Last season, the New Jersey Devils got off to a horrid start, but they were able to recover and, even though they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96, were the best team in the second half of the season with a record of 28-10-3 over the final 41 games. This year it looks as though the Anaheim Ducks could do just the same thing. They may be too far out to challenge for a playoff spot, but their position in the standings does not mean they should be taken lightly for the remainder of the season.
After going 5-5-1 to start the season, the Ducks won only two games in the month of November, costing coach Randy Carlyle his job. New coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t fare much better early on and they finished the first half of the season with a 13-22-6 record, good for 14th in the Western Conference. But in their past six games, they have been heating up, winning five and taking 11 of a possible 12 points available.
The Ducks boast arguably the best line in hockey in Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and reigning MVP Corey Perry. They didn’t just suddenly forget how to score, they have just been snakebitten all season, but they are heating up. In the past six games, Getzlaf has one goal, five assists, six points and is a plus-3; Ryan is 4-3-7 with a plus-3 and Perry is 5-2-7 while going plus-4. They have shown in the past they are a force to be reckoned with and with them getting back on track, opposing defenses are going to be in for some long nights.
Aside from them, Boudreau is relying on veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu for depth scoring. Selanne is as consistent as ever and Koivu is playing very well, leading the team with a plus-11. Jason Blake has returned after missing 34 games due to a torn tendon in his wrist and has three goals and six points in seven games since while playing mostly on the third line.
In goal, Jonas Hiller is starting to find his game as well. In six appearances in January, he is 3-1-1 with a .936 save percentage and 1.69 goals-against average. Last year he was having a season worthy of a Vezina nomination before going down in early February with vertigo and there is no reason to think he can’t reach that level again. The defense in front of him could be better, but they aren’t terrible either as they are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for 15th in shots allowed per game with 30.3.
Then there is Boudreau who, in 18 seasons as a head coach, has missed the playoffs just once, in 1997-98 while with the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL. He took the last-place Capitals to the playoff in 2007-08 after joining the team in the middle of the season, unfortunately there was just not enough time to do the same with Anaheim this season. It took the Devils half a season and a coaching change to light their fire last year without the need for any major moves. We could very well be seeing the same story being played out in Anaheim this year.
In the past three seasons, the eight-place team in the Western Conference has needed an average of 94 points in order to capture that last playoff spot. The Ducks currently need 57 points to reach that mark, meaning they need at least 29 wins in their remaining 38 games. Vying for a playoff spot is out of the question this year, but look for the Ducks to play the role of spoiler for the rest of the season.