Let’s get one thing clear: game two of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center meant a whole lot more to the Chicago Blackhawks than it did to the Anaheim Ducks. The triple overtime winner that had east coast viewers up in the A.M hours was an exhilirating display of the best the great sport of hockey has to offer: skill, speed, emotion, and physicality. Yet as emotionally charged as the win was for Chicago, the Ducks can just as quickly move on.
A 2-0 hole would have been difficult to overcome for Chicago, so Tuesday night’s contest represented a must-win situation. On the other hand the Ducks, who improved certain aspects of their game, can simply wash their hands of the affair and know that they accomplished some good things.
The fourth line looked a lot more solid, pinning the Blackhawks into their zone in the first period, drawing a raucous applause from the home crowd. They peppered Corey Crawford with a lot more rubber than in game one, which bodes well going into game three. However, Anaheim’s coaching staff continues to make one egregious mistake in composing its roster.
The Stoner Problem
Clayton Stoner is your typical “stay-at-home” defenseman. He isn’t very fast, doesn’t see the ice all that well, and has an unwarranted reputation for being a physical player. Of Anaheim’s top six defensemen, he’s the only one that can’t contribute a lick of offense.
This isn’t breaking news; Stoner has been one of the Ducks’ worst possession players all year. The first and second rounds were an opportunity to atone for his sub-par season. Instead, he continued to be one of Anaheim’s worst skaters at even strength, even against the weaker Calgary Flames.
Now faced with the high-flying Blackhawks, Stoner has only looked even less effective, as impossible as that may sound. It’s unfair to pin the result of a contest on any one player, but Stoner repeatedly made crucial mistakes that directly led to goals for Chicago. Andrew Shaw had plenty of room to work with in front of the Anaheim net on the Blackhawks’ first goal, where Stoner should have been boxing him out and making his life miserable.
How would Stoner follow that up? With an ugly cross-checking penalty of course! He sent Marcus Kruger reeling into the corner, leaving him bloodied and shaken up. The Blackhawks went on the power play and increased their lead to two. Stoner was equally bad in overtime, as he was on the ice when Kruger potted the game winner.
James Wisniewski Presents A Solution
Remember James Wisniewski? The guy who was at the heart of every trade deadline rumor? The one who was supposed to re-vitalize the Ducks’ power play? Yeah, that guy. Sure, he didn’t look great in limited post-deadline action, and at times looked downright awful.
On the whole though he still represents a better option that Stoner. The idea that Stoner is solid defensively is a downright falsehood; both the numbers and the eye test agree. Wouldn’t anyone in their right minds rather have fifty percent of what Wisniewski has to offer instead of Stoner at his very best? The Anaheim coaching staff has to step up and scratch the beleaguered glass-chipper. It’s the right move to make, and if Tuesday night was any indication, it could mean the difference between winning and losing.
Felix Sicard is the Anaheim Ducks’ Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. Now in his third season of covering the team, he writes previews and recaps for all Ducks’ home games, as well as weekly analysis pieces.
In addition to covering the Ducks at THW, Felix co-hosts SB Nation’s Anaheim Calling: The Podcast, as well as hosting The Garage Hockey Podcast.
For consistent Ducks’ content, be sure to check out his Twitter @Felix_Sicard.