On the final day of March, San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns sat in a locker stall at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, ruminating over how to turn around a season that was quickly going off the rails.
After pondering the traditional hockey options, Burns then wondered if the solution wasn’t something more off-beat: “Maybe we need a witch doctor or something.”
Almost from the moment the witch-doctor diagnosis left Burns’s mouth, the Sharks got their act together.
Just a coincidence?
So on Friday, as the Calgary Flames tried to pick up the pieces from a narrow 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the opener of their best-of-seven playoff series, you wondered if they needed an otherworldly solution to their continuing Anaheim woes?
After all, there appears to be some strange voodoo happening at Honda Center, where the Flames haven’t won a game since 2006, a total of 28 consecutive defeats if you add regular-season failure to playoff futility.
Sadly, there wasn’t a single available witch doctor listed in the Orange County Yellow Pages. Helpfully, Yelp supplied a comprehensive offering of psychics, astrologers, tarot-card readers and fortune tellers to reverse the Flames’ fortunes and even a few spin doctors if that failed.
Mostly, though, the Flames were looking for more traditional on-ice solutions during a lightly attended Friday practice at Honda Center, in advance of Saturday’s second game of the series.
They’ll argue the gap between the teams in the opener was relatively narrow and that the key to the opening-night loss was a couple of momentary lapses, a few too many undisciplined penalties and a bad night in the faceoff circle after the first 20 minutes.
Down 2-1, Anaheim turned the game’s momentum by scoring on a three-on-zero second-period rush, the result of a badly timed Calgary line change.
Defenceman Deryk Engelland fell on his sword for that miscue, saying that, as the right-side defenceman during the second-period long line change, it was his responsibility to stay put on the play.
“Furthest guy from the bench, I can’t come off there,” said Engelland, who suggested the Flames will be more disciplined in all areas next time out, after surrendering two power-play goals on seven chances in the opener.
“There were a lot of stick infractions, where we don’t need to take those penalties – and they made us pay. But they’re definitely correctable and we’ll correct them tomorrow.”
Over all, the Ducks held a
49-29 edge in the faceoff circle, which was not unexpected, given how effective their trio of centres – Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette – are in between the dots. The Ducks were particularly good when it mattered most, during a 74-second, two-man Flames’ advantage in the final minutes of play, where a goal could have squared the game and forced overtime. Instead, the Ducks kept winning draws cleanly; clearing the puck out of the zone, and taking precious seconds off the clock.
And while discipline and line changes are two areas of the game that can theoretically be fixed quickly, getting better results in the faceoff circle could prove more problematic.
Getzlaf, especially, was an absolute force for the Ducks, easily the best player on the ice, with a goal, an assist, a monster hit on Flames’ defenceman Mark Giordano and a 12-8 record in the faceoff circle.
“If you’re not winning faceoffs, obviously the other team’s going to have the puck more often,” said Flames’ centre Sean Monahan, who scored the team’s first goal and saw a lot of Getzlaf head-to-head on the night. “I mean, faceoffs start with the centreman. You’ve got to compete in the circle, but everyone’s got to buy in, with wingers coming in and helping. We’ve got to do a better job of that throughout the series.”
In all, Getzlaf played a whopping 23 minutes 57 seconds, tops on the team and big minutes for a forward. By contrast, the best Flames’ player was third-liner Kris Versteeg, who produced a two-assist night.
“It was the first playoff game for a lot of our guys in a long time,” Versteeg said. “The guys were excited about it, but now we can settle in and just play hockey in Game 2. It’s a seven-game series for a reason. You’ve got to move on, even if you won.”
Over all, the mood in the Calgary camp was – if not light exactly – still relatively optimistic. If nothing else, at some point the law of averages suggests the results will have to go their way some day. The one thing they know for sure – if they hope to win the series, they’ll need at least one victory at the Honda Horror Show.
“The winning streak, it’s a good one for us and a bad one for them,” cautioned Ducks’ coach Randy Carlyle. “But the bottom line is, streaks are going to get broken at some point. That’s the dangerous part.”
Carlyle is correct, and on paper, it isn’t a wide mismatch between the teams. It’s just that, so far, whatever the Flames try, the Ducks do a little better.Report Typo/Error