Tonight, Tonight, Tonight: When Ducks Cry?

While dealing with the sadness of the passing of Prince, I turn my attention to the wide world of sports, and hockey in particular, as tonight is the pivotal Game 4 in the playoff series between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks.

The Predators surprised the hockey world when they were the road team to leave town with a two game advantage to begin the series, but then arrived home and played one of their most disappointing games of the season at Bridgestone Arena, dropping a 3-0 decision to the Ducks.

Very little in the “Good” column on Tuesday, but the “Bad” and “Ugly” columns were littered with virtually every player wearing a Predators uniform. The usually spectacular Filip Forsberg, inexplicably voted by the media as the #3 star, was a -3 and part of a failed power play that had five opportunities, and squandered much of those ten minutes. Rookie defenseman Tony Bitetto was the victim of the first Ducks goal, putting the puck directly on the stick of Anaheim’s Chris Stewart, who transitioned it to Shaun Horcoff, who passed it to trade deadline acquisition Jamie McGinn, and within scant seconds of the Preds seemingly ready to clear the puck out of harm’s way, found it behind Pekka Rinne, and the Ducks never looked back.

Anaheim made the goalie switch from John Gibson to Freddie Andersen, and Coach Bruce Boudreau’s hunch paid off in the form of a shutout. Though Andersen was barely tested (he faced 27 shots but very few seemed to be in the high percentage category.) it was a Duck defense that played a simpler game, and appeared to appreciate Andersen’s calm style of play, in contrast to Gibson, who occasionally makes the routine look spectacular with his animated motions, etc.

On the other side of the ice, Rinne was fine. Hard to fault him on the three goals he surrendered, and that’s why the goaltending matchup remains the same tonight.

Up front, however, another story is about to unfold. As the Ducks had lost a player (Josh Manson, defenseman) in game one, it was the Preds who lost the services of forward Craig Smith early in the first period of game three. Smith took just two shifts and tweaked something below the belt and is now listed as day-to-day. Expect to see Colton Sissons draw into the lineup on the fourth line, and Colin Wilson, who’s been playing on line three with Arvidsson and Fisher, moving up to play within the top 6. Pray Wilson’s output is better than it was on Tuesday, after all the press was aflutter, fawning all over his “resurgence” in Anaheim.

Time to head off to the arena, and time to say a prayer that the Preds proctologist has unearthed some heads. So much bickering in the Facebook world as to whether it’s ok to be down on your team, and honestly, I think the fans who pay the kind of money they do to show their support have EVERY right to express displeasure when the team looks inept. I enjoy objectivity far more than I enjoy that kind of myopic stupidity. I find a lot of myopic stupidity among sports fans, so I boo privately (although some fans around my in Sec. 207 have admitted they’ve laughed long and hard when I scream THANK GOD, while most scream THANKS, PAUL!@

THANKS for reading. See ya when it’s over 🙂 Go Preds!

One down, 15 to go…

While I don’t believe we should call the engravers just yet, the Nashville Predators served notice to the entire NHL that being a wildcard team, facing the top seed in the Pacific Division does not mean you roll over and play dead before the game is even played. Last night, the Preds frustrated the Ducks at almost every turn, and in turn the Ducks had a few defensive breakdowns that Nashville was able to take advantage of, and a close, hard fought game that saw leads change hands a few times ended up with a 3-2 Preds victory and first blood in this best of seven series.

 

The positives CLEARLY outweigh the negatives as Nashville opened the scoring on the first shot of the first shift of the game, as James Neal fired home a rebound and beat Duck goalie John Gibson as many of the Anaheim fans were just getting to their seats. Neal, one of two Preds thirty-plus goal scorers this season, seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and set the tone for a spirited first ten minutes where Anaheim was clearly outplayed at every turn.

 

Having the number one power play (and penalty kill) unit in the league means the opposition can’t take stupid penalties. With less than four minutes to go in period one, rookie Tony Bitetto went to the box on a questionable “holding the stick” call, and was shortly followed by the Captain, Shea Weber, who drew the ire of the refs with a cross check of Ducks forward David Perron. The Preds scrambled, and even came up big for the first 30 seconds or so of the 5 on 3, but Ryan Getzlaf found a loose puck at the side of the net and beat both Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne on the short side. The last ten minutes of period one were “push back” for the Ducks, and after a dominant first ten minutes for Nashville, we found ourselves even at 1, with the shots tied up as well at twelve.

 

Period Two had Anaheim seize the lead less than a minute in, with Ryan Kesler beating Rinne with some traffic in front. But, at that point forward it became “if he can see it, he can stop it,” with one notable exception in which Ryan Ellis’ sprawling body was in the right place at the right time as a Duck shot, ticketed for the goal line, was inadvertently stopped by the diminutive defenseman, with Rinne jumping on top of him to assure the puck’s safety before it made its way into the net. Ellis, who was close to magnificent all night had the primary assist on the Preds tying goal as Colin Wilson, most noted for his horrible regular season, in which he netted just six goals, grabbed an Ellis pass and in one motion re-directed it behind Gibson to knot the game up going into the final stanza.

 

After two periods, I had amassed a steak, some veggies, a reasonable amount of ice cream, and now was plotting a corned beef and swiss melt on rye, when I decided I could watch the rest of the game without further carbs. My stomach was in knots to begin with, and when Filip Forsberg notched the go-ahead goal at the 10:25 mark of the third, I heaved a huge sigh of relief and fastened my seat belt. Fortunately, the Ducks were playing shorthanded with just five defensemen in the final two periods, as Josh Manson took a legit hit from Forsberg in the waning seconds of period one, and did not return to the game.

 

Sami Vatanen was called for delay of game with just over five minutes to go in regulation, and although the Preds could not convert, they did eat valuable minutes off the clock, and though Anaheim pulled Gibson and applied a ton of pressure (forcing the Preds to ice the puck a couple of times in the final seconds,) it ended in favor of the “seven seed,” and the Ducks, frustrated at every turn, are forced to regroup and try to not lose further home games, as the series would be a lot shorter than most gave it credit for… and NOT in favor of the team pundits said would prevail!

 

So… it’s only Game One, and there are things that could be done on the Preds side of the ledger to make the dispatching of the Ducks even quicker.

  1. More movement on the power play! Too much standing around, and of course, very little interference in front of the Anaheim net.
  2. Take that extra second and locate your outlets when making that pass out of the zone. Too many times Anaheim kept the puck in the Preds zone because a player just chipped blindly towards the blue line.
  3. Look, you won with Cody Bass, so my guess is there won’t be a lineup change in Game Two, but I have allegiance to the guys that got me there: Watson, Sissons and even, Nystrom. Bass is a career minor leaguer that took a questionable penalty, and followed it later with a questionable icing, and although he won four of five in the faceoff circle, he’s not someone I feel an NHL connection with 🙂
  4. Get Ribeiro some help in the faceoff area. He was a dismal one of twelve in Game One, and didn’t impact much of the game in any way, shape or form.

The report card looks like this:

Arvidsson (B) – It will never trend, but the tweet is #ShotFromACannon as he is tireless, and is constantly in the way of the opposition and the puck. He makes tremendous passes just seconds after he’s recovered from being flattened. He will score in this series!

Bass (C-) – Really, I can’t fail the guy after a win like that 🙂

Bitetto (C) – Took a costly penalty, and was a bit tentative in the defensive zone, but he’s no longer a post-season virgin.

Ekholm (A-) – He and his partner Ellis were both +2, and at the end of the game, Ryan Getzlaf was hoping to kill him. Ekholm won’t back down.

Ellis (A+) – The best Pred on the ice tonight. Was #3 star, but was absolutely #1 star. How much would I love to gather all the “get rid of him, he’s too small, blah blah blah” posts and insert them where the sun don’t shine 😉

Fisher (B+) – Not a ton went either right or wrong for Fish, but he took draws, was on the ice for an even strength goal (Wilson) and played on both special teams units with reasonable results.

Forsberg (A-) – While he did get the game winning goal, it should be pointed out that he also gave the puck away a few times, and had a kinda slow start to the game. Glad there’s a beginning, middle and end. He got there when it counted the most.

Gaustad (C) – Got kicked out of the circle enough for Bass to take five draws. Won four of the ten he took. Wasn’t strong on the puck, but when is he ever?

Jackman (B) – What I liked was that he blocked some shots, he stood his ground, and he appeared a lot fresher than he was looking when Lavy banished him to the press box in favor of Granberg. Ellis and Ekholm are best together, so Jackman and Bitetto are the winners here (for now.)

Jarnkrok (C+) – Killed some penalties, skated some shifts, was moved around a couple of times after power plays had Johansen and Neal on the ice without him. Was rotating in and out of Wilson’s world as well.

Johansen (A) – Key assist, skated well with the puck, did have a couple of those cycles where eventually they ran out of options and had no one to pass to, so they turned the puck over. In general Johansen and Neal were dynamic together all night long.

Josi (B+) – Couldn’t seem to get open as he usually did in the regular season, but how could the Duck scouting report do anything but tell them to key in on this guy in all circumstances? Had an assist, was a plus player, and blocked a team high four shots. His “average” games are still better than many defensemen’s good ones!

Neal (A) – Was voted #1 star, and had nine shots, as well as four missed shots. Led the team with five hits, and generally looked far more visible than the majority of the regular season nights when he’d wear the cloak of invisibility for 59:45 and score in his fifteen seconds of fame 😉

Ribeiro (C) – Took the first Preds penalty, which the team spiritedly killed. Was horrible in the face-off circle, and really didn’t have a great game. That being said, a win is a win, and this was an important one. Ribs can play better, and that’s bad news for Anaheim.

Salomaki (A-) – The other post season virgin to lose said status, was on fire on the defensive side of things. The last minute with a couple of icings, he stayed strong and made his presence felt. No doubt there will be a Duck or two taking runs at the Finnish forward.

Smith (B-) – I thought he was horrible for long stretches of the game, but the game winning goal by Forsberg involved a nifty pass to Smith that hit a Duck defenseman’s skate and bounded into the net. Ended up a +2, yet all I remember were his “Crazy Legs” not getting him where he needed to be. He’s too important not to expect more.

Weber (B) – I know I crap all over this guy and he’s essentially been my whipping boy over the four seasons I have witnessed his play. I call him overrated in the D-zone, and I scream “hit him with your purse, Weber” from 207. Tonight he hit, hit hard, and did take a bad penalty that led to the 5 on 3 goal, but he also kept Duck forwards honest and aware.

Wilson (B+) – Is there room for improvement? Absolutely! Did he score an EXTREMELY important goal to tie the game at two? Can we expect more post-season magic from the man who lit the lamp just six times in the regular season? I’ll put money on it, and live and die with Colin Wilson’s post-season heroics!

I’ll be doing Monday and Wednesday blogs at my usual post, THERE.

Stay HERE for more coverage of the #Preds #NHLPlayoffs run.