Coaches often talk about the importance of the game within the game. For the Ducks on Sunday, the most significant aspect of their day was the meeting within the meeting.
While players gathered at the Honda Center to discuss strategy for Game 6 of their playoff series against the San Jose Sharks and their second chance to upset the NHL's top-seeded team, right wing Teemu Selanne and center Andrew Ebbett held their own private chat.
The topic: turning the scoring chances they have produced into goals for Selanne, who has been held to a single assist in the first five games of the series.
"He's not going to stay scoreless for very long," Ebbett said.
It's a tribute to the exceptional play of goaltender Jonas Hiller and the No. 1 line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry that the Ducks lead the series, 3-2, despite their overtime loss at San Jose on Saturday and the lack of production from Selanne, who ranked third in team goal scoring this season with 27 in 65 games.
But to close this out tonight and avoid venturing back into the Shark Tank on Wednesday in need of a Game 7 victory, the Ducks must get a contribution from Selanne, the franchise's all-time leading playoff scorer with 22 goals and 48 points in 63 postseason games.
"We had chances [Saturday] night, lots of chances every shift, and I think that was probably our best game of the series for our line. We need for those to start going in," Ebbett said. "Once they start going in, it will be downhill from there.
"We've had our chances. We're getting better. We need to help out that top line. There's been a lot of pressure on those guys to carry the team and we need to help them out a little more."
The speedy Ebbett, who's finishing a quietly impressive rookie season, and the veteran Selanne, who ranks 18th on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list, have been absorbing more jabs than a pincushion in this series. The Sharks have targeted them and Ryan, another rookie, for intimidation with extra physical punishment. They all have the bruises to prove it but they have all bounced back.
"Nothing special, just a lot of tight checking," Selanne said. "No excuse there."
That's commendable. But Ryan has four goals, Ebbett has one, Ryan Carter scored Saturday on a nifty pass from Ebbett soon after he replaced Erik Christensen at left wing with Ebbett and Selanne, and Selanne has none.
"It always bothers me a little bit, but it's a funny game," Selanne said.
His five-game drought matches his longest since his Jan. 28 return from a thigh laceration that kept him out of 17 games. He said he was encouraged by the opportunities his line produced Saturday, though he was credited with only one shot on goal.
"We had enough chances to score two, three goals. It's a little frustrating when they don't go in," Selanne said.
"There's nothing new. It's nothing we haven't faced before. You just stay positive and keep going. The team is playing well, and that's the main thing."
Ebbett said he and Selanne had no great revelations when they chatted, but they didn't need to. They don't have to reinvent the wheel. They just have to keep their wheels moving to test San Jose's defense.
Ebbett also said he was encouraged that the line cycled the puck more effectively and spent more time in San Jose's offensive zone Saturday than in the previous games. That led to Carter's goal, which halved the Sharks' lead 55 seconds into the third period. The Ducks, outplayed for too much of the game, pulled even at 4:42 but lost on Patrick Marleau's overtime rebounder.
"And it definitely helped more than when we were standing still, so it was a lot tougher for them to get their bodies on us," Ebbett said. "I thought we played a little bit better and got away from them more than we [did] in the first four games."
Coach Randy Carlyle said the line had to come back to the puck more and work the puck up the boards a little more but professed his faith in Selanne.
"I think you'd like to see him score and I think he'd like to score. It's not like he's not working and not getting chances," Carlyle said.
"I just think right now there's a little bit of a dry spell, but we've all been around here enough to know that he can pull a rabbit out of the hat at any time."
The Ducks would settle for his pulling a goal or two out of the Sharks. Preferably tonight.