The Anaheim Ducks fell flat in game one of their first round matchup against the Nashville Predators, yet it may have been the best thing that ever happened to them.
After weeks of meaningless games against a litany of non-playoff opponents, Anaheim had to face an opponent that essentially smacked them across the face. The Predators came out flying, sending two forecheckers at times into the Ducks’ zone to lay hit after bone-crunching hit on their rearguards. The tactic worked to perfection in the early stages, as Anaheim struggled to find any cohesion. Only a Ryan Getzlaf goal on a two-man advantage and a masterful wrist shot from Ryan Kesler kept the Ducks in the game.
Both the players as well as the coaching staff preached to the media in the last few weeks that they cared about winning the Pacific Division. While that may have been true, Anaheim’s play dropped off considerably in the last 15 or so games of the season. A lot of that can be attributed to key injuries throughout the lineup, but some concerning tendencies seeped in. Simon Despres, among others, got into the habit of making some really head scratching plays, including this one against Winnipeg:
Lo and behold, Despres’s carelessness played a major role in what proved to be the game winner for the Predators:
He failed to recognize the oncoming Filip Forsberg as he attempted a risky stickhandling maneuver on his off wing, giving Forsberg a great angle to poke at the puck and consequently spring a counter-attack. That lackadaisical attitude potentially cost Anaheim the first act of this series, as they learned the hard way that there isn’t some magical “on” switch they can flip. To make matters worse, Josh Manson didn’t return after having to leave the game due to a hard hit from Forsberg, putting in doubt his status for game two.
No Need To Panic
Things aren’t all doom and gloom though. Once the Ducks had that, “Oh crap, we’re actually playing meaningful hockey again” moment, they seemed to play much better, winning the possession battle in the third period. Anaheim’s defensemen began using Nashville’s aggressiveness against them, quickly moving the puck out of the zone and causing odd-man rushes. Goaltender John Gibson seemed to settle in after an extremely shaky start, and David Perron looked fantastic in his return from injury.
Boudreau mentioned before the series that their wasn’t much useful tape to go back and study. Friday night’s performance leaves one to wonder how good of a job the coaching staff did to prepare the players, as they seemed absolutely surprised by Nashville’s smash mouth approach. Boudreau’s an intelligent man though, and with fresh tape to dissect, it’s impossible to think that Anaheim won’t go into game two without some major adjustments.
The Ducks have been floating around for a couple of weeks, and the old fashioned butt-kicking they got in game one could have been just what they needed. They’re a team that thrives on chippiness, and the Predators will keep supplying that in abundance. Given some necessary adjustments from the coaching staff combined with a renewed focus, there’s no reason to think that they can’t rebound and win this series handily.