In praise of Bobby Ryan

In praise of Bobby Ryan
"The biggest thing is just his poise and his hands are unbelievable. I played with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby, and those guys are probably the two best in the league. Bobby's hands are right with those guys... He's a superstar in the making, it seems."
---Ryan Whitney, former Ducks defenseman

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ducks vs Phoenix Coyotes

In prior seasons, I would have looked at tonight's matchup between the Ducks and the Coyotes (who've fallen from grace in a big way since the All Star break... what happened there?) and smuggly thought our boys would have these two points in the bag. But considering it's THIS season, and the Ducks have managed to biff a number of games against bottom feeders, well, you just never know. Our boys could totally bring it, riding high off a clincher of a win against the Predators. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan could totally click that first line and score some goals; Teemu Selanne, Andrew Ebbett, and Erik Christensen could meld as that second line and score another set of quick goals; Chris Pronger could totally capitalize on the fact that he has a good blue line partner in Ryan Whitney and be able to slap some shots home as well as keep the opponent's offense at bay; J.S. Giguere could finally see the end to his slump or Jonas Hiller could once again prove himself phenomenal between the pipes.

And, just as likely, the opposite could happen. Our boys could be exhausted after last night's game, and fatigue could play a huge part in their defeat. Aware of the strength of our first and second lines, the opposition could put their best defenders on them and completely shut them down. Pronger could have a bad day with the zebras and end up in the penalty box again and again. Giggy could continue his slump, or Hiller could show us that he isn't as impervious as we thought he was. With the way this season has gone, you can't even begin to predict the outcome of tonight's game.

This is the first of two in four days against the Coyotes, tonight's is being played at the arena. A brief note about this venue, I'd love to see a hockey game here. It was a great place to see the metal concert I attended a month or so ago. I stood at center ice, directly underneath the Coyote insignia on the ceiling. I have a bit of a soft spot for the Coyotes, I don't really know why. Just my tendency to support the underdog, I suppose. But when they're playing the Ducks, of course I'm rooting for my hometown heroes.

Oh, and let's keep in mind too that it was this Coyotes team who handed a defeat to the San Jose Sharks in their last game. This one really will be a toss up.

Of note, this is Rob Niedermayer's 1000th game. The Niedermayers are the fourth brother-brother pairing to reach that 1000th game distinction. Kinda cool.

My boy Bobby is once again on that top line with Perry and Getzlaf. With Pronger and Whitney holding up a very tall defensive line, I can just see coach Randy Carlyle smiling to himself. What other team can start the ice with so many notorious players?

Since Giggy played last night, it'll be Hiller in the net tonight. In the first minutes of the game, I'm agreeing with the television commentators: Coyote goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov seems a little slow and sleepy between the pipes. If he's not on his game, that'll be a good thing for our Ducks. Saying that Bryz is normally a terrific netminder is an understatement.

Within the first four minutes, Todd Marchant winds up a slap shot which hits Bryz and bounces in front. Drew Miller, freshly recalled from Iowa, catches the rebound and chips it home. Yes! First goal of the game goes to our boys. Before the end of the first half period, the Coyotes tie it up with a slapshot from the blue line. There's so much traffic in front of the net, Hiller doesn't even see it.

A holding penalty is called against the Coyotes and our boys go on their first power play. I'm hoping they keep that pp momentum they had last night. Unfortunately, I don't think our boys are that good. There's a sloppy pass play that results in a turnover in the neutral zone. Lombardi, a new trade acquisition for the Coyotes, grabs the puck and heads to the races. He fires on Hiller, who can't smother the rebound, so he's fired on a second time. This one, he catches and holds. It's a horrible power play attempt, with no shots on goal for our boys, but nearly three short-handed shots on Hiller.

Before the end of the period, it's a power play for the Coyotes when Sheldon Brookbank tips the puck over the glass. The penalty is effectively killed off, but not without calling on Hiller to make a number of great saves.

We go into the first intermission tied 1-1.

Early in the second period, there's another Anaheim penalty, and another effective penalty kill for our boys. Then our boys go on the power play... which they can't capitalize on. Unlike yesterday's game, this one, while active, doesn't seem as concerted an effort for our boys. Maybe they're tired. Maybe the Coyotes are playing with reckless abandon, considering they're out of the playoff race. Whatever the reason, I'm watching one disjointed play after another, up and down the ice, it just seems chaotic to me.

Then another fruitless power play for the Coyotes, but not without shots on goal. All I can say is, thank god Hiller is on the ball tonight. And finally, the game starts to pull together. There's a number of great plays on the Coyote net. No goals, but our guys are looking real sharp out there. The Coyotes pick up their game too. About ten minutes of pure, whistle-free, intense hockey go by. The second period ends without a goal.

So now it's a 20-minute hockey game. The Ducks defense has been good, but their offense has lacked the bite they need to score. There's a bit of a nailbiter as a scrum breaks out in front of Hiller. The puck manages to squirt behind Hiller and over the goal line, but not before the whistle is blown. Prucha and Sheldon Brookbank exchange blows and leave their teams four on four as a result.

Right as both teams are back full strength, there's an odd play as Marchant shoots the puck towards the front of the Coyote crease. Petteri Nokelainen is there, crashing through like a freight train. He ends up in the net along with the puck. The zebra at the net deems it a good goal, but it has to go to the officials for video review. It could actually have been a goaltender interference penalty, but our Ducks catch a lucky break with this one. On video replay, it looks like the puck is actually backhanded into the goal by Coyote Kyle Turris as Nokelainen slides into the net behind it. Ducks take the lead, 2-1, with about 12 minutes to go in the game.

Can our boys protect this lead? Last night they couldn't, and the Preds tied it up with less than three minutes left.

The power play that the Coyotes get at the nine-minute mark doesn't help. At least there's no goal.

But then, at 2:31 left, it's all too familiar. The killer Coyote line of Upshaal/Lombardi/Boedker proves too much for a tired first line of Ducks and Hiller, who's down early for the first shot on net. He scuttles on his knees to block a possible second off the rebound, but more scuttling doesn't help him block Lombardi who catches the quick pass from Upshaal as he waits uncovered behind Hiller. Looking skyward in obvious frustration and disappointment, I can't help but feel awful for Hiller.

Well, boys, now you gotta make it happen. You've got less than three minutes to put another in net. Although, it is somewhat comforting to know that the extra OT point will help Anaheim, even if they end up losing. And, if they end up winning, that extra point going to the Coyotes won't exactly hurt the standings. OT sees a lot of action, but I'm also noticing the lack of Ducks in the slot to receive passes or catch rebounds. From bad to worse, Pronger gets a hooking call and our boys have to play the last minute of OT short-handed.

No goal and we go to shootouts. Our Ducks haven't seen a shootout since January. So, who's our best bet? Getzlaf and Perry have a good histories with shootouts, so no doubt they'll be in that first three. I've seen Bobby as the third shooter twice now, and both times he couldn't score. But that was a while ago, before Bobby really came into his own. Supposedly, we have a secret weapon in Christensen. But, as he starts as the first shooter, the puck flips up on him and he can't get a handle on it.

Turris shoots first for the Coyotes. The puck somehow shoots between Hiller's legs and then flies wide of the net. Lucky break!

Then Perry for the Ducks. No goal. And Bryz is looking very calm and confident.

Next up, Mueller for the Coyotes. He manages to get one past a notably frustrated Hiller.

Getzlaf is next, and he must score. Talk about pressure! He slides it far to the left and then brings it back to center where he tucks it in close to slide it between Bryz's feet and into the net. The shot is steady and graceful, Getz makes it look easy.

The Coyotes round out their three with Prucha. If he scores, it's over and they win. Hiller blocks and almost kicks it back into his own net. He holds it between his stick and his skate at the goal line for the save.

Then, Teemu. He deftly avoids Bryz's pokecheck but his foot catches on Bryz's stick and throws him off balance. No goal.

Up next for the win, Coyotes' starling, Shane Doan. A beautiful stop by Hiller who pushes Doan off his lane.

And then, my boy Bobby. This one is incredible, people, and worthy of endless replays. Bobby starts off straight towards Bryz. As he's in shooting range, he pulls a number of tight stick handles, fakes out Bryz, and pops the puck around the netminder's left leg.

Fifth shootout round, two in for the Ducks, one for the Coyotes. And lastly, to tie things up, Matthew Lombardi must score. He tries to slip it between Hiller's pads, but fails. As the puck flies out, Hiller pumps his fists in the air.

What a win for our boys! Two points, special nods to Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan for the shootout goals (wait, is that 25 goals for my boy now?), and all of the bragging rights in the world for our phenomenal netminder, Jonas Hiller.


My Zimbio
Top Stories