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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ducks vs Sharks, round 1, game 1

Oh, what a time to be a California hockey fan! Game One of the Sharks-Ducks affair is finally here and yours truly tried to watch this one with way too many Duck fans (and one hapless Shark fan who generated a chorus of boos as he took a seat clad in his Sharks jersey) at an Oggi's watch party.

Squinting at the screens while standing and waiting for a table, or any seat at the bar for that matter, grew old after the first two periods, so I decided to hoof it back home during the second intermission. I was hungry, dammit. Lo and behold, as soon as I walked in my front door, the game actually got started. Yup, I will take total and complete responsibility for that one. Apparently, if I'm not comfortable watching my boys with food and drink before me, nobody's going anywhere.


Anyway, as is usually the question before any Duck game, who would coach Carlyle put in net tonight? Turns out, it's going to be Jonas Hiller. His very first playoff game. Man, I'm nervous enough for him. But you can do it, Jonas, we have faith in you. We've got five other Ducks who are playoff naive, but it can be arguably pointed out that the Ducks have been playing playoff hockey for the past month.

Right off that first whistle, you can feel the energy at the Shark Tank. Those fans are LOUD! The players are definitely playing with that playoff vigor. Hits are hard, skating is fast and tight, pressure is high through the neutral zone, and I'm noticing that the zebras are indeed letting the boys play. There are quite a few calls that would have been made in the regular season, but no whistles are blown in the postseason. Although, it lends itself to be seen if that's simply because the Ducks are playing.

Don't expect any generous calls if you're a Duck. I think our boys are well aware of that.

Before you know it, the first period is half over. No goals and minimal shots on goal. However, each goaltender has already faced a lot of traffic. With about seven minutes left, Bobby Ryan takes a skate to the face. Amazingly, he isn't hurt. Thank god! I don't want to even imagine what would have happened if he didn't wear the visor.

I'm happy to see our "new" acquisitions doing well out on the ice too. Petteri Nokelainen is putting some excellent hits on the more aggressive of Shark players. James Wisniewski is looking sharp on the blue line. Erik Christensen poking at pucks on the forecheck. And, with less than two minutes left in the first period, we get our first power play after Drew Miller gets tripped up in the neutral zone. Our boys don't capitalize before the horn sounds the end of the first. It's 0-0.

Going into the second period, the Ducks' first power play yields no fruit, but there are some good scoring chances. Ugh. Now there's a penalty called on Robbie Niedermayer for high sticking. First power play for the Sharks. Hiller and the penalty kill boys do a fabulous job keeping the Sharks off the scoreboard. Keep in mind, the Sharks power play is ranked number three in the league.

Analysts John Ahlers and Brian Hayward are making a big deal about the Sharks' coach Todd McLellan changing up the line he's using to face our Ducks' Legion of Doom (Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan). Joe Thorton's line wasn't shutting them down, so now he's got ex-Duck Travis Moen, Goc, and Cheechoo out there against them. Five minutes in, Perry takes the puck through neutral ice and is pressured to cough it up, right onto Bobby's stick as he speeds down the slot. Bobby deftly handles the puck around two defenseman and puts a tremendous shot on goal. Evgeni Nabokov manages to make the save, but it was a huge opportunity for our Ducks.

Maybe McLellan needs yet another shutdown line? *snicker*

Another power play chance for the Sharks as Robbie is called again, this time for holding. Although, I'd say that call was rather questionable. No matter, it is what it is. And our Ducks just need to take it and focus, not lose their cool, and kill this penalty!

I'm proud of our boys, as they make a stand at the blue line, giving the Sharks a very hard time trying to penetrate the zone. They make a successful kill.

A few miscommunications as Hiller is forced to play a couple of pucks behind the net. No Ducks in the area to pick them up. Followed by a nailbiter shot on Hiller which sends him deep into his own net. As the puck trickles across the crease, Getzlaf is also in the net. He sees the puck and manages to kick it away from the net as Goc swings away at it. Whew!

Our Ducks answer with a few good shots on Naby. Sheldon Brookbank makes an early hit on Moen before he touches the puck, and draws an interference call. C'mon guys, let's try to stay out of the sinbin! At least our pk has been looking good so far. And Hiller has been nothing but stellar. Sharks have made far more shots on goal, but we're still tied 0-0.

As soon as they're at even strength, our boys lay the pressure on hard in the Sharks zone. Good plays, shots on goal, forcing Naby to make great saves. I gotta say I'm liking the addition of Christensen on the line with Andrew Ebbett and Teemu Selanne. It's another potential scoring line.

Woohoo, elbowing penalty against Clowe on Chris Pronger. Their second power play of the game. Selanne misses an incredible opportunity on a wrap around, but it hits the net instead of going around the post. Our boys follow up with a number of good shot opportunities, but no goals.

Here we go AGAIN. Robbie in the sinbin, this time for hooking. Argh!! It feels like our Ducks have spent the entire second period on the penalty kill. No goals still, but our Ducks have over a minute of penalty kill to look forward to after the second intermission.

It was about this time that I decided to head back home. My back was killing me and standing around at the watch party with no chair, not to mention no food and drink, was starting to get on my nerves. With the score frozen at 0-0 through the first two periods, it was going to be a 20-minute hockey game.

Shots are 23-11 favoring the Sharks early in the third. They come on strong, almost pushing the Ducks onto their heels with their momentum. But our Ducks push back, Bobby makes an excellent shot that gets blocked, but it transitions down the ice to Selanne getting tripped by Cheechoo. Power play for our Ducks. Whitney slams a one-timer but Perry couldn't get into position in time at the crease. And then a succession of quick passes: Whitney at the line, down to Getzlaf on the left wing, and back up across ice to the Captain who shoots it in one motion past a Perry screen for the first goal of the series.

Yes!!! 1-0.

The Sharks are amping up their game now, as if it could get any more intense. Erhoff whips a zinger past Hiller, but it hits the crossbar. It's taken down the ice and Ebbett fires one over Naby's crossbar. Bobby fires one that Naby almost couldn't catch. Oh no, Perry takes a penalty for slashing. Huge opportunity for the Sharks to pull even.

C'mon, penalty kill! Hiller, amazing again, outwaits a tremendous shot by Boyle, faking multiple times as Boyle attempts to fire his shot into the top corner. He makes another big save by taking a puck to the mask, just another day for Jonas Hiller.

As the Sharks get more and more desperate, there are a number of no-calls against our Ducks. Stay cool, boys, don't get frustrated. Ducks get a break as a Shark hits another post. With less than five minutes left in the game, Getzlaf takes an elbowing penalty. Ahh!!

The penalty kill holds true and, as Getzlaf comes out of the box, Mike Brown slows his progression to the Anaheim bench, gets his stick on a Shark pass and the puck goes straight to Getzlaf. He carries it single-handedly down into the Sharks zone and fires a one-timer past Naby. With that goal, Getzy's 13th career playoff goal, our Ducks pretty much seal the deal.

With two minutes left, the Sharks draw a penalty. I think I can finally breathe! Sharks pull Nabokov just to even it up man-to-man, but our Ducks already have this one in the bag. Game One of the series is history, Ducks take it 2-0.

I'm so proud of our boys for their discipline and their drive in this game! The defense and the penalty kill were simply awesome. And Jonas Hiller?? What better way to debut in the NHL playoffs than with a well-deserved shutout. Go Hiller!


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