Life is good for the Anaheim Ducks. Stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have turned a corner after an early season rut, while backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier has shined in the absence of John Gibson. Factor in that the team has a firm grasp on a playoff position, and there’s just not much room for complaining around the Anaheim locker room these days.
The Buffalo Sabres are a different and much sadder story. A season that was supposed to see a young core, buttressed by some expensive free agent acquisitions, take a step forward quickly turned into a nightmare.
Jack Eichel, the man expected to will the dormant franchise out of the cellar, suffered a major injury before the puck even dropped on the regular season. Even so, Buffalo’s season hasn’t been all bad luck, as they’ve been resoundingly one of the worst puck possession teams in the league.
Randy Carlyle’s squad is all but guaranteed to make the playoffs, yet they’re still jockeying for favorable position in the standings. Overlooking a team like the Sabres could easily come back to bite them. Factor in Eichel’s dominance this season, and it’s easy to imagine that a rather easy game could turn into a hairy one. Anaheim would be best served to handle business efficiently, as a showdown against the San Jose Sharks awaits them just 24 hours later.
Buffalo Sabres at Anaheim Ducks
Honda Center – 7:00 p.m. PST
TV Broadcast Channels: PT25, MSGB
Radio Broadcast Channels: AM 830, WGR 550
Buffalo Sabres: 28-31-12, 68 points
Road Record: 11-19-6
Hot Players: Jack Eichel
Key Injuries: Kyle Okposo, Dmitry Kulikov, Johan Larsson
Evander Kane – Ryan O’Reilly – Brian Gionta
Matt Moulson – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno – Evan Rodrigues – Hudson Fasching
Nicolas Deslauriers – Zemgus Girgensons – Tyler Ennis
Jake McCabe – Rasmus Ristolainen
Taylor Fedun – Zach Bogosian
Josh Gorges – Cody Franson
Andres Nilsson (likely)
Anaheim Ducks: 37-23-10, 84 points
Home Record: 23-8-3
Hot Players: Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (LTIR), John Gibson, Clayton Stoner
Rickard Rakell – Ryan Getzlaf – Patrick Eaves
Andrew Cogliano – Ryan Kesler – Jakob Silfverberg
Nick Ritchie – Antoine Vermette – Corey Perry
Ondrej Kase – Nate Thompson – Logan Shaw
Cam Fowler – Kevin Bieksa
Hampus Lindholm – Josh Manson
Sami Vatanen – Brandon Montour
Jonathan Bernier (likely)
1) Sabres’ head coach Dan Bylsma arrived to much fanfare in Buffalo, yet he’s failed to live up to the hype since.
— Andy Young (@AndyYoungSports) March 6, 2017
He hasn’t had great rosters to work with, but this season’s iteration of the Sabres is at least passable, especially if you factor in the wunderkind, Eichel. Even so, Buffalo remains an absurdly bad possession team, making one wonder what the future holds for Bylsma in upstate New York.
2) Speaking of Eichel, he’s been on an absolutely torrid scoring pace since returning from injury, posting a whopping 48 points in 49 points.
Nobody is producing at a higher rate than Jack Eichel, the best transition player in the NHL and perhaps the most valuable to his team. pic.twitter.com/HtaETnQ27o
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) March 8, 2017
The sophomore’s transition game has been cited as a big reason for his success, as well as his ability to generate shots from the dangerous areas of the ice. Though Buffalo’s season has been anything but inspiring, Eichel’s strong play at least hints that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
3) Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf has carried his club offensively since the All-Star break, notching an impressive 20 points in 18 games. For all the criticism that the veteran playmaker received in the early going, he still registered 37 points in 44 games leading up to the All-Star Game.
Ryan Getzlaf vs Richard Panik from Anaheim Ducks at Chicago Blackhawks Mar 9, 2017 https://t.co/1YK1BeSbbe
— hockeyfights (@hockeyfights) March 10, 2017
He’s looked especially good in the month of March, leading Anaheim in scoring with 12 points in seven games. The production has been outstanding, but Getzlaf has really been engaged on an eye-test level, even dropping the gloves in a recent contest against the Chicago Blackhawks.
4) Jonathan Bernier was having an abysmal season statistically, that is until John Gibson went down with an injury.
🎥: "It's a great honor, but I have to give it to the guys. It was a team effort, definitely."
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) March 14, 2017
The much-maligned goaltender has been lights-out in the month of March, compiling a jaw-dropping .947 save percentage which puts him right up there with the league’s best. History makes one wonder if he can keep this up, but it’s impossible to deny that he’s giving Anaheim exactly what they were looking for when they signed him last summer.
Anaheim’s recent play is much closer to what we’ve seen from them in past seasons, causing a growing sense of optimism around the organization. A Friday night affair at Honda Center against a weaker opponent on the tail end of back-to-back games is perfect timing for the home team, and perhaps a nightmarish one for the visiting Sabres.