By Thomas Harrington
The Pittsburgh Penguins made their annual visit to Anaheim today, and it was a battle of struggling top line centers. Coming into the contest, Ryan Getzlaf had only one goal and 17 points in 23 games this season; while Sidney Crosby had only six goals and 17 points in 25 games this season. Compared to their usual output, both players are well off their expected pace. Both players picked up an assist in the game. In net, the Ducks started John Gibson for the sixth straight game. Frederik Andersen has missed the last several games with the flu but was good enough to be the backup for this one. It was the first time Andersen was dressed for a game since November 21st. After losing the Kings last night, the Penguins decided to play Marc-Andre Fleury in the back-to-back situation.
Given the high powered centers that Pittsburgh possesses, the Ducks put their new checking line of Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, and Carl Hagelin against Crosby’s line while the line of Ryan Kesler, Nick Ritchie, and Jakob Silfverberg drew the assignment of shutting down Evgeni Malkin and his linemates. Kesler had a lot of success against Malkin, as he limited Malkin to just one shot on goal in about five minutes of action and owned him in the face off circle, as Kesler won five of seven draws between the two players. Horcoff’s line was less successful, as Crosby picked up an assist on the only goal scored when Olli Maatta picked up a loose puck in the slot, made a great move, and scored the opening goal of the game. Rickard Rakell was able to get a puck past Fleury on the power play, but Pittsburgh’s Mike Johnston issued his coach’s challenge and got the goal overturned, as it was ruled that Sami Vatanen was not able to keep the puck in the zone. Given the replays that were shown during the Ducks’ broadcast, I didn’t see a definitive angle that showed the puck out of the zone, although there was one that could be interpreted as the puck being out of the zone. However, in my mind, that was not a definitive view and I do not believe the goal should have been overturned. Despite the goal being taken away, the Ducks had the better chances throughout the rest of the period, as they kept the pressure up, but were unable to get on the board. Kesler and Malkin both received roughing minors at the end of the period.
The second period started off with some four on four hockey and the Ducks quickly took the lead as Corey Perry scored his 10th goal of the season just 36 seconds into the period. The play started with Vatanen making a great play at the blue line as he battled Crosby to keep the puck in the zone. He then got the puck to Ryan Getzlaf and he passed it to Perry and he was able to beat Fleury and tie the game. The Penguins had no shots on goal through the first part of the period, but after a Kevin Bieksa turnover, they all of a sudden had several flurries on net. Eric Fehr missed an open net, Pittsburgh hit at least one post, and Gibson was able to stop everything else thrown his way. Towards the end of the period, the Ducks started to reassert themselves and it eventually led to a goal from the fourth line. Nate Thompson made a nice pass to the slot and Chris Stewart was able to put the Ducks on top with a little more than four minutes left in the period. Pittsburgh did have a two on one break shortly after the Ducks scored their second goal, but they rang the puck off the post. That was one of the better second periods the Ducks have played all season. They outscored the opposition 2-0 and they moved the puck much better. There were no penalties that period, but the refs let both teams get away with quite a bit.
For the second game in a row, the Ducks used a strong third period to lead them to victory. Pittsburgh looked the most dangerous during their two power plays. A couple of minutes into the period, Clayton Stoner was called for hooking. It was a pretty obvious penalty, but it was a little surprising to see it called given what had been let go in the middle frame. With 1:20 left in the game, Bieksa slashed Malkin as he made a great move and almost scored. If not for Bieksa’s slash, Malkin almost would have assuredly tied the game and sent things into overtime, something the Ducks have struggled with a lot this season. Gibson made a number of high quality saves in the period, including five while the Ducks were down a man. The Ducks were able to hang on and win the game, moving them ahead of Vancouver in the standings. The Ducks now have the same number of points as Arizona, but the Coyotes own the tiebreaker and currently have the final playoff position in the Pacific Division.
Key Moment Of The Game
Stewart’s game winning goal. For the second straight game, the Ducks’ fourth line came up with a huge goal that proved to be the difference.
Key Stat Of The Game
Kesler’s 77% winning percentage in face offs. Kesler faced off against Malkin 13 times in the faceoff circle and won 10 of them, including every single draw the two took in the Ducks’ own defensive zone.
In an odd bit of scheduling, the Ducks won’t play again until Friday when Carolina comes to Anaheim, and then they won’t play again until the following Thursday when the Ducks travel to Buffalo.
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