Coming off their league-mandated bye week, the Anaheim Ducks kicked off their unofficial second half of the season with a marquee Saturday-night matchup against their southern California rivals, the revitalized Los Angeles Kings.
In what they have to hope is a sign of things to come in the second half now that they have a healthier roster, the Ducks were able to exit Staples Center with a key 4-2 victory. Net-net, it was a good night for the Ducks, but it was somewhat tarnished when news came out the next day that iron-man winger Andrew Cogliano had been suspended for two games for interference/an illegal check to the head of the Kings’ Adrian Kempe.
The eventful weekend didn’t end there for Anaheim, as the club obtained right winger J.T. Brown off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ducks Hold on Against Kings
The Saturday-night affair in Los Angeles was a bit of a choppy contest, as there were only 47 total shots on goal (25-22 in favor of the Kings), 20 of which came in the third period when the pace finally started to pick up. Perhaps since both clubs were coming off their bye weeks, there was some rust.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why the game proved to be so odd in that sense, but in any event, it ended well for the visitors. The Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period despite only putting five shots on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Ondrej Kase, indeed recalled from the AHL after a brief send-down to get some game-play in post-illness, showed no ill effects in opening the scoring and what would be a fantastic night for him.
Up 1-0 a little more than six minutes into the contest, Ryan Kesler struck on the power play with a pretty top-shelf wrister and embraced the, ahem, displeasure from Kings fans.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) January 14, 2018
The Ducks’ 2-0 advantage after one period remained that way heading into the third; an apparent Kings goal to cut the lead to 2-1 was waved off after it was correctly determined that LA’s Alex Iafallo knocked it in with his hand.
Kase, already with two points on the evening thanks to an assist on Kesler’s goal, potted another goal early in the final frame after Nick Ritchie capitalized on a misplay by Quick behind the net. The Kings, though, would make things interesting by netting a couple of goals to pull within one with just over six minutes left, but goaltender John Gibson and the Ducks were able to stave off LA’s late push before Corey Perry scored a long-range empty-netter to seal the 4-2 victory.
The Ducks might not have played their best 60-minute game, but they were opportunistic and saw promising signs from key players they will need to rely on offensively for the rest of the year. And given how arduous this season has been, they’ll gladly take the two points, especially on the road.
“We need points, simple as that,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. “Every game is very important against division foes and Western Conference foes. These are four-point games. We’re going to have to play a more consistent brand as we go forward. Hopefully we can do enough to give ourselves a chance.”
The Western Conference wild-card race is a logjam as usual in a league that sees a ton of parity, and the Ducks are right in the thick of it, with their 49 points putting them just two points out but behind four teams through the weekend’s action.
Cogliano Suspended; Head-Shot Issue Raised Again
Cogliano, fresh off signing his three-year contract extension, saw his incredible iron-man streak of 830 consecutive games—the fourth-longest in NHL history—come to an end in the most unfortunate and incongruous way: via suspension.
Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano suspended two games for interference on Los Angeles’ Adrian Kempe. https://t.co/RWJ9GN0LB8
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) January 14, 2018
Having never previously missed an NHL game in his career, it goes without saying that Cogliano had never been suspended. He had always played a clean, consistent game, so it was a little surprising to see the league not give him the benefit of the doubt with respect to intent.
On one hand, getting rid of badly-intended head shots (or at least limiting them as much as possible) is imperative for the NHL and hockey as a whole, so if the league wants to err on the side of harsher punishments in an attempt to dissuade this type of behavior, then that makes sense on the surface. On the other hand, though, the league has shown remarkable inconsistency with supplemental discipline over the years, often failing to use sound judgment when the situation is gray instead of just black and white.
Was the hit late, thus warranting the interference penalty that Cogliano was assessed? Yes. Did Cogliano, who again, has a clean history and is generally well respected throughout the league, intend to hit Kempe in the head? It’s pretty difficult to argue that. Cogliano led with his shoulder and was probably looking to hit Kempe on his shoulder, but Kempe turned, putting his head in Cogliano’s direct path.
Now for a brief aside on head shots and supplementary discipline in sports.
Hockey is such a fast game, so it’s difficult to expect players to be able to react that quickly and change their course. Many head shots are unfortunately incidental; it’s an inherent risk of playing the game. It’s the non-incidental, intentional, reckless hits that need to be cleaned up. Football is facing a similar issue with targeting and head shots, whereby the plays happen so quickly that a player might begin by looking to make a hit or tackle in a player’s torso, but the offensive player lowers his head at the last instant before the tackler can avoid it.
In both situations, league officials and safety departments need to remember why supplemental discipline exists: to reduce reckless, intentional plays that can lead to injury—not to punish players for getting caught in the middle of tough situations that each sport inevitably produces. In fairness, it isn’t always easy to gauge intent, but regardless, this distinction needs to be emphasized more and good judgment needs to be exercised in addition to criteria laid out in the rulebook, because the latter cannot measure intent.
Ducks Claim J.T. Brown
Getting back to Ducks news, the club announced on Sunday that it had claimed right winger J.T. Brown, who had been waived by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Brown, 27, has one goal and three assists in 24 games this season, but he went pointless in his last 14 contests for the Lightning. The somewhat diminutive forward (5-foot-10 and 169 pounds) compensates for that with his effort, energy, and physicality; he is averaging about two hits per game this season, which was fifth-highest among Lightning players.
He’ll likely see time on the Ducks’ fourth line. While not a big-time scorer, Brown does bring a decent amount of skill for a player in his role. He has 19 goals and 42 assists in 286 career games, with his best offensive season coming two seasons ago when he notched 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists). Based on the waiver claim, the Ducks seem to be optimistic that Brown can get back on track and add a spark to the bottom-six. Head coach Randy Carlyle hinted that he should draw into the lineup Monday afternoon in Colorado.
“We’re not bringing him out (to Denver) to sit in the stands,” said Carlyle. Brown getting into the lineup seems certain with Cogliano being out for the next couple of games (it feels weird to write that).
Hockey fans might know Brown best for being the first (and so far only) NHL player to protest during the national anthem. Earlier this preseason and then in October, Brown, an African-American, raised his fist during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality and inequality.
“I’ve been able to see both sides, but I still wanted to show my support for the root of the protest, talking about police brutality and inequality,” Brown told the Tampa Bay Times. “Those are issues that we need to be talking about.”
Brown respectfully did his due diligence in consulting with his family, coaches, teammates, and several active military members. He also was active in helping the Tampa Bay community, so the Ducks appear to be getting a strong, high-character individual as well as a solid depth forward.
The Ducks will face off Monday against the Avalanche in Denver at 12 p.m. Pacific time in a Martin Luther King Day matinee. They are then home against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and again Friday against the Kings a mere six days after their win up the freeway.
Those two home games are the first of five straight at the Honda Center, so the Ducks will try to inch up the standings despite the difficult competition.