played aggressively from the start and it paid off with some gritty goals. They also built a fairly substantial shot advantage, which few teams do to the Sharks.
But then the Kings seemed to get conservative and back roared the puck-possessing Sharks. In the end, goaltender Jonathan Quick was the difference, and he had to be. Once the Sharks gained control of the puck, they started to get power plays, and Quick was brilliant, often stopping second and third chances.
I expect both to be playoff teams, and it wouldn’t surprise me if both won a round, but I also saw some warning signs for both teams.
The Sharks were a bit careless with the puck, particularly on the blue line. Dan Boyle and Brett Burns are extremely talented players, but both had multiple give-aways. But both demonstrated how their puck-moving abilities also can spark San Jose’s transition game.
The Kings seem deeper than in years past, but they’re still missing a creative offensive player or two. Yes, Mike Richards helps their offense (and defense), but I still saw Anze Kopitar getting ganged up on. Simon Gagne is still a very good player, but injuries clearly have robbed him of something over the years.
When the Kings play aggressively, but don’t warm the penalty box seat, they’re tough to deal with. Sustaining that appeared problematic.
The difference, the Kings’ lockdown style could work in the playoffs if they can manufacture timely goals and stay out of the penalty box. I had the sense watching the Sharks that I’ve seen this before, which means a very good regular season and who knows after that.