I landed in Anaheim the Sunday before the firing, so I was able to catch the Ducks vs. Maple Leafs game on Sunday night. I did not expect the beautiful Honda Center to be half empty, nor did I expect half of those fans to be wearing Toronto Blue and White. The Ducks played an uninspired hockey game and got smeared by the Leafs. The next game on Wednesday was similarly attended, with nearly as many Montreal Canadiens fans in the stands as Ducks fans in a half-empty arena. The result was much different, though.
When I first heard the news of Coach Bruce Boudreau's firing from the Washington Capitals, I cursed my fortune to pick that week to go to Anaheim for my day job. As it happens, I was in the right place at the right time to witness the first game of the transformation of the Anaheim Ducks into Boudreau's attacking system. I was fortunate enough to be in the building for his first game as head coach. My main observation from that night is: for those of you who might be missing Bruce Boudreau right now, don't.
The Ducks won the game 4-1, they played inspired hockey, and they were able to contain Montreal's sneaky forwards. After going down 1-0 on an Andrei Kostitsyn goal, the Ducks rallied back with 3 unanswered goals before depositing an empty-net goal for the final margin. The big guns, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, each provided a goal and two assists, and Perry, the leading goal scorer last year, graciously passed the puck to the struggling Niklas Hagman for the empty netter, which was his first goal and point as a Duck. Throughout the game, the Ducks played hard and defended well, with some notable exceptions, and Jonas Hiller was magnificent in net. Even with rumors of Randy Carlyle being on the hot seat, I did not expect him to get dumped after such a complete win.
When Boudreau's Ducks took the ice Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, I was not quite sure what to expect, but I knew it when I saw it. At least the arena was much fuller and there were more Ducks fans than Flyers fans, though the margin was slim. Boudreau got a warm welcome from the home fans amid occasional chants of "Let's go Flyers" from the orange-clad invaders.
Tell me if you've heard this one before. Boudreau re-united Bobby Ryan with Getzlaf and Perry on the top line and even put him on the top PP unit (usually it's Selanne) amid trade rumors for his underperformance. The Ducks played a fast-paced game and scored the first goal early. They also connected on their first power play. Then former Capital Andrew Gordon scored his first goal as a Duck to give the home team a 3-0 lead. The game got chippy, with Duck defender Francois Beauchemin dishing out a huge open-ice check, and then the game got out of hand as the Ducks kept taking penalties.
The Ducks gave up several odd-man rushes, thanks in no small part to sloppy line changes. They let in a powerplay goal off a blown coverage on a faceoff, then let in two more late goals to blow their lead and head to overtime tied at 3. The Ducks didn't get much of a chance to get anything going because Ryan Getzlaf took his second tripping penalty 41 seconds into OT as his man crossed the blue line, then the team captain took an undisciplined penalty for slamming his stick into the boards to make it a double minor, meaning the Ducks would be shorthanded for the remainder of overtime. Predictably, the Flyers scored to complete the meltdown and turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 win.
While Boudreau may get the Ducks high-octane stars to produce big numbers, he'll obviously have to rely on the team winning by scoring 4 or more goals a game, since Jonas Hiller would have to stand on his head to make up for the sloppy transition game. The Ducks might make it to the playoffs, but they'll die a quick death once they get there. In short, the Capitals are much better off in the long run with a coach who understands defense, and the problems that plagued the team in last year's playoffs appear to be products of the system and should fade as the season progresses.
As annoying as Jaromir Jagr is (he scored 2 PP goals), he also had one of the more entertaining moments of the game. During a Flyers powerplay, Jagr hooked down a Ducks defender. When he saw that he was being called for a penalty, he childishly waved his arms above his head and yelled at the referee as he skated past. Same old Jaromir, the man-child.