If the Western Conference champs don’t figure out a way to cut down on the high-sticking, roughing, tripping, slashing, hooking and holding, the constant march to the box could turn into the most-watched springtime Southern California parade this side of Disneyland.
Niedermayer, the Ducks captain and the only member of the team to already have his name on the Stanley Cup, went off for high-sticking just 53 seconds into Anaheim’s 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 on Monday.
He was whistled again with 6:52 left for hooking. That gave Ottawa its sixth and last full advantage, but the score remained tied.
Not quite the veteran leadership the team is looking for heading into Game 2 on Wednesday.
“I guess (I should) try to be a good example, which maybe I wasn’t,” he said with a laugh Tuesday after practice.
Pronger, in the finals for the second straight year, was called for stick-holding with 44 seconds remaining, leaving goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere lunging and diving to keep the Senators from scoring the tying goal.
Just 45 seconds into Niedermayer’s first penalty, the Senators had the lead — courtesy of Mike Fisher’s goal. Ottawa also took a 2-1 edge in the middle period when Wade Redden scored 44 seconds into Ryan Getzlaf’s cross-checking penalty against Mike Comrie.
“Those are unacceptable,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “We want to limit the number of penalties. Simple as that.”
But the Ducks don’t seem to be learning.
Anaheim was the NHL’s most-penalized team during the regular season and carried bad habits into the playoffs. The Ducks average 18.9 penalty minutes per game, the fourth-highest total in the postseason and the worst among teams to get out of the first round.
“You’d think I’ve never talked to the players about it,” Carlyle said. “It’s like your kids. Sometimes there’s a thousand different ways to tell them, but it’s a lot easier to say it than to live it.”
Ottawa took advantage of two of seven power-play chances to raise its road power-play success rate to an astonishingly high 30.8 percent (12-for-39).
The Senators kicked themselves for not cashing in at least one more when they had a two-man advantage for 1:35 in the second period, created when Francois Beauchemin and Samuel Pahlsson went off for tripping and slashing infractions.
“Even with how poorly we played, if we scored on that 5-on-3 we’d probably end up winning,” Senators forward Dany Heatley said.
As difficult as the Ducks have made things on themselves with unnecessary penalties, they have been able to survive the adversity.
They’ve been whistled for 133 penalties—36 more than Ottawa—in 17 playoff games. When Anaheim lost 5-0 in Game 3 of the West finals at Detroit, things got out of hand when Rob Niedermayer and Pronger sandwiched Tomas Holmstrom with high hits against the boards.
Niedermayer was ejected and Pronger received a one-game suspension, but the Ducks have won four straight since the hit. The Ducks take pride in their physicality, it just has to stay in check—so to speak.
In the first two rounds against Minnesota and Vancouver, both five-game victories, the Ducks killed 53 of 56 power plays even though they gave the Wild and Canucks at least five chances in eight of 10 games.
The numbers have worked against them in the seven games since as Detroit and Ottawa have exploited the taxed penalty killers, cashing in on 11 of 47 advantages.
“At some point we’ve got to look in the mirror and see what we do wrong,” Giguere said. “It’s not because we can’t do it. We can do it. We can control our stick. We can move our feet. We can be disciplined after the whistle. Those are all things that will hurt you at the end of the day.
“You can’t just keep giving teams like that a chance to score like that.”
The Senators were sharp throughout their first three rounds before Monday night’s clunker put them behind in a series for the first time in these playoffs. Blame it on the travel out West or the eight-day layoff, but Ottawa plans to be much more acclimated and ready for Game 2.
Ottawa is 7-2 on the road and carried a one-goal lead into the third period of the opener, a game there for the taking even though the Senators were sub-par. They managed only 20 shots at Giguere, four fewer than their lowest total in their previous 15 games when they went 12-3.
The top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Heatley managed only five shots while allowing Anaheim’s top checkers to record 12 and score the winning goal when Travis Moen scored with 2:51 left.
Not wanting to show panic, Bryan Murray kept the highest-scoring trio in the playoffs together. If they don’t pick up the pace quickly, the line could soon be broken up. They are also contending with the All-Star defensive pairing of Scott Niedermayer and Pronger.
“I think we’re pretty confident we’re a good line and don’t need to make rash changes,” Spezza said. “Usually he (Murray) can tell if things are bad because the line isn’t working or we’re having a bad night. We were having a bad night.”