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    Alexander: Ducks’ bad night provided lessons to be learned
    • November 11, 2023

    ANAHEIM — Mama said there’d be days – or nights – like this. Then again, Mama wasn’t dealing with NHL players in the early stages of their development, terrors on some nights and full of mistakes on others.

    This is what Greg Cronin signed up for. And the Ducks’ coach has had an impact, as evidenced by their six-game win streak and multiple late-game comebacks over the past two weeks. But every now and then the youngsters need a reminder that simplicity is best.

    Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins came in and stopped the Ducks’ six-game winning streak in a 2-0 game that was close and competitive and really wasn’t decided until Sidney Crosby found an empty net at the end. Friday night, though, the Ducks were sloppy, the Philadelphia Flyers were opportunistic, and rookie Leo Carlsson’s first NHL hat trick was the only bright spot in Philly’s 6-3 victory.

    It was the first, but it won’t be the last for Carlsson, who turns 19 the day after Christmas but is already establishing himself. The No. 2 pick in last June’s draft (i.e., The Guy Who Wasn’t Connor Bedard) scored on a bullet from just above the right faceoff dot midway through the second period, buried a pass from Alex Killorn at the side of the net midway through the third and added a power-play goal off a feed from Troy Terry in the final minutes.

    “He’s going to be a star in this league,” Cronin said. “He could have had five goals, really.

    “He’s got a pace to his game for a big guy (6-foot-3, 194 pounds) that you don’t see a lot in this league. And obviously he’s got terrific hands and he’s confident. So, you know, it’s nice to see that. I mean, he deserves it and he’s just going to keep getting better.”

    But there was a pattern. Each of those Carlsson goals chipped away at a deficit – 3-1, 4-2, 5-3. And of those first five goals Cronin said four of those goals were scored “three or four seconds (after) they’re on our sticks.

    “You can’t win hockey games turning pucks over,” he continued. “And even they had some non-goals, like Leo turns it over inside the blue line and the kid misses a wide-open net. I just don’t know how to describe it. I don’t. We’ve been talking about it all year, about puck management. … We played hard. I mean, the effort was there. We had the puck a lot this game. I don’t want to dissect each turnover, but they’re just not good plays.”

    These are lessons that have to be learned by a young team. It’s not to say that things came too easy for the Ducks during the winning streak because, let’s face it, this is hockey. Nothing comes easy. But it’s also true that you get out of the game what you put into it, and this might be a case where players have to rediscover what they should be putting into it.

    “The first five minutes, we’re just rolling lines and we’re getting pressure,” Cronin said. “That’s the way we have to play. I don’t think there were any turnovers the first five minutes, and then we just decided that we were going to play pond hockey. And they took advantage of it.

    “You can take the game and dissect it all you want: analytically, score, shots on goal, scoring chances. It’s like any sport, you know? Football, the big stat’s turnovers, right? Basketball, big stat’s turnovers. Hockey, big stat’s turnovers, too. And we just turned it over repeatedly. Even when we got back in the game, when it was 4-2, we’re turning it over at the offensive blue line, turning it over at the red line with full possession instead of just banging it in. Good teams, really good mature teams, just don’t do that.”

    How do you coach ’em out of it?

    “You just communicate the message, that you can’t turn pucks over,” he said. “Like I told (the players), nobody’s trying to be selfish. Nobody’s trying to be negligent with the puck. They get caught up in the game. It’s an easy game from the press box. It’s an easy game from the bench. They’ve got to make split-second decisions. But I think when it’s in their DNA when there’s a crowded blue line and they’ll chip it in and go hunt pucks down, they’ll do it.

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    “Right now they’re struggling with being creative with the puck and making the fancier play, rather than putting it deep and go hunting pucks down like we did the first five minutes.”

    It is a reminder that Cronin’s job description includes a lot of teaching. These nights provide plenty of material for video sessions and on-ice instruction.

    And maybe the point is already hitting home, because when Carlsson was asked what kind of lessons would come out of a game like this, he was quick with his answer.

    “No more turnovers is the number one thing,” he said.

    Recognizing it is the easy part.

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    ​ Orange County Register