Ducks banking on kids Devante Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem
Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau relied on veteran forward Daniel Winnik in 76 of the team’s 82 regular-season games, with the team getting 31 points from Kyle Palmieri in 71 games.
Yet it appears Winnik and Palmieri will be on the bench again Monday night when the Ducks and Kings meet in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at Honda Center.
In their place – with Anaheim trailing 1-0 in the series -- will be 21-year-olds Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Smith-Pelly scored two goals on April 27 to help clinch the Ducks’ first-round series win at the Dallas Stars, and he sent five shots at Kings goalie Jonathan Quick on Saturday.
Etem, playing alongside Smith-Pelly on a line centered by Nick Bonino, had one of his three shots at Quick bounce on top of the net in the third period.
The Ducks lost, 3-2 in overtime, however, failing to stop the Kings from scoring with an empty net with seven seconds remaining in regulation.
In a duplicate situation in Game 1 of the Dallas series, it was a final-seconds takeaway by Winnik that was instrumental in the Ducks preserving a lead established by Palmieri’s game-opening goal.
So why is Boudreau prioritizing the offensive potential of the youngsters over the defensive smarts of Winnik and the familiarity of Palmieri?
The coach said he was pleased with how the youngsters’ “physicality” helped stifle the Kings to just five shots on goal through the first half of the game when the Kings had 51 shots in a Dec. 3 meeting at Honda Center.
“We limited them on chances,” Boudreau said.
Asked if he could elaborate on why he appears to be sticking with the switch – Smith-Pelly and Etem skated with Bonino at Monday’s morning skate – Boudreau said, “No.”
“I have reasons … Winnik and Palmieri are both very good players, and if we have to use them, there’s no hesitation whatsoever,” Boudreau said. “But if it wasn’t for numbers, Smith-Pelly and Etem would’ve been on our team all year round too.”
Smith-Pelly returned from minor-league Norfolk on April 6 and scored the decisive shootout goal in the Ducks’ April 12 win at Staples Center. Etem returned during the first-round series, producing five shots in Game 4. He hasn’t scored yet.
“We just have an abundance of good forwards who can play, and right now I choose to go with those two,” Boudreau said.
Winnik was a good sport about it before the Kings’ series, saying of missing games, “I missed some games in the season too.”
Etem said he was content with his physical play in Game 1 and seeks to “sharpen on some mistakes to capitalize offensively. It’s exciting, a challenge. We’ve just got to bounce back tonight and we’re fully capable of doing that, getting better traffic in front of Quick, throwing more shots at him to challenge him a little more. Every game’s a must-win from here on.”
Smith-Pelly said the atmosphere of the playoffs has helped push his play to a higher level. Boudreau used Smith-Pelly on the penalty kill in Game 1.
“[The Kings] play just how I like it – dump it in, go get it, physical; I just have to keep playing the same way,” Smith-Pelly said.
HILLER IN NET: Jonas Hiller, first off the ice Monday morning, will return as the Ducks’ goalie Monday night.
“We played real well in our own end,” Hiller said, lamenting only the “bad bounce” and inability to clear the puck before Kings forward Marian Gaborik sent the game to overtime.
“Our guys aren’t too worried about it,” Hiller said. “You’re not going to win them all in the playoffs. We’re looking forward to this, and have a good chance to prove it again tonight.”
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