The Anaheim Ducks hope they don’t meet the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs — at least not until they learn a few new tricks. The Ducks’ 2-0 loss to the Hawks last night was not just the second time in three games they have been shutout (on home ice, nonetheless), but a prime example of a team in need of serious fine tuning.
Going into the match-up, the Ducks had all the advantage: home ice (although a somewhat debatable phrase when the opposing team’s fans outnumber the home team, but the game was physically in Anaheim), a great record against the Hawks and one of the most consistent goalies of the NHL guarding in net. All strengths were evidenced during the opening minutes of play with Anaheim out shooting Chicago 15-9 after the first period.
But last night Chicago decided anything Anaheim tried to do, well, they would do better. When the Ducks went on a power play, the Hawks killed it. If Anaheim started to feel too much pressure to defend in their zone, Chicago caused them to ice the puck (so many consecutive times that it got embarrassing). And when the Ducks found some pretty juicy opportunities to get to the net, Chicago did one better — they scored.
Anaheim was handed every golden opportunity possible, including a four minute power play late in the second period for a high stick from Marcus Kruger.
But the Hawks actually took the game when they outwitted the Ducks in their usually golden third period. Anaheim has after all, won 16 games this season in which their opponent struck first. You can’t win a game, let alone tie it, if you don’t have the puck. And rather than trying to get too far ahead of themselves by going for that second insurance goal, the Hawks played a simple game of keep away before captain Jonathan Toews scored on a bad Ducks turnover with less than two minutes left.
So where does this leave Anaheim? Absolutely nowhere different than the point they were at last week or the week before that.
Yes, things look dismal. And yes, changes need to be made. But the need for change is not new simply because they have tacked on a few losses to their record. The major kinks apparent today were simply minor kinks no one wanted to admit existed back in December when the Ducks were playing lights-out hockey.
But with the midpoint of the season now past, Anaheim can no longer skate by as the best of good teams. They need to be a great team, and they are. Structure, skill, design, character — anyway you slice it, this team is great. It is the same team that has figured their way through larger frustration than this, and fans be assured (so they can perhaps stop leaving games early) that now will be no different.