The wait is over. The NHL is finally back, and it has been much too long for Ducks fans. After three intense days at training camp, the Ducks returned to the Honda Center for their first preseason game of 2010-2011. Wearing the A’s on Tuesday night were Lubomir Visnovsky, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Carter.
The forward lines at the start of the game were:
Brandon McMillan – Peter Holland – Devante Smith-Pelly
Kyle Palmieri – Ryan Carter – Dan Sexton
Matt Beleskey – Bobby Ryan – Emerson Etem
Aaron Voros – MacGregor Sharp – Trevor Smith
The defensive lines:
Paul Mara – Mat Clark
Luca Sbisa – Scott Valentine
Cam Fowler – Lubomir Visnovsky
Power Play 1:
Sexton – Holland – Smith
Fowler – Visnovsky
Power Play 2:
Palmieri – Ryan – Beleskey
Mara – Clark
Penalty Kill 1:
Beleskey – Sharp
Valentine – Sbisa
Penalty Kill 2:
Carter – Palmieri
Mara – Clark
Quick Period Breakdown
The game started off very tentatively, as one would expect for the first game of the preseason. Both teams had trouble controlling the puck and making crisp passes. Early penalties by Phoenix allowed the Ducks to start taking over the first period, but Anaheim couldn’t capitalize on any of their four power plays of the first period. The Ducks took the momentum into the dressing room having played smart, disciplined hockey.
In the second, it was the Ducks who found themselves shorthanded, and the Coyotes struck quickly on a power play goal by Kyle Turris. Former Duck Andrew Ebbett scored 4 minutes later on a goal from the same location as Turris. Bobby Ryan finally put the Ducks on the board on a power play goal off of some nice passing from Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky. The power play line on the ice for the goal was a change from the usual power play lines, as coach Randy Carlyle sent out both Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly to create traffic in front of Phoenix goaltender Jason LaBarbera. The move paid off as Ryan’s one-timer found the top corner while Etem created some chaos in front of LaBarbera. That forward trio had a few even-strength shifts together, but was later broken up again. Goalie J.P. Levasseur replaced Curtis McElhinney halfway through the second as the Ducks coaches wanted to get a look at both goalies in action. Phoenix got another power play goal by Brett MacLean, and an even strength goal by Viktor Tikhonov who deflected a shot from the point.
The third period went scoreless with the Coyotes tightening up to defend their lead and the Ducks not playing with enough desperation to make a comeback. Anaheim was outshot by Phoenix in each period, with the final total being a lopsided 21-40. Phoenix’s power play went 2 for 5, while Anaheim’s was a disappointing 1 for 8. The Ducks had some good maintained pressure in the offensive zone, but struggled to get shots on net and ultimately couldn’t capitalize on their chances. The final score was Anaheim: 1, Phoenix: 4.
Of course, it was great to see Bobby Ryan back in an Anaheim jersey after a long, drawn-out contract negotiation. He pleased the crowd with his power play goal, but his -2 rating was something to forget. Tuesday night was his first game as a center in the NHL, and there were some times in his own zone when it seemed he wasn’t sure where to be. His comfort, confidence, and execution in the defensive zone will come with time, and Carlyle will be sure to take advantage of the preseason to get Ryan that experience he needs to become an NHL centerman.
The forward that always seemed to grab my attention was Emerson Etem, the Ducks’ second first-round draft pick in 2010. Perhaps it’s his distinct stride, but it’s also because he seems to always be where the puck is going. He sees the game extremely well for an 18-year old. When he has the puck, he makes strong plays to deke around a defender with his quick hands, blow past the defender with his startling speed, or simply get the puck deep into the zone. When he doesn’t have possession, he knows where to go to end up with the puck on his stick. Although he was a -2, he had a strong game in all three zones, including rare time on the power play that resulted in the Ducks’ lone goal of the game. One thing to keep an eye on for Etem is the amount of hits that he takes. Although he gets back up from each one no worse for wear, it is something he needs to learn from and adjust to in order to make the jump from junior to a full-time NHL position.
Devante Smith-Pelly seems to be one of the most NHL-ready forwards of Anaheim’s prospects. Not very flashy with the puck, Smith-Pelly plays a very simple game: play hard, shoot hard, and hit hard. Ducks fans will love the crunching body checks along the boards that he throws, as he seems to hit everything in sight. Smith-Pelly has been scoring goals all summer at the rookie conditioning camp, the rookie tournament, and training camp. He gets to the net and uses his strength to fight for prime positioning to get himself excellent scoring chances. He may not be the most skilled of the Ducks prospects, but there’s a reason he was chosen in the second round of the 2010 entry draft.
Peter Holland and Kyle Palmieri are two players that have generated some hype among the Ducks prospects, but I’m not sure if they’re quite ready for spots on the Ducks’ roster. There is no doubt that they are extremely skilled hockey players, but their decision making and execution wasn’t up to par as their play led to errant passes and turnovers. Holland and Palmieri have both done well in the lower hockey levels, but they will need to quickly adapt to the NHL style of play if they are to claim spots on the Ducks’ roster. The preseason will be a great opportunity to see if they can learn from their experiences of playing against seasoned hockey players.
Aaron Voros is known for his physical presence, but it wasn’t felt nearly enough tonight. I expected him to have some energy shifts in the middle of the second and third periods, when the Ducks were struggling to gain momentum. Unfortunately, he did not use his body effectively, and only when he took a dirty hit in the corner did he finally drop the gloves. With a minute remaining in the game, it did little to fire up his team.
The kids are all right. Both Luca Sbisa and Cam Fowler looked comfortable and confident in all areas of the ice. Sbisa looks much bigger than I remember, and he showed a physical side to his game tonight. He seemed to always be in perfect position to break up plays and jump on loose pucks. While Sbisa held down the defensive end, Fowler impressed at the other end of the ice. Anaheim’s first overall draft pick of 2010 had plenty of time on the power play partnered with Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky, who plays a similar smooth-skating offensive game, was a great defensive pairing for Fowler to learn from. Fowler was responsible in the defensive end and confident in the offensive zone. He logged an impressive 24:40 of ice time, second only to Visnovsky’s 24:51.
Speaking of Visnovsky, wow can this guy play. Twice he had the puck at the point and deked his way through multiple Coyotes to bring the puck in on net by himself. Though his 5’10” stature doesn’t lend itself to physical play on the defensive end of things, he’s quick with the stick to break up the play and get the puck moving the other direction. His creative play and hard shot from the point make it no surprise that he was tied for fourth among defensemen in goals scored last season with 15 tallies.
The first thing I ever thought about Mat Clark was, “That guy looks mean.” At 6’3” and 211 pounds, he sure does look intimidating. However, tonight he was a little bit too mean as he took three minor penalties in the second period alone. Clark is positionally sound in all three zones and brings a strong physical presence to the Ducks’ blue line. His hard-edged play led to a fight with Phoenix’s tough guy Paul Bissonnette, who had 19 fighting majors last season according to HockeyFights.com. While Clark looked a bit hesitant to go at it with such an experienced fighter, he took up the challenge and stood up for himself and his team while taking multiple hard rights from his opponent. If Clark can find the right balance between responsible play and the rough stuff, he will be someone to be very excited about.
Newly signed Paul Mara didn’t have a very notable first game as a Duck. Mara is a big body that does an excellent job of clearing the front of the net, but at times it seemed like that was the only thing he wanted to do. On Phoenix’s second goal of the game, he was standing in front of McElhinney covering nobody while Ebbett was open for a one-timer. If he becomes more mobile, he might be able to show Anaheim why he was drafted 7th overall in 1997.
Curtis McElhinney had a strong outing, stopping 20 of 22 shots. The first goal allowed was a power play goal from an uncontested Kyle Turris from the top of the circles that handcuffed him high to the glove side. The second goal was Ebbett’s one-timer from the same location, this time with Paul Mara’s big frame blocking his view. McElhinney had some timely saves to keep the Ducks in the game while being heavily outshot. One thing I noticed about McElhinney was how he handled the puck. He was very comfortable skating the puck to and from behind the net, directing the puck out of traffic, and passing to his defenders.
J.P. Levasseur had the unfortunate task of coming into the game in the middle of Phoenix’s goal scoring tear. With little time to warm up after sitting half the game on the bench it is hard to blame the young netminder for the quick goals against, but in the NHL you have to be ready the moment you step on the ice. Levasseur had some trouble with mobility while down in the butterfly on the first goal, as he got caught frozen on his knees while Phoenix worked the puck around him. The second goal against was a deflection that found its way through heavy traffic in front. Levassuer rebounded with a strong third period, stopping all nine shots he faced.
The Ducks’ roster was a young one, and it showed on the scoreboard in a 1-4 loss. However, they came out hard and played smart, patient, and disciplined hockey in the first period. If they can maintain that for a full sixty minutes, they can be the strong team that Ducks fans are hoping for. Tuesday night was the first preseason game of the 2010-2011 year, and the first ever preseason game for many of the Ducks’ prospects. It is up to them to take this experience and learn quickly to impress the coaches, the management, and the fans. If they can do that, the Ducks have a promising future to look forward to.
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