Saku Koivu made his return to the Anaheim lineup, but it was not enough as the Sharks outlasted the Ducks in a very close game to take home a 3-2 victory. The teams played very evenly through the entire game and the Ducks played well, but the Sharks capitalized on chances while the Ducks missed the few they had.
The Ducks got the scoring started in the second period on a James Wisniewski slap shot. The team was on the power play and Wisniewski skated the puck into the zone, but did not have any passing options. He elected to shoot the puck and it slid just under Evgeni Nabokov’s pads to give the Ducks a one goal lead.
The Sharks would come back with a pair of goals in the period, one on the power play, and take the lead at about the halfway point of the game. The Ducks would tie the game, however, on a 5-on-3 power play at the end of the second period. Ryan Whitney found himself wide open with the puck sliding towards him in the slot, and unleashed a slap shot high to Nabokov’s glove side and into the net. The Ducks would carry the momentum into the third period.
The Ducks continued to play a solid game, but Teemu Selanne ended up taking a minor penalty early in the period to give the Sharks’ power play another opportunity. The best chance on that power play, however, came from Todd Marchant on a shorthanded bid that just missed. The puck was rimmed around the boards in the Ducks’ defensive zone and former-Duck Kent Huskins went over to get it at the blue line. Huskins, however, tripped and fell over as he got to the puck and Marchant quickly jumped over him and took the puck in on a partial breakaway. Nabokov attempted a poke-check, but Marchant was able to skate around it and took a back-handed shot that just hit the outside of the post. Marchant had most of the net to shoot at but was off balance when taking the shot.
Then, just after Selanne had stepped out of the penalty box, Joe Thornton ripped a shot into the top corner past Jonas Hiller to give the Sharks the lead for good. The Ducks would have some good chances in the final minutes, but the Sharks shut down the Ducks in impressive fashion after taking the lead.
The Ducks played well and were definitely an improved team with Koivu back in the lineup, but were not able to capitalize on their chances. The league-leading Sharks know how to win, and these one-goal games are not won easily against a team like the Sharks.
Still, there were quite a few positives to take from the game. The first is that Evgeny Artyukhin looks like a perfect complement for the second line along with Selanne and Koivu. He skates extremely well and is very quick, perhaps even quicker than his two line-mates, so he is able to keep up with the Finnish pair. He also provides a ton of size and a physical presence, something that has always been missing from the Ducks’ second line. There was one play in particular where Koivu was being roughed up in front of the net and Artyukhin stepped in, drawing all the attention towards himself and away from Koivu. Artyukhin can handle himself well, even with three opposing players around him, and can effectively protect his two line-mates.
The other positive from the game is the Ducks’ power play. After being stuck in a bit of a rut early in the season, the power play has begun to produce on a regular basis. The Ducks scored both of their goals on the power play tonight.
But that power play success makes something else glaringly obvious: the lack of even-strength scoring. The Ducks are a team that has been dangerous on the power play in previous seasons so their success there is nothing new. But they’ve always been able to score even strength, usually at a rate higher than most of their opponents. The Ducks have struggled in that regard this season.
The Ducks are also suffering from some injuries. Ryan Carter was finally diagnosed with a broken foot after having a second X-ray and will be out for a month, and Joffrey Lupul sat out of the game with back spasms. Steve Eminger was able to play after sitting out the last few games with back spasms, and Wisniewski was able to return to action after leaving Thursday’s game after a shot to the foot.
The Ducks will now have Sunday off before the Calgary Flames come to visit on Monday night. The Flames played this afternoon against the Kings and won easily, so they will be rested and ready to play.