Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, recognizing the great amount of skill his lineup has lost to injuries, has been urging his team to play a defense-first, no-frills, blue-collar style. When players have bought into that they’ve thrived, as they did during a stretch of 11 wins in 13 games from mid-November through mid-December. When players haven’t listened, when they’ve become sloppy defensively and unfocused, they’ve paid for it in blown leads and losing streaks.
On Saturday, the launch of a six-game homestand at Honda Center, the low-scoring Ducks enjoyed what amounts to a scoring spree and built two-goal leads over the Arizona Coyotes on three occasions but couldn’t close out the deal.
Lapses in the second period and again in overtime allowed Arizona to rally for a 5-4 overtime victory, sealed when Nick Schmaltz finished off a two-on-one rush with Clayton Keller by snapping the puck past Ducks goaltender John Gibson 33 seconds into sudden-death play.
“Not picking up points here is going to hurt us later on, for sure,” Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie said.
The Ducks had led 2-0 in the first period and led by 3-1 and 4-2 in the second period, but their inability to clamp down extended their latest winless streak to 0-4-1. They had a seven-game winless streak from mid-October into early November, and they can’t afford to let this one continue if they want to keep hold of a Western Conference playoff spot.
“My disappointment is, and I told them that, we thought we could play a Harlem Globetrotters style of hockey and we tried to put that on display, and that doesn’t work for our group,” Carlyle said. “We were guilty of trying to be too cute in the second period. We didn’t play the simple grind game that was required….It cost us a point tonight. It shouldn’t cost us a point when you have three two-goal leads in the game.”
Ritchie, who set career-best marks in assists and points with his three assists, said the Ducks simply let up in the second period. “We’ve been in a lot of tight games. Tonight, for whatever reason, we just kind of took our foot off the gas and let in some easy goals,” he said.
His center, Adam Henrique, was blunt. “It’s one we should have tightened up and we should have won,” Henrique said, and he’s right.
The Ducks had energy from the start and got an early lead when Ritchie flipped a long lead pass to Ondrej Kase, who had gotten behind the Arizona defense. Kase faked a forehand before he slipped a backhander past goalie Adin Hill 46 seconds into the game, which was played before an announced sellout crowd.
The Ducks capitalized on their second power play, when Daniel Sprong scored on a one-timer from inside the left circle at 13:37. Penalties on Ryan Getzlaf and Brandon Montour — the second a dubious call because Coyotes forward Clayton Keller was holding Montour’s stick as he dropped to the ice — gave Arizona a two-man advantage but the Coyotes did little with it. However, they scored after Getzlaf returned, on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s one-timer.
The Ducks extended their lead to 3-1 merely 12 seconds into the second period, on a goal that withstood an offside challenge. Nick Cousins had the puck in his defensive zone but lost control, and Ritchie swooped in to gain possession. He made a slick backhand pass to Henrique, who easily scored from the slot.
Arizona cut the Ducks’ lead to 3-2 at 8:22 of the second period. Gibson left his net to play the puck after Conor Garland had dumped it in, but the puck took a strange carom and Arizona regained possession. Christian Fischer’s wrist shot got past Gibson for Fischer’s ninth goal this season.
Kase, standing in a crowd in front of the net, got a piece of Hampus Lindholm’s long shot for a 4-2 Ducks lead, a goal made possible by Ritchie’s ability to win a battle for the puck along the boards. But an unchecked Cousins brought Arizona close at 13:58 and a slap shot by Jakob Chychrun tied it at 4-4 at 14:37. Not long after the Coyotes pulled even, the Ducks had a two-man advantage for 68 seconds but couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity.
The game was much like the Ducks’ inconsistent season. They had moments of excellence when they pressured Arizona and they even scored a rare power-play goal, but they followed every good deed with mistakes and allowed Arizona free rein to build plays and pick up speed in the middle of the ice.
“You have to be able to play with the lead and not make those mistakes and not let a team like that hang around,” Henrique said.