Anyone looking for a little playoff-style hockey a few weeks before season’s end had to search no further than the Honda Center on Friday night, as the Anaheim Ducks played host to the Pittsburgh Penguins in an all inclusive knockdown, drag-out fight for two points.
Most of the game was a battle that, with a 31-17 shots on goal advantage and score that never saw Anaheim trailing, the home team had all but stolen. And then a late third period goal by sniper Evgeni Malkin on a controversial call tied the score at 2-2 sending the Western and Eastern Conference leading teams to overtime and eventually a shootout.
The statistics of the situation favored the Penguins from the start. In a total of six shootouts played this season (not including Friday night), Pittsburgh has only lost two, ranking them the second best shootout team in the NHL. On the other end of the chart, the Ducks have only won two of their seven chances this season, leaving them with the fourth worst percentage in the league.
Predictably enough the results favored statistics as the Penguins sealed their victory with highlight worthy shots by Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter. Equally reel-worthy goals came from Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, but no goals from Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri, Jakob Silfverberg and captain Ryan Getzlaf sealed the Ducks’ second shootout loss in a span of three days.
A team only stays in the shootout as long as their goalie’s talent will allow, and while Jonas Hiller was stellar through regulation, even stopping one of those infamous Crosby breakaways in overtime, the Penguins’ offense didn’t necessarily give him a run for his money on Friday night.
While on the other side of the ice the Ducks’ shots during the first 60 minutes left Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury spinning, splitting and all but standing on his head to keep his team alive. Ironically enough, Fleury did end up standing on his head during the shootout in a cartwheel poke save off of Palmieri’s shot.
The loss was difficult for Anaheim. Pittsburgh’s own Brooks Orpik even stated after the game the win probably should have gone the other way. But NHL rules are NHL rules and unfortunately for the Ducks the late-game momentum shift didn’t play out in their favor.
So how does Anaheim pull themselves out of their shootout woes? Simple — figure out a way to beat the 60 minute buzzer with a hard- fought win. And for the No. 1 team in the NHL, this problem shouldn’t be difficult to solve.