Alexander: Ducks’ identity is still a work in progress

ANAHEIM — Earlier Friday, the talk was about the type of team the Ducks had become and the identity they were forging, and coach Randy Carlyle’s description could easily be adapted as a marketing slogan.

“Blue-collar hockey,” Carlyle said after their morning skate. “Good defensively, effective on our breakouts, win the special teams battle, create a strong forecheck, don’t play trade-chance hockey. Very simple.”

But this is still a work in progress. The Ducks, who had won five straight games and hadn’t given up a third-period goal in six, gave up two in the first three minutes of the third period — one of them by Justin Williams, — and another into an empty net, as that winning streak vanished with a stinker of a performance in a 4-1 loss to Carolina.

(For the record: Williams was known as Mr. Game 7 as a King. Friday was Carolina’s 28th game. Seven times four equals … oh, never mind.)

And … yes, you knew this postgame reference was coming.

“We didn’t play anywhere near the blue collar type game that was required,” Carlyle said. “It was one of those games where nothing we seemed to try to do had a positive effect. It was all frustration and lack of ability to execute. They were faster, quicker and executed at a higher rate than we did.”

The Ducks had climbed out of a deep chasm with seven victories in eight games before Friday night. They do not want that identity they are forging to include a habit of careening from winning streaks to losing streaks, after starting out 5-1-1 and then going 0-5-2.

“You can’t snowball, not in this league,” said defenseman Josh Manson. “We’ve taken good strides here to make up for the lapses we had at the beginning of the season. We fought and clawed our way back here. Now it’s a matter of staying on top.

“You have to bury teams below you, and that’s (by) creating separation and winning games … You can’t be winning two and losing three. That’s not the way to do it.”

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True progress will be measured by how much the Ducks learned from Friday night, and how they come out Sunday evening against New Jersey.

Their style of play had changed after their rough patch. After “trying to play fast without the puck,” as Carlyle put it, they realized that aggressiveness without puck possession doesn’t work.

“I think that’s the biggest transition, (that) and getting an understanding that we cannot trade chances,” he said in the morning. “We can’t give up 15 to 20 scoring chances in a game. You can’t win that way.”

Anaheim was giving up a ton of shots and a ton of chances earlier in the season, allowing an average of 38.8 shots on goal through 13 games, including nights of 51 and 49 shots that could have prompted goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller to sue for nonsupport.

In the most recent eight before Friday, they allowed 32.6 per game. Gibson faced 36 from the Hurricanes and kept the Ducks in the game with some big saves in the first period, which only served to paper over the cracks that were already showing.

“I don’t think our first 20 (minutes) were that good, either,” said Jakob Silfverberg, whose shorthanded goal in the first gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead and was his 100th career NHL goal.

“We still kind of felt we had another gear we had to put it into if we wanted to come out with two points. But then our last 40 were definitely not the way we wanted to play. We were playing slow and playing sloppy with the puck, not connecting with passes, throwing the puck into areas and hoping it’s gonna hit one of our guys.”

A team’s identity can be a funny thing. Sometimes it’s obvious, such as with the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup championship squad. If you didn’t figure out what they stood for shortly after they took the ice, GM Brian Burke was happy to remind you every time he uttered the word “truculence.”

(Given that Ryan Getzlaf released his frustrations with a fight right after Sebastian Aho’s empty-net goal at 18:46, maybe he was having flashbacks to those days of yore.)

But sometimes identity is elusive. Other times it just takes time to form.

“It’s the same as lines,” center Adam Henrique said. “Sometimes you get that chemistry where it just clicks, sometimes it takes a bit and then you have to (figure it out) the more you play together.

“You really want to be dialed in around that 20-game mark, because you know you can put yourself in or out (of contention) early. You know you’re going to have good nights, you’re going to have off nights. And so it does take some time … especially if you’re going through a whole new system, that sort of thing.”

In establishing that consistency of approach, it occasionally helps to simplify things. Henrique, speaking after the morning skate, talked of a point when “we had a few meetings where you limit the gray areas. It’s black and white. And ever since then our game has been coming together; it’s been heading in the right direction.”

But lessons often need to be reinforced. Assume Carlyle will be doing just that at Saturday’s practice.

“We can’t change what happened tonight,” he said. “But we can sure make an imprint on what’s going to happen Sunday when we hit the ice.”

Translation: Fellas, bring your hard hats.

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