With two early goals conceded Wednesday against Nashville and several less-than-stellar starts defining their early season inconsistencies, Anaheim Head Coach Randy Carlyle's message was loud and clear.
"The starts that we've had, and particularly the last game, the first two shots on goal went in the net. That's not a way to start a hockey game. So we don't want to duplicate that, that's for sure," Carlyle said after Friday's morning skate.
So, of course, less than two minutes into Friday's game against Vancouver, there was Canucks forward Cody Hodgson, streaking through the Anaheim zone on a breakaway, going forehand, then backhand, then jamming the puck right into the outstretched pad of Jonas Hiller for perhaps the most important of his 38 saves in Friday's 4-3 Ducks win.
"I thought it was important to get off the right way," Hiller said. "We got scored on way too often first. I thought it was a bobbled puck, and I saw him coming in, so I tried to not go down too quickly. I thought I stayed pretty well with him, so it was definitely a good feeling for me to also get into the game. I was happy to be able to help the team out."
One other point Carlyle made after this morning's session was the need to keep things simple on the power play to get pucks to the net, to get bodies in front, and for defensemen to refrain from trying to do too much after the power play entered the game 0-for-12 over the previous three games.
Anaheim had plenty of time to rectify their power play issues during a five-minute elbowing major and game misconduct sustained by Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome when he caught Ducks rookie Devante Smith-Pelly with a high hit midway through the second period.
Anaheim scored twice on the ensuing power play part of a two-for-five effort and carried the momentum of their successful man advantage late in the period, when Peter Holland unleashed a laser of a wristshot from the left circle that seemed to surprise Roberto Luongo as it flew over his left shoulder.
"I don't think I could feel my legs when it went in the net," Holland said. "It was pretty cool. I kind of decided that I want to do that again. It was pretty special and something I will never forget. To score it on Luongo, one of the best goalies in the league, that adds to it as well."
It was one of two memorable goals on the evening, the first being a slick Bobby Ryan feed to a net-driving Andrew Cogliano, who pulled the puck back away from a lunging Luongo before directing it inside the far post for one of the season's early highlight reel tallies.
Instead of recovering from a slow start, the Ducks were instead forced to sweat out the victory as Vancouver rallied for three goals in the third period and nearly potted a fourth when Corey Perry took an ill-timed slashing penalty shortly before the Canucks pulled Cory Schneider, who replaced Luongo for the final 20 minutes.
It might not have been a consistent 60-minute effort, but there was a stark improvement on the game's first period from Wednesday evening and several games from their recent roadtrip. After the team communicated, aired out their opinions and shared ideas on how to improve during a closed door meeting prior to Thursday's practice, it appeared as though Anaheim listened to each other and to their coach, and executed their abilities to the tune of an emotional 4-3 victory over the defending President's Trophy winners and Western Conference Champions.
"I think what happens is we stray away from the structure, and then we try to do things out of our comfort zone or the things that we've done historically to give us success," Carlyle said prior to the game Friday. "Obviously, it's a 20-man group that puts the equipment on night in and night out, and if you bring your five minutes, if its 10 minutes, if it's 25 minutes, we need the best 25 or the best five you've got. And that goes for every member of this hockey club. That's where we're at."
For the Ducks, it was a case of comprehending the importance of their situation and executing through enough quality minutes to will themselves to an important early season victory.
NOTES: Jonas Hiller recorded an assist on Andrew Cogliano's goal, the fifth assist of his career and first since December 31, 2010. "I always try to be involved in the game. It rarely works out that OI get an assist, but I did tonight. I'm definitely happy about the win." Bobby Ryan's assist on Cogliano's goal marked the 100th assist of his career. Anaheim's four-goal second period was the club's highest-scoring period since scoring four goals in the second period of a 6-2 victory against San Jose on April 6, 2011. The Ducks set a season-high in attendance with a crowd of 17,339, their second sell-out of the year. The team came out for warm-ups in camouflaged, military-themed jerseys for Military Appreciation Night on Veteran's Day.