On a busy Thursday night for the NHL, there are 11 games. Twenty-two teams are in action including the Devils, Islanders, Rangers and Sabres. The Devils and Sabres both are at home with 7 PM starts. New Jersey hosts the Panthers aiming for two in a row following a 3-0 shutout of Buffalo. The Sabres play host to the surprisingly woeful Ducks.
The Rangers visit the Wild at 8 PM where they’ll get to greet Jarret Stoll. The checking center was claimed off waivers by Minnesota. Ironically, his first game for his new team will be against the team that dropped him. He had a goal and two helpers with over a 57 percent faceoff win percentage in 29 games. Good for him that he gets another chance. There was more than one team interested. Stoll goes to a playoff team back in the West.
The Islanders visit the Avalanche at 9 PM. They look to bounce back from an ugly 5-1 home defeat to the Panthers.
Let’s go back to the main theme of this post. The Anaheim Ducks. Entering the season, they were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. In the off-season, they acquired Carl Hagelin from the Rangers for only Emerson Etem and a draft pick swap that allowed New York to move up in the second round and select Ryan Gropp. Adding a speedy two-way forward like Hagelin was a no-brainer. It was an upgrade over Etem who continues to be in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse. If he ever gets ideal ice-time, maybe the former 2010 first round pick will figure it out. And we don’t mean fourth line duty either.
Astonishingly, the Ducks enter tonight’s game at the rebuilding Sabres with a worse record. Somehow, through 29 games the Ducks are 11-13-5 with a West worst 27 points. How bad are they? They have scored only 55 goals with a roster that features Ryan Getzlaf and former Hart winner Corey Perry. Perry is the only player who’s performed admirably pacing them in goals (10) and points (19). Getzlaf has only one goal which was an empty netter in 25 contests. He does lead Anaheim with 17 helpers. But has way under performed.
Even with Hagelin struggling to fit in under coach Bruce Boudreau with just two goals, seven points and an uncharacteristic minus-eight rating, the Ducks find themselves only three points out of a playoff spot. That’s due to the division they play in. The Pacific is the worst in the NHL. The Kings lead it with 40 points. They’re the only team that’s over regular .500 with a 19-9-2 record (19-11). The Sharks are 15-14-1 (15-15). They have 31 points. Arizona, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are all tied with 30. So, there’s plenty of time for Anaheim to turn it around.
The Ducks have gotten strong netminding from former USA World Junior Championship hero John Gibson. Since being recalled, he’s won four of seven starts posting a 1.74 goals-against-average with a .934 save percentage and two shutouts. Starter Frederik Andersen has yet to find his groove. He just returned from “illness” replacing Gibson in a 5-1 home defeat to the Hurricanes. Prior to that, Gibson had won three of his previous four including home shutouts over the Canucks and Sharks. Gibson gets his eighth straight start in an hour.
Anaheim has gotten little out of Ryan Kesler. In the final year of a contract that pays him $5 million, he signed a huge extension that’ll allow him to make an average cap hit of $6.875 million over the following six seasons which would go thru 2022. That’s if he lasts. It was a curious move considering that he’s already over 30. The 31-year old American posted 20 goals and 27 helpers in his first year after coming over from Vancouver. He had a good postseason notching seven goals with six assists in a run to the Western Conference Final. Thus far, he’s been a big disappointment with three goals and 12 points with a team worst minus-12.
It isn’t so much a question of the kind of player Kesler is. A superb faceoff guy who is 53.5 percent over his career and 56.7 percent for the Ducks, he is considered that second line big pivot that they lacked which is why they traded for him. Offense is a necessity. A six-time 20 goalscorer who once reached 41 with the Canucks under Alain Vigneault in ’10-11 when they made the Stanley Cup Final, Kesler should be better than this. But scoring has plagued the Ducks in the first half. Richard Rackell ranks second with six goals. Jacob Silfverberg only has three. Chris Stewart, who was brought in to replace Matt Beleskey (signed with Bruins) has five. The aforementioned Hagelin has three as does Andrew Cogliano. Shawn Horcoff has four. They’ve also gotten nothing out of Patrick Maroon or Jiri Sekac with the latter returning against the Sabres following an ankle injury.
The Ducks are anchored by Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler. Vatanen has performed well with five goals and 11 assists. His 16 points rank third in team scoring trailing only Perry and Getzlaf. Fowler has three goals and seven helpers but is a minus-10. A superb puck moving skating defenseman who can contribute offensively, the 24-year old from Windsor, Ontario who represented Team USA at the Olympics and World Championships has posted at least 30 points in three seasons including the past two. However, his defense at times can be a bit challenging. He was taken two spots after the Rangers took Dylan McIlrath in the 2010 Draft. McIlrath has taken much longer to develop but at 23 is starting to look like a player recording his first NHL goal in a recent win.
Hampus Lindholm had two great seasons to start his career. The 21-year old totaled 64 points and a plus-54 rating in his first 156 games. A solid two-way stay at home blueliner who can contribute offensively, he also has struggled in ’15-16 with seven points and a minus-four in 28 contests. He was excellent during last postseason tallying two goals and eight assists for 10 points.
Perhaps the Ducks miscalculated by letting Francois Beauchemin go to Colorado. Beauchemin has always been underrated. A integral part of the Ducks Stanley Cup in 2007, he’s a solid stay at home type who also can contribute offensively. While he has 17 points for the Avalanche, replacement Kevin Bieksa has struggled so far with three assists and a minus-seven rating. The former Canuck plays a more physical style as evidenced by his 40 penalty minutes and team-leading 76 hits. But that style is taxing. The 34-year old is a righty shot who once put up over 40 points in Vancouver but is no longer that kind of player.
Anaheim has been without Simon Despres most of the season due to a concussion. The former Pen only got into four games. He was acquired last season for Ben Lovejoy.
The bottom line is the Ducks are the biggest disappointment before Christmas. A preseason Cup favorite that doesn’t score enough to win consistently. Ironically, that sums up the Pens who got Mike Johnston fired. They’ve scored one total goal in two losses under Mike Sullivan. They have 33 points and are fifth in the Metropolitan Division and out of the playoffs.
One thing about hockey. It’s a long season. For the Ducks, there’s a lot of season left. We’ll see if they figure it out. If they don’t, Boudreau will be next coaching casualty.