ANAHEIM, Calif. — For the first time in about four seasons, the Anaheim Ducks are entering the playoffs on a very quiet roll.
It’s somewhat amazing considering the last time the team lost in regulation is on March 10; their record from that point, including the playoffs, is 15-0-3.
The radio silence in large part is due to the fact that no one really knew what to make of this team for the beginning of the season.
In those previous years under Bruce Boudreau, the bar was set high (and rightfully so) with the Ducks always expected to contend for the Stanley Cup, only to fail epically each time. In Game 7. At home.
Boudreau was fired, and Randy Carlyle was re-hired. The focus shifted from ‘what the coach and team hadn’t done’ to, really, no expectations at all.
That played in Carlyle’s favor, allowing him to reshape the mindset of his group using the old adage ‘control what you can control’ as a starting point.
“Control the little things and manage your group,” said Carlyle at the Ducks practice this week at the team prepares to face Edmonton in Round 2. “Manage [the players] and give them the information that’s necessary. Prod them to focus and be composed in the situations they’re presented with.”
That is absolutely coaches speak. Yet, you know it has resonated when the players are repeating it during interviews.
“We’re just going to worry about ourselves and play the game,” said Ryan Getzlaf. “That’s all we can do.”
“As far as we’re concerned, we handle our own business,” added Kevin Bieksa. “Do our thing. Don’t worry too much about [the opposition]. Respect [the Oilers], obviously, they’re a good team, but we’re a good team, too. Keep playing the way we are and we should be fine.”
“We were down 4-1 [in Game 3 against Calgary] and we could’ve easily gotten frustrated,” said Ryan Kesler. “We just kept saying ‘one focus.’ We had that focus and we moved on.”
The calm, focused demeanor wasn’t something team came by instantly with the changing of coaches. It took time.
“I think our team at times through out the start of the year got a little too emotional,” said Getlzaf, “taking penalties, those kind of things built up on each other instead of parking it and getting ready for the next shift. I thought we did a better job of that the second half of the season and that first round.”
That second half of the season saw the Ducks recognize their potential when they followed Carlyle’s mantra.
Also, rest. A whole lot of rest helped a ton.
In the ‘Carlyle 2.0 Era,’ the principle of ‘rest’ was something new.
Carlyle in his first stint in Anaheim, and while coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was well known for bag skating his players like crazy. The coach said in his press conference after being re-hired by the Ducks that he’d learned a lot about ‘coaching the modern player’ after his dismissal from Toronto.
That included giving players additional time away from the rink. Carlyle concluded that it led to a more focused, less mentally and physically exhausted group as the season and post-season went on.
Following Anaheim’s sweep of Calgary, the team received two and a half days off (the half day was the travel day).
“We think rest is priority right now, said Carlyle on Sunday when the team returned to the rink. “With the season that we’ve had and the number of road trips, games in shorter periods of time that we cannot look past and say that our players need to rested.”
When the team started practicing again, Carlyle didn’t go easy on them. They held a full hour long practice that included skating a whole lot of laps around Honda Center’s ice.
“They worked hard today,” said Carlyle. “But that’s all in the preparation for the next one, and the next one.”
“We want our group to be ready, and that’s what we talked about. This isn’t punishment. This is about preparation.
“Our focus, our mental focus, has to be stronger than it was in the last game, last series. The series will be harder. We know that.”
Round 2 against the Edmonton Oilers starts on Wednesday in Anaheim.