Ducks' Ryan has a nose for the net
Ducks forward Bobby Ryan isn't leading just his team in goals so far this season, with 21 going into Tuesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres. He also leads the entire NHL in that category among U.S.-born players.
Ask his teammate, goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, why that is, and you hear something that goalies around the league are finding out every time they play the Ducks. And it's not just that Ryan has a hard and accurate shot. So does virtually everyone else in the league.
"It's deceiving," Giguere says. "The goalies don't know where it's going. Jonas [Hiller, the Ducks' other goalie] and I really have a hard time with his shot in practice. He will have the same release, and the puck will go to a different spot. I can take another guy on the team and know exactly where he's shooting every time, but when Bobby shoots, I have no idea where it's going."
Calgary Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff can relate. On Sunday evening, the game between the Ducks and Flames was tied at 4 with less than seven minutes to go when Ryan fired a shot from just above the right dot that ripped past Kipper's blocker and into the upper-left corner.
"That was quite the shot, to come down that wing and shoot across your body like that," says Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan's former linemate. "It's not that easy."
Corey Perry, who also has played with Ryan on the Ducks' top line, concurs: "It was in tight, and he had to pull it and snap it, and a lot of guys can't do that. It's a big league shot -- especially at that time of the game with only six or seven minutes left.
"There are some spots on the ice I still don't know how he scores from. He can shoot from anywhere and score from anywhere. He's just got that skill, and he's a guy that likes to shoot the puck and be in that open area."
Ryan says he's always had a nose for the net.
"I think I've developed in more recent years how to shoot from different positions and across my body and across the goalie's body like that. Those are things that I never really had, but spending some time with some shooting guys and watching them have been a huge help for me."
Ryan says he watches a lot of the great goal scorers around the league.
"Ovechkin, of course. Teemu [Selanne, his teammate] has helped me a lot, and [Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel] Datsyuk is pretty incredible, how he moves out of the stick handle and coming out of the corner so well and how he can shoot. So I've just noticed tendencies and little intricacies that they have, and I've tried to apply them a little bit."
It's working. And what's even more impressive is that Ryan no longer plays regularly with Getzlaf and Perry. "I had a lot more room when I was playing with those guys because they took up so much time and space, and they created a lot for me."
Now, playing on a line with rookie Dan Sexton, who's still learning how to play at the NHL level, and an array of centers -- "it's like a revolving door," Ryan says -- he has even less time to get his shot off.
"I certainly think I see some double coverage at times and guys tightening up a bit on me," Ryan says. "I think that comes with the game. I've talked to guys about how they've dealt with it, and they tell me that you have to be stronger on the puck; you got to make sure you make plays a little quicker than last year because you're not going to have that extra second to look up and find the guy. So for me, I've always been a guy that shoots the puck, and every time Dan or Noke [current linemate and center Petteri Nokelainen] put it into the slot, that's what I'm going to do."
Ryan's success is no surprise to his coach, Randy Carlyle.
"He's got that big league release," Carlyle says. "He can make something out of nothing. It looks like there's nothing there, and he can find holes, shoot through defensemen's legs, shoot off to the side, catch the goalie moving. He has that unique ability to get pucks directed towards the net when you would expect nothing there."
He has a knack for doing just that, and when the league takes a break for the Olympics next month, there will be no rest for the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder from Cherry Hill, N.J. He'll represent Team USA in Vancouver.
"I can't wait," Ryan says. And he's undaunted by the fact that no one is giving his team a prayer of making any noise at the Games.
"I think that's the best way to go into a short tournament," Ryan says. "Maybe teams are a little complacent going into games with you, and in a short tournament like that, anything can happen in a 60-minute game. That's the beauty of it. We'll go quietly about our business. We're going to be a fast team and a hard forechecking team."
And once Ryan gets his stick on the puck anywhere near the net, it just might be a team that surprises some folks -- especially the goalies it goes up against.
Tom Murray covers hockey for ESPNLosAngeles.com.