For the fans at Honda Center who found sleep difficult the night before the Ducks’ season-opener at the Colorado Avalanche; sweat drenching their frames, nerves swarming their hockey minds, wondering who could possibly replace the points-production of Bobby Ryan, frantically reading the injury updates on absent defense-men Sheldon Souray and Lucas Sbisa; the day itself, October 2nd, was a dream-shattering, apocalyptic catastrophe.
Caught in an Avalanche
NHL coaching debutante and Hall of Fame resident Patrick Roy was the monster hiding in the cupboard, or to be more exact, breaking glass and being ejected despite his team’s assured victory. The number one overall pick in the 2013 draft Nathan Mackinnon was the boogeyman, his two assists and indomitable physical play ultimately proving Anaheim’s undoing. Whilst Jamie McGinn was the main beneficiary of the youngster’s ‘hit the ground running’ form scoring a brace, when the Ducks did find the crease open, Semyon Varlamov extinguished their hopes with a flash of his glove, totaling 35 saves of the highest quality.
With seven seconds left in the game, Colorado leading by a comfortable 6-0 scoreline, Nick Bonino drove towards the net and Jakob Silfverberg flicked the puck high over Varlamov’s shoulder.
To the average observer, a mere consolation in a miserable defeat, one that would still prompt pessimism to sweep through the camp, like storm clouds stealing away a bright winter moon. However, you only had to look at the reaction of the Ducks’ players to know that this was something of far more significance, this was a reward for their work during the off-season, a symbol of their offensively superior 36 shots on goal and the first for a young Swede, the largest piece acquired in Bobby Ryan’s departure to Ottawa, who is expected to play a key part in filling that mighty void. The determined grimaces and dramatic fist pumps said it all.
A Wild Victory
That small boost in energy, or maybe just the emergence of their pride, damaged by a dismal result and sitting bottom of the standings, was evident three nights later in St Paul. Although early goals from Saku Koivu and Nick Bonino set the Ducks on their way, the topsy-turvy game against Minnesota was always destined for OT, Zach Parise’s terrific double pegging the home side level.
Jakob Silfverberg was again exceptional, notching up his second goal of the campaign, but it was another new-boy who proved the difference. Mathieu Perreault, picked up in a trade (virtual theft) with the Washington Capitals only days before the season got underway, bursting through to backhand Anaheim to the victory. This time out the strength was obvious, the offensive threat across lines ever present, the defensive replacements stoic and luck went for the away team, more than a few puck bounces going the way of the team in white. Those flaky fans who feared a terrible season after just one result, subjected to mockery by the quacking faithful.
Ducks’ legend and hockey god skating amongst the mortals, Teemu Selanne, was a healthy scratch for the contest at the Xcel Energy Center and with the Winnipeg Jets looming the next day, it all made sentimental sense.
A Finnish Farewell
What is likely to be Teemu’s final ever game in Winnipeg, where his NHL career began with that stunning 76-goal rookie season in 1992, featured a standing ovation of such emotion, that only the heartless or those of a robot persuasion remained oblivious to a lump in the throat. A player openly adopted by a set of fans, revered both on and off the ice, with a mutual affinity that most skaters entering the NHL can only dream of achieving one day.
In the first of 14 back-to-back games the Ducks will face this year, the 2-0-0 Jets provided a stiff test. Nevertheless, Anaheim erased two separate leads to head into the third level at 2 apiece, Mathieu Perreault adding his second goal in three games to continue his impressive start and Andrew Cogliano getting off the mark for the season.
The game-winner came in curious fashion, Zach Bogosian accidentally presenting the puck straight to Corey Perry in front of net, the star winger dispatching the chance clinically to take the Ducks to 2-1-0 for the season. You can be forgiven for thinking this game was Perry’s first of the season, with his total of three shots up to this point ominously similar to his woeful postseason stats against the Red Wings last campaign. It goes without saying that to have any chance of repeating their Division-winning form, the Ducks will need both Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf at elite-level each week.
As it turned out, that goal proved a springboard.
The Scary-Tale Of New York
In terms of horror stories to frighten the most steel-stomached of coaches, the New York Rangers defense at the moment will be pretty high up on the list. Two days after their 9-2 mauling at the hands of the San Jose Sharks and sizzling rookie Tomas Hertl, the Rangers made the trip along the coast for the Ducks’ home opener. They probably wish they hadn’t bothered.
A rampant Anaheim offense scored six goals across two periods as they dismantled the side from the Big Apple. It began with captain Ryan Getzlaf getting his first of the season after wonderful approach from Corey Perry and ended with the home side striking Silfver (I promise that’s my last one). Jakob added his team-leading third and fourth goals, and if you’re looking to replace thirty goals, getting four in four isn’t a bad way to start. Jonas Hiller also stopped 34 shots for the 17th shutout of his career.
So maybe the Ducks haven’t had the toughest of tests so far (the best points differential in the top six of New York defense over the past two games now stands at Ryan McDonagh’s -4), but a start of 3-1-0 looks a far cry from the misery of October 2nd at Pepsi Center. Plus, with the Avalanche going on to beat the Nashville Predators, the in-form Maple Leafs and Stanley Cup Finalists Boston for a perfect start, maybe they just fell to a pretty good team. Bryan Allen and youngster Sami Vatanen seem to be getting stronger by the game, countering defensive losses, whilst the third-line combination of Teemu Selanne, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silfverberg creates a wonderful depth to the roster.
The games this season don’t get any less complex however, with the Ducks taking on the Ottawa Senators at home on Sunday night. Could you write a better script than Anaheim, wearing their majestic ‘Mighty Ducks’ throwback uniforms against the franchise they won their only Stanley Cup against, and a former superstar’s first return thrown into the mix? If you answered that with a yes, I know you lied.