After an entire season of record-breaking numbers and come-from-behind wins in the name of proving last year’s Game 7 disaster against the Detroit Red Wings a fluke, the Anaheim Ducks fulfilled an unfortunate prophecy of failure in the Game 7 loss to uptown rival Los Angeles Kings on Friday night in what could easily be deemed the team’s worst game of this year, perhaps even the last two.
While in the end some scores don’t necessarily reflect the effort put in by the losing team, the Kings’ 6-2 crushing defeat of the Ducks is a perfect reflection of how little Anaheim seemed to try at anything on Friday night when so much was still at stake — a punched ticket to the Western Conference Final, proving the “curse of Game 7” subscribers wrong, Teemu Selanne‘s potential last NHL game — you name it, Anaheim should have been fighting for it.
But what happened at Honda Center wasn’t merely a case of the overnight meltdown, or big game jitters as some call them, but rather one that has been fairly predictable all season long. A tough pill to swallow, but a true one; it’s just clearer today to see than in the midst of all the fun. After all, hind sight is always 20/20.
Although Anaheim’s season was without doubt the team’s best in years (with the potential to argue the best in franchise history), the small holes that appeared throughout always created an uneasy feeling with respect to durability throughout the playoffs.
When Ducks GM Bob Murray traded away top line winger Dustin Penner no one was really shocked, but most thought it was just about the dumbest move he could possibly make without having another to back it up. Anaheim did acquire defenseman Stephane Robidas from the Dallas Stars, but that still didn’t solve Murray’s problem of having no one to fill in Penner’s spot on the top line. While Penner wasn’t putting up major points for the team every night, he created heavy hits and keys for his linemates, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, to put enough points on the board to win games by a mile.
The car doesn’t run properly without a key Bob, and Penner was one of the Ducks’ most underrated keys; not surprisingly, the Ducks’ top line hasn’t been the same since. And with Robidas’ injury during Anaheim’s first series against the Stars, the Ducks’ blue line went back to being shaky and moveable.
And then there were those come from behind wins.
Back in December, during the hayday of Anaheim’s season, no deficit in the world was too big for the Ducks to come back from; it was exhilarating and fun and made this team the one to watch. But was it the smart way to play hockey? No.
As one of the Ducks’ radio announcers said during a game against the Nashville Predators one night, Anaheim’s inability to play a solid first 20 minutes could eventually become a part of the team’s downfall; bad habits die hard and for the Ducks those bad habits eventually killed a season too good to end on such a sour note.
But while sour notes will fade as quickly as the sting of last season’s exit did this season, Anaheim needs to figure out a way to live up to expectations beyond locker room pep talks and positive post-game interviews. Talk is cheap. And with the way Anaheim fans have rallied around this team throughout the past two years, they certainly deserve much more than what was given to them in the end.