The Anaheim Ducks returned to Honda Center to host the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday evening. Anaheim was set to play their second back-to-back game after losing to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday by a score of 4-1. This is to be the 1st game of a whopping 10-game homestand for the Ducks that is set to last until the middle of January. The Wild, on the other hand, came into Wednesday set to play their first of back-to-backs that will see them travel to San Jose on Thursday. Minnesota entered this one riding a 5-game winning streak and seemingly firing on all cylinders heading into the holidays.
After a lackluster effort Tuesday against Los Angeles, Ducks’ head coach, Dallas Eakins, decided to shake up the lineup in hopes of sparking new chemistry and sending a message to the entirety of the roster. The changes sent shockwaves through the Anaheim fanbase, and a large percentage were up in arms (I was seemingly more ok with it than most). Possibly the biggest head-scratcher was the decision to start rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal between the pipes on back-to-back nights after he faced 41 shots in the previous game. Minnesota elected to start veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who has put together a sensational career against the Anaheim Ducks (21-5-0, .930 sv%, 1.93 GAA). This was the lineup Dallas Eakins sent out to try and defeat Fleury and the Wild…
This controversial Anaheim lineup didn’t even last a single shift as Dallas Eakins shuffled lines most of the 1st period. A lack of chemistry was apparent early on as breakouts and neutral zone passes were all a hair off early on. Minnesota did well to counter on those Anaheim miscues, which led to sustained zone time. A positive for the Ducks early on was their D-zone coverage. They were energetic on loose pucks and kept Minnesota to the less dangerous areas of the ice.
After the 1st intermission, the Ducks came out of the locker room with lines that more resembled their usual lineup and an infusion of energy. Passes through the neutral zone that were inaccurate in the 1st period were now crisp and precise, which led to clean offensive zone entries. Once in the offensive zone, Anaheim did well to establish a cycle and sustain pressure (especially the Zegras-Henrique-Terry line). The Ducks top line had a couple of shifts in the second period where they had at least 30 seconds of sustained pressure and multiple chances that either missed by inches or forced Fleury to make quality saves.
Five minutes into the 2nd period, Adam Henrique and Marcus Foligno were each sent to the box (Henrique for tripping, Foligno for embellishment). While at 4-on-4, Kirill Kaprizov sent an ill-advised pass attempt across the offensive blueline that Anaheim’s Mason McTavish intercepted. McTavish was sprung on a breakaway and beat Fleury 5-hole to open the game’s scoring.
The Ducks were able to mostly control play for a few minutes after the McTavish goal until about halfway through the 2nd period when the parade to the penalty box started with a hooking call against Trevor Zegras on the powerplay, which smothered any positive momentum that was building. It was the 1st of 5 straight penalties taken by Anaheim. Whether it was the result of frustration or the Ducks playing on the 2nd night of back-to-back games, the rest of the game was all Minnesota.
As the game wore on, puck retrievals became slow, breakouts sloppy, and zone exits started failing. Until 4 minutes were remaining in the 2nd period, the Ducks were up 1-0 on the scoreboard, and the shot count was tied at 15. Minnesota was able to pot their 1st of the night when 4th lines were matched up late in the 2nd, and they chipped a puck deep into the Anaheim zone. Kevin Shattenkirk was slow to get to the puck and lost a board battle to Connor Dewar, who followed the puck to the boards high in the zone. He threw a puck on net that hit a screening Nathan Beaulieu on its way passed Lukas Dostal.
The early minutes of the 3rd period saw Anaheim regain a bit of energy. The top line was cycling and generating chances at will. They were in the midst of one of their best shifts when Ryan Hartman decided to take matters into his own hands. He blocked a point-blank shot from Dmitry Kulikov, allowing Minnesota to clear the zone. He was first on the forecheck and caused Simon Benoit to rim the puck to Kulikov, who failed to clear the zone, and Matt Boldy jumped on a loose puck high in the zone and beat Dostal from the hash marks.
From then on, Minnesota was able to control play. They pressured Anaheim defenders into throwing pucks away, were first to loose pucks, and outworked Ducks on the wall as they drew two more penalties in the 3rd period (capitalizing on one of them). They would go on to win the shots-on-goal battle by a tally of 42-22 (remember it was 15-15 near the end of the 2nd period), and it felt every bit that lopsided. They wore Anaheim down with offensive zone pressure, and the Ducks were forced to expend all energy clearing the puck out of dangerous areas.
Lukas Dostal was impressed yet again. He has now stopped 120 of 131 shots in his last three games, and opponents have eclipsed 40 shots against him each. He remains calm in his crease and is exceptional at tracking the puck and fighting through screens. I would be hard-pressed to find a goal he let in that fans would call “soft.” He did enough to keep his team in the game, and his team took themselves out of it.
Fatigue led to frustration, and frustration led to fatigue for the Ducks in this one. They showed positive trends in spurts but were unable to sustain and capitalize. The rookies (Dostal and McTavish) continue to dazzle as the defensemen continue to frazzle. Defensive zone coverage has been a thorn in the Anaheim side, but in this one, they were decent and killing cycles. The issues came when it was time to battle for loose pucks and cleanly exit the defensive zone. That’s when the penalties and goals occurred.
The Ducks will host the Calgary Flames on Friday night at Honda Center next, and it will be their last matchup before the holiday. Calgary remains on the playoff bubble and will be hungry for a win. Lukas Dostal will likely be in net for that one as well and will hope to see under 40 shots for the 1st time in over a week.https://share.transistor.fm/s/c11ea400