Ducks Drill Down: Surviving the Early-Going
‘Ducks Drill Down’ will become a regular, ~weekly column that recaps the latest goings-on with the Anaheim Ducks.
After a less-than-ideal start to the season that has seen the Anaheim Ducks go 2-3-1 in their first six games, they get a welcome respite, as they will not be in game action again until this Friday, Oct. 20, when they host the Montreal Canadiens.
For the Ducks, the few days off—which are separate from the built-in bye week they will get in early January—will hopefully prove to be beneficial for their numerous nicked-up players. The team collectively can also use this as an opportunity to recharge and play a more effective brand of hockey—at least as effective as possible given the severely sub-optimal lineups they’ve had to ice in each game to this point.
Injuries Upon Injuries
It’s been documented that the Ducks are contending with a laundry list of injuries. Here’s what they’ve been dealing with:
- Ryan Kesler: Recovering from offseason hip surgery; has not played yet this season (the best guess for when he will return is around Christmastime)
- Hampus Lindholm: Recovering from offseason shoulder surgery; has not played yet this season but should be back well before Kesler
- Sami Vatanen: Same as Lindholm although likely on a bit longer of a timeline
- Ryan Getzlaf: Has missed four of the six games with a lower-body injury
- Patrick Eaves: Same as Getzlaf, though Eaves’ and Getzlaf’s time in and out of the lineup has not completely overlapped
- Nick Ritchie: Has missed three of the six games with a lower-body injury
- Ondrej Kase: Has missed three of the six games after taking a hit to the nasal area Oct. 11 against the Calgary Flames and appearing to suffer a head injury. Has since been placed on injured reserve.
- John Gibson: Suffered an upper-body injury against Colorado on Oct. 13 and left after the first period. Returned to the crease Sunday night against Buffalo.
- Ryan Miller: Has missed all regular-season games to this point after suffering an upper-body injury in the preseason. Reto Berra has had to come up from the minors and fill in.
The Ducks knew for a while that Lindholm and Vatanen would be out and were also prepared for Kesler’s absence. These other maladies, however, have really cut into the team’s depth and forced them to dress patchwork lineups each night so far this season.
Derek Grant, a 27-year-old player who has spent his career firmly on the border between the NHL and the AHL, has played in all six games. Jared Boll has appeared in five games. Korbinian Holzer has played in four of the six. Jaycob Megna has dressed for a trio. Nic Kerdiles and Giovanni Fiore, after not making the team out of training camp, have appeared in two games and one game respectively.
Understandably, with the less imposing lineups the Ducks have had to trot out in the first portion of this season, they have struggled to score (their average of 2.00 goals per game is tied for the second-worst mark in the league) and to establish and maintain possession (their five-on-five Corsi-for percentage of 45.92 is the seventh-worst in the league). They were fortunate to pick up a win on opening night after trailing the Arizona Coyotes 4-1. They were also lucky to beat the New York Islanders after being outplayed for much of that game.
Their effort in their 3-1 loss to Colorado was abysmal, as they were outshot 39-18. Defenseman Cam Fowler pulled no punches in assessing his team’s performance.
“It was as bad as I’ve seen our team play since I’ve been here,” said Fowler, who has been with Anaheim since 2010. “It was pretty embarrassing, to be totally honest. Just one that you have to swipe under the rug and move on to the next one.”
The next one came two nights later, and altogether it was not a major improvement. Anaheim gained the dubious distinction of being the team against whom the often hapless Buffalo Sabres picked up their first win of the season. The Sabres also controlled much of the play in that game until the score effect led to a bit of a Ducks rally late in the third, but in the end, it was not enough, as Buffalo skated away with a 3-1 victory.
The Ducks’ 2-3-1 record isn’t good, but their underlying play is even more troubling. They have to get healthy but also be able to put forth better efforts in the meantime so they can at least tread water before they are back to full strength.
The Good News
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Ducks. The good news is that, of course, we can safely assume that Anaheim will be a better team than this once everyone (or at least some of the names on that list) is healthy.
Besides that, some players have impressed in their efforts to pick up the slack. Iron-man Andrew Cogliano has elevated his role and become a key scorer for the Ducks so far, leading the club with six points (two goals and four assists). Rickard Rakell, who has a pair of goals and a pair of assists, looks solid at center outside of faceoffs, which can always improve and are of less importance than other attributes like scoring, facilitating for teammates, positioning, and defensive awareness.
Jakob Silfverberg might only have one assist so far, but he has demonstrated a strong ability to drive possession on a team that is struggling in that area right now; his five-on-five Corsi-for percentage is 53.89, a solid number in its own right but especially so compared to the rest of the team. Fowler, with even more responsibility now, has also performed admirably relative to his teammates from a possession standpoint despite being largely average in that area in the past.
Veteran Corey Perry opened with a strong game. While all three of his points (two goals and one assist) so far this season came in that first game, that performance suggested that he still has the ability to score in bunches.
The four days off can only help the struggling and battered Ducks. As mentioned, on Friday, Oct. 20, they are back in action at the Honda Center against the Montreal Canadiens. After that, they get another three days off before heading east for a road trip, which is due for them since six of their first seven contests will have taken place at home.
The Ducks will be in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers on Tuesday, Oct. 24, before heading south to play the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes, each with a day off in between. That will close out the road trip and their October.
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