ANAHEIM — It has taken time, and the Ducks have the battle scars from earlier in the season to show for it. But they seem to have developed an identity, work in progress though it may be.
It’s not necessarily the one they foresaw coming into the season, when not only they but the entire NHL seemed obsessed with getting faster. But it’s one the Ducks’ marketing department should latch onto.
“Blue-collar hockey,” Randy Carlyle said Friday afternoon, a few hours before the Ducks’ 4-1 loss to Carolina at Honda Center. “Good defensively, effective on our breakouts, win the special teams battle, create a strong forecheck, don’t play trade-chance hockey. Very simple.”
Have we said it’s a work in progress? The Ducks, who hadn’t given up a third-period goal in six games, surrendered two in the first three minutes of the third, and then an empty-net goal at the end in having a five-game winning streak snapped.
(One of the early goals was scored by Justin Williams, known in these parts as “Mr. Game 7.” This was Carolina’s Game 28, and four times seven … ah, forget it.)
Still, the Ducks are 7-2-0 in their last nine, and their style of play has changed. Early on, when everyone in the league seemed to be emphasizing getting the puck up the ice in a hurry, some stuff maybe got lost in the translation here.
“I stated numerous times that I think we made some mistakes as a group trying to play fast without the puck,” Carlyle said. “And we’ve made a realization that we have to make sure we have the puck before we can start to send people aggressively up the ice. Anticipate that we’re going to get it? No, we have to make sure we have it.
“I think that’s the biggest transition, (that) and getting an understanding that we cannot trade chances. We can’t give up 15 to 20 scoring chances in a game. You can’t win that way.”
On Oc. 30, after a loss to the Flyers (no orange and black or Halloween jokes, please), the Ducks were 5-6-2, had gone winless in six games and had allowed an average of 38.8 shots on goal per game. That included a 51-shot night in Dallas, a 49-shot night against San Jose, and a number of other nights when goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller could have been compelled to sue for nonsupport.
The winning didn’t start immediately when the calendar turned to November, but it did soon enough. And while there’s still the occasional shooting gallery, they’ve cut down that shots average. During the 7-1-0 streak they took into Friday’s game, they allowed 32.6 per game.
On Friday, they allowed 36.
Injuries played a role in the earlier rough patch. Hampus Lindholm missed six games with a lower-body injury before returning last week. Cam Fowler has missed 11 with what the club describes as a complex facial fracture, and isn’t expected back until at least some time in January. But in their stead, youngsters Jacob Larsson, Jake Dotchin and Josh Mahura have gotten opportunities and have stepped up.
(Another defenseman, Marcus Petterson, was sent to Pittsburgh on Monday for right wing Daniel Sprong, who became an Orange County folk hero when he scored on his first shot Wednesday night against Chicago. His reward: He was on Ryan Getzlaf’s line Friday night with Pontius Aberg, because of Rickard Rakell’s bum ankle.)
When it came to cutting down scoring chances and giving their goalies some relief, mindset might have been the most important change.
“Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I stood here and said to you (reporters) that we have to develop a mentality that we have to win the 1-0 game, the 2-1 game, the 3-2 game,” Carlyle said. “And I don’t think that’s going to change for our group all year.”
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.”
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 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.”
Simpler is often better. But “Blue-collar hockey” is a better marketing motto.
(And should the Ducks use it, they’re welcome for the suggestion.)
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter
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