ANAHEIM — When the Ducks acquired Daniel Sprong from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 3, the 21-year-old forward went from the seventh-oldest team in the NHL to the 10th-youngest. His clean-shaven face did not mark him as an apprentice. Even before Randy Carlyle slotted him into the Ducks’ top line, Sprong knew he would fit in.
Sprong went from a Pittsburgh roster drowning in talent at right wing at a time when the Ducks badly missed Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves. Five weeks later, both right wings remain on injured reserve. More than ever in his young career, Sprong was needed.
Friday’s game was Sprong’s 16th since the trade. The Penguins were in town, and Sprong only needed to look down the bench to realize how his fortunes have changed.
“I don’t think the opportunity on the power play’s the same,” he said. “You’ve got the five-headed monster on the other side. They’ve been playing with each other for three, four years now. They’re the best unit almost every year in the league.”
The Penguins’ many offensive weapons – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang are the first five that come to mind – were on full display again Friday.
Sprong also contributed his third goal in his last six games. His time on ice continued to swell. After averaging 8:34 per game in Pittsburgh to begin the season, Sprong has averaged more than 15 minutes since the trade.
That, even more than the sense of belonging in the locker room, has given Sprong new confidence in himself.
“The confidence comes with the coaching staff throwing me out there, giving me the minutes, the power-play time,” Sprong said. “Playing in those situations over time, going to the shootout, I think those are the little things that make you believe in yourself and give you confidence that what you’re doing in the game is good, belief in your skill set.”
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said he is merely trying to match Sprong’s role with his skills. Recently, that’s been on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell.
“In some situations, he’s delivered. In other ones, he’s had some struggles as far as putting the puck in the net,” Carlyle said. “That’s probably in tune with the rest of our team.”
THE BEST DEFENSE?
During their nine-game losing streak, the Ducks have managed just 12 goals. Considering their blue line is relatively young and mobile, should the defensemen be jumping into the attack more?
“We’ve been pretty consistent about encouraging our defensemen to join the rush,” Carlyle said. “I don’t think we’re any different than any other hockey club. The way the game is trended, you have to have a four-man rush. You have to have five guys, when an opportunity presents itself, who are prepared to jump in on the offensive side of it – and to have forwards prepared to back up defensively.
“You can’t have your defenseman basically play a run-and-gun style without having support, without having somebody cover,” Carlyle continued. “The way teams are structured, the way teams’ systems are structured, every team is asking its defensemen to be involved to a much higher level than they’ve historically been.”
Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl was chosen as the “Last Man In” in online fan voting to determine the final player on the Pacific Division All-Star roster. … Ryan Getzlaf was the Ducks’ candidate. … The All-Star Game is Jan. 26 in San Jose.
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