ANAHEIM, Calif. – Facing off for the second time in a week, the Anaheim Ducks and the Pittsburgh Penguins were like “two boxers jabbing at each other,” according to Ducks head coach Greg Cronin after the game. It was a battle of who could neutralize each other more, with the game coming down to a couple of bounces.
Goaltender John Gibson––starting for the second consecutive game since returning from an upper-body injury that he suffered in the reverse fixture against Pittsburgh––was terrific, stopping 34 of 35 shots. The one goal he allowed came from Radim Zohorna, whose shot from near the goal line slipped through Gibson’s pads and into the net.
That was the lone blemish on an otherwise stellar performance for the netminder, who had a pair of denials on former teammate Rickard Rakell and a fantastic glove save on Evgeni Malkin’s one-timer on an odd-man rush.
“(Gibson) was great,” said defenseman Cam Fowler. “He kept us in the game the whole time. Made some key saves which let us hold onto some momentum and stay in the hockey game and unfortunately, we weren’t able to give him any run support.”
The Ducks left it late once again, threatening to score for a majority of the final half of the third period. A comeback win would have been their sixth third period comeback in 12 games. However, a Sidney Crosby empty netter with 20 seconds remaining iced the game.
The comebacks are nice, Fowler says, but they won’t last either. He lamented the fact that the team hasn’t been able to score goals earlier in the game and become the team protecting the lead instead of the one chasing the game.
“By no means did we have our ‘A-game’ tonight, but we still felt like we had an opportunity to win against a really good hockey team. I think we need to be able to dig down deeper and find a second gear when we feel like the game is there to be tilted in our favor and we just couldn’t quite get there tonight.”
“I thought we played half-decent,” said forward Sam Carrick. “I think we still have another gear to get to. I think in these games when the pucks aren’t bouncing your way, I think the best thing to do is throw as much as you can on net and hope to get a greasy one.”
“At times we felt like we could have done a little bit better job of creating some more chaos in front of the net,” said Fowler. “The first shot was seen a little too easily and the goalies are always going to make that save. So we’re always trying to preach on getting two or three bodies to the net and when we’re doing that, we’re very hard to defend and it creates a lot of chaos in their own end. We didn’t quite have that tonight, but we still had our fair share of chances.”
“We weren’t dictating a lot,” said Cronin. “When we’re on our game, we’re hunting pucks and we’re getting some offensive zone time. Give Pittsburgh credit, they played a good defensive game. They took a lot of shooting lanes away to the net, they were out tight on our points and closing gaps quickly.”
A lack of compete wasn’t the reason for the loss, says Cronin, who has been proud of the way his team has competed in every game this season. There were quality chances, especially in the latter half of the third period. Ultimately, the team came up short.
“We usually come out fast at home. It was an awkward game, you could feel it. There wasn’t a lot of rhythm to the game. There weren’t a lot of scoring chances either way. It was just a strange game.”
Anaheim will look to bounce back on Friday night with another home matchup, this one against the Philadelphia Flyers, who tonight became the first team in the league to lose to the previously winless San Jose Sharks.