By Kyle Shohara
CHICAGO -- After a triple overtime game on Tuesday in Anaheim followed by last night’s 2-1 victory vs. the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s no surprise the Ducks held an optional practice this afternoon at United Center. Much of the talk today revolved around the evolution of 23-year-old defenseman Simon Despres, who has emerged as one of Anaheim’s most impactful players in the postseason. Not only has he earned the trust of the coaching staff to put him on the ice in the most crucial of moments (like the final minute of last night’s victory), but his ability to contribute offensively has been an added bonus.
Despres has been on ice for 11 playoff goals for and only five against, and his plus-8 rating leads team defensemen. In 12 games, the Laval, Quebec native has a goal and seven points – his goal serving as the game-winner last night and the first of his postseason career.
Pundits in the hockey world are still hailing Ducks General Manager Bob Murray for his ability to acquire the talented, young defenseman from Pittsburgh in a one-for-one deal with 31-year-old Ben Lovejoy on Trade Deadline Day in March. Since his arrival, Despres has also rejuvenated d-partner Cam Fowler. At today’s media availability, Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau spoke of the impact Despres has had since his arrival.
“When we made all the trades at the deadline, Wiz [James Wisniewski] was injured with a foot injury, so at the beginning we thought Des was going to be the seventh defenseman,” Boudreau says, “so he had a chance to play two or three games and played really well. It got to the point where you say, Geez, how can you take him out of the lineup? He was playing with Cam really well.
“He just kept getting better. We kept waiting for him to fail, but he didn’t. That’s a real good mark for him as a player. Everybody wants to play good because you have an awfully good defenseman waiting in the wings.”
Last year’s disheartening seven-game defeat in the Second Round vs. Los Angeles served as a harsh lesson learned when it came to finishing off an opponent in the postseason. The Ducks had two chances to eliminate LA (Games 6 and 7), but the more experienced (and eventual Cup champion) Kings flexed their muscles and the Ducks found themselves packing their bags much sooner than expected.
“I’ve always believed you learn a lot from losing, almost more than you do winning,” said Ryan Getzlaf. “If you win all the time, you don’t really understand what exactly you’re doing. You just do it. When you have those times when you go to Game 7 and you see the difference between what they did last year and what we did in that game, you learn a lot about yourselves and what you need to do, how minor the changes are that make the big difference.”
Getzlaf says the end result of that series stuck with the club throughout the summer and into this season as a reminder of what happens when attention to detail sometimes slips.
“It’s more of a mindset that you figure out that a little play matters, or that little chip matters,” said Getzlaf. “Taking the hit to make a play. Those little things like getting the puck deep so you can make a line change. Those things are very minor when you look at them individually, but on the scale of a game, when you’re talking about not making mistakes in Game 7, those are part of them.”