ANAHEIM, Calif. – Another weekend back-to-back greeted the Ducks in the second week of the season, this one the same variety as last weekend’s––a Saturday matchup on the road followed by a return home for a Sunday evening game.
Anaheim kept things close on Saturday against the Coyotes in their home opener in Tempe but ultimately was done in by poor discipline. Arizona scored one of their goals on the power play and the other came with their goaltender pulled during a delayed penalty.
The Ducks also scored a goal––their lone one––on the power play, but it’s clear that special teams, not their even strength play, was the reason why they fell to the Desert Dogs. Prior to Sunday’s game against the Bruins, the Ducks had gone on the penalty kill 22 times and the power play just 12 times.
Ducks head coach Greg Cronin has liked the effort from his team through four games but lamented about their execution to NHL.com’s Alan Robinson after the 2-1 loss to Arizona: “Fatigue will set in and then guys are sitting on the bench, the rhythm of the game gets pickled. Guys don’t get on the ice and then the guys that are on the ice get tired.”
Anaheim’s power play tally was their first of the season and it came from Frank Vatrano, who has scored in three of the Ducks’ first four games. The primary assist on the goal came from Jakob Silfverberg, who tied former teammate Rickard Rakell for eighth on the franchise leaderboard for assists with 185.
Leo Carlsson, who played nearly 22 minutes on Saturday, was not in the lineup on Sunday night. He sat out as the Ducks look to manage his workload in the early part of the season.
“I played in this league as a 19-year-old,” Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek told The Athletic’s Eric Stephens. “I kind of know at game 40, 42 somewhere in there, I hit a wall. It took me a while to kind of get through that wall, and I don’t want (Carlsson) to go through that. I want him to be a horse in the second half of the season. So, we’re going to manage his games for the next couple of months anyways.”
With Carlsson out, Trevor Zegras slid back into the middle from left wing and Adam Henrique was elevated to the top line. Max Jones re-entered the lineup after being a healthy scratch on Saturday and Urho Vaakanainen made his season debut against his former team, coming in for Tristan Luneau.
For most of the game, you could tell it was a matchup against two teams that had played the previous day (the Bruins played the Kings last night). A fairly even game after two periods with the shot advantage in favor of the Ducks at 18-17, Anaheim was the first team to make a breakthrough via a Mason McTavish goal in the third period. The 20-year-old scored his second goal of the season off a rebound from a Ryan Strome shot. The line of McTavish, Strome and Frank Vatrano has now accounted for 13 points through the first five games of the season.
“I’d rather win, honestly,” said Strome with a laugh about getting some points early on in the season. “We’re just trying to work hard. I think the last two games, we kind of strayed away from our game a little bit. We kind of just got back tonight to forechecking, keeping the game simple. Mason and Frank are guys that can score from anywhere on the ice, so for me, it’s just getting the puck in good scoring areas.”
The lead wouldn’t last long though for Anaheim, who were the recipients of Matthew Poitras’ first and second NHL goals of his career. Anaheim continued to push for an equalizer, pulling John Gibson for the extra attacker with two minutes remaining in the third, but Brad Marchand would score an empty net goal shortly after and a Zegras slashing penalty with a minute left would seal the deal.
“It’s a game of inches,” said Ducks head coach Greg Cronin. “We had plenty of opportunities. I keep saying––it’s like a broken record––we won’t shoot the puck. We had the puck the whole second period. A team that doesn’t score a lot of goals, we’ve got to shoot pucks.
If you have a high-shot volume mentality and you get people to those (high-danger) areas, the analytics and scoring chances will show you, unequivocally, that you’re going to score goals in those areas. We’re actually in the areas and then we pass them out of the area. I don’t know why we prefer to pass than shoot.”
Both McTavish and Cronin pushed back on the idea that the Bruins caught them on their heels after taking the lead:
“I feel like it was just bang-bang plays that ended up in the back of our net,” said McTavish. “Credit to (Poitras), he’s a great player, got two of them, obviously. It’s just kind of a matter of getting on their sticks and competing hard.”
“It was two bang-bang plays,” echoed Cronin. “There was no heels, no toes, we’re just playing hockey.”
The Ducks will now head out on a four-game road trip, starting with a matchup against 2023 third-overall pick Adam Fantilli and the Columbus Blue Jackets. It will be the first matchup between Carlsson and Fantilli after there was much debate about which player would be drafted second overall after Connor Bedard.
“We’ve got a tough road trip here,” said Strome. “I think it’s going to be a good thing for our team to get out of here, just be able to bond with each other. We’ve done a really good job to this point other than the results to this point. It’s unfortunate that we kind of have to take that approach because our record maybe deserves better. But at the same time, we’ve got to put our head down and go to work and I think maybe on a road trip it’s a good opportunity to come together a little bit and challenge ourselves and keep working hard every day.”