Anaheim Ducks Fight Back, Fall 3-2 in Overtime to New York Islanders

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Nov 5, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Emerson Etem (16) celebrates with the bench after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The chaotic end to the Anaheim Ducks’ recent four game roadtrip was quickly replaced by a whole new set of issues that arose before Wednesday’s tilt against the New York Islanders. The Ducks returned to Southern California after a four game roadtrip where the team went 3-1-0, yet lost goaltenders Frederik Andersen (leg tightness) and John Gibson (groin) to injury. In their place, veteran Jason LaBarbera stepped in against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, backstopping the Ducks to a 3-2 victory while stopping 16 of 18 shots. While Andersen skated in warm-ups and was available to start, the Ducks chose to give the nod the LaBarbera once again against the Islanders.

However, the lack of goaltending depth was hardly the issue for Anaheim. Before warm-ups, the team announced that star forwards and franchise cornerstones Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry would both miss Wednesday’s game against the Islanders because of flu-like symptoms. Now, Anaheim had to face a young, offensively skilled team in the Islanders without their top two netminders, but also their top two players in Getzlaf and Perry. This was the first time since March of 2008 that Getzlaf (shoulder) and Perry (lacerated quad) would miss the same game because of any injury or illness.

Without their top two players, the Ducks could have folded and played a poor game. In Game 4 against the Dallas Stars last year, the Ducks crumbled in the final 40 minutes, blowing a 2-0 first period lead to the Dallas Stars and ultimately were run out of the American Airlines Center. The team, playing without their captain Getzlaf, got pushed around by Dallas and was defeated soundly 4-2. The game Wednesday against the Islanders had the potential to be the same.

The first 30 minutes of the game were not positive for the Ducks at all, as the Islanders took a 2-0 lead ten seconds into the second period. Kyle Okposo, one of the Islanders’ franchise cornerstones, scored a rocket power-play goal after taking a drop pass from Brock Nelson, skating through the middle, and firing a wristshot into the top right corner of the net. That goal gave Okposo five scores on the season. Midway through the second period, the Islanders were outshooting the Ducks 19-5, and it seemed that Anaheim lacked the compete level and tenacity to hang with New York.

However, the Ducks would begin to work and claw back from the early deficit. Thomas Hickey was called for a holding penalty when he upended Ryan Kesler. The Ducks eventually converted it into a goal, as Travis Hamonic and Cam Fowler broke their sticks as the penalty was nearing a close. Sami Vatanen made a pass to Kesler down in the slot, who then made a quick feed to Matt Beleskey, who had an easy tap for a power-play goal to cut the lead to 2-1. That gave Beleskey his sixth goal of the season in 14 games.

That goal sparked some life into Anaheim, and the team began to dictate play in the Islanders’ third of the ice from then on. Eventually, a shift started by the line of Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, and Devante Smith-Pelly helped the Ducks equalize late in the second period. A clearing attempt by the Islanders went off multiple sticks, and the puck fell right to Etem, who flared a wrister on net. It went between the legs of Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, Smith-Pelly, and Islanders netminder Jaroslav Halak for a goal. Smith-Pelly’s presence created a screen, as Halak had no idea where the puck was. That was the first goal and point for Etem this season, who would most likely have been a healthy scratch in place of Dany Heatley had Perry been playing.

By the end of the second period, the Ducks were only trailing in the shots department 22-20, meaning they had outshot the Islanders 16-10 in the middle frame, including 15-3 to close out the period. Anaheim held the final ten scoring chances of the middle period, and the team’s strong play without their two best players was a very encouraging sight to see.

The Ducks’ third period almost began with a lead, as a Beleskey shot attempt seemed to go in the net off Hamonic before the net was dislodged. However, the league determined that the puck never crossed the goal line, and the go-ahead goal for Beleskey was disallowed. The Ducks continued to storm back from bad play early, and the game went to overtime with the score tied at two and the shots on goal tied at 33.

However, the Ducks couldn’t finish the night off with a win. Vatanen took his second penalty of the night, an elbowing call drawn by Calvin de Haan. On the ensuing 4-on-3 power-play, the Islanders’ own franchise cornerstone and superstar, John Tavares, fired his second goal of the evening and sixth of the season past LaBarbera to give the Islanders a 3-2 overtime victory. His wristshot hit the inside of LaBarbera’s goalie pad and found the inside of the net.

Tavares also scored in the first period to open the game’s scoring. Hamonic fired the puck wide off a Tavares faceoff win, and then de Haan just threw a wrister on net. The rebound came right to the stick of Tavares, and before LaBarbera could figure out where the rebound had gone, Tavares had fired the puck into the open net for his fifth of the season.

Even though the Ducks did not win, this was a very encouraging game. In the regular season, wins and losses are not the only things that matter: in fact, they aren’t really the most important things during the 82 game grind. What is important is that a team plays well: teams that play well more often than they play poorly are good bets to make the playoffs. The Ducks, without their two best players, roared back to earn a point in a game they were getting thoroughly dominated and out-competed in early. If the team plays like that, they proved that they are a difficult squad to put away. With Getzlaf and Perry, Anaheim becomes a difficult team to play against and defeat when playing at that level of intensity.

As always, here are my picks for the Ducks’ three stars of the game.