The Anaheim Ducks concluded a two-game Florida swing last night with a matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. It was the second and final matchup of the season for these two clubs; Tampa captured the 4-2 victory in their early-season meeting back in October. Fast forward three months, and the Lightning, as usual, find themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, while the Ducks sit firmly outside the postseason picture but still with a lot to play for, including and especially their organizational and locker room morale.
Entering last night’s game, the Ducks had been outscored 30-14 in a string of five consecutive defeats, including four blowouts. They find themselves enduring one of their worst stretches of defensive play this season, and last night might’ve been their worst effort yet since the All-Star Break. Although, it was perhaps their strongest opponent. There aren’t many takeaways from a game that had minimal positives come from it, but let’s take a look at the Ducks’ performance.
Positive: Ducks’ Defense Gets Involved in Lone Goal
There’s something worth pointing out about the Ducks’ lone goal of the game. Cam Fowler walked the blue line and found Ryan Strome beside the net for a tip, who later finished off the rebound. Fowler exhibited good vision on the play in getting the puck to Strome, and his role in the goal is part of a recent trend of Ducks defensemen getting involved in the offense.
It hasn’t led to wins, but it is encouraging to see the defense help out their teammates on offense. Since the All-Star Break, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler have two goals and three assists apiece, Dmitry Kulikov has a goal and three assists, including two points against the Florida Panthers the other night, and John Klingberg has been producing as well with five points during the same span. It might be the smallest of consolation prizes, but the production from the backend is welcomed given the absences and struggles for the Ducks up front.
Negative: Ducks Get Blitzed in the Second Period
The Ducks played the Lightning evenly for the first 20 minutes. Both teams exchanged scoring chances and power play opportunities, and both goalies made big saves. By all accounts, it was Anaheim’s second straight strong opening period. However, the game took a complete 180-degree turn in the second. The Lightning hammered the Ducks with shots and pressure, turning that into four goals. The game was over after that.
Nick Paul got the scoring started for Tampa, who also got goals from Ross Colton, Anthony Cirelli, and Zac Bogosian (his first of the season) during the frame. It all happened in approximately six minutes. We know that the Lightning are highly capable of this, though, so it was just a matter of time before they got one past Lukáš Dostál, who started for just the eighth time last night. As usual, the Ducks didn’t help themselves; they stood around watching, blew defensive assignments, and just lacked responsibility in their own end.
Negative: Penalty Kill Needs Some Improvement
The Ducks rarely win the special teams battle against their opponents. There are two reasons for that: they take more penalties than most teams do and they can’t kill enough penalties to give themselves a chance to win. This means less ice time for their stronger offensive players. A strong 5-on-5 offense and/or power play might help a team overcome a struggling shorthanded unit, but that’s just not happening in Anaheim.
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The Lightning scored enough even-strength goals last night to win the game anyway, but there’s no denying that the Ducks need to either take fewer penalties or improve their penalty kill. Fewer hooks, holds, and slashes, which are considered lazy hockey infractions, is a good place to start.
Neutral: The Ducks Need Troy Terry Back in the Lineup
While it is true that Ducks defensemen have contributed to the offense lately, as I stated before, it hasn’t translated to wins. That same defense is still struggling to both limit shots and keep pucks out of the net. Plus, the team generally isn’t scoring enough goals. Adam Henrique has struggled since the All-Star Break, and Troy Terry has been on injured reserve. This has left Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins to juggle the lines in an attempt to inject some offensive spark into the lineup. Terry’s presence alone might be what they need to get back in the win column.
Conclusion: Short Memories and Quick Regroup Required for Anaheim
The Ducks play no more hockey against Florida franchises this season, and maybe that’s for the best. They picked up one point of a possible eight in four games. Things do not get easier, as they have two games against two playoff contenders remaining on the road trip. With confidence and morale assuredly slipping with every loss, the Ducks are at a pivotal moment in their season. If they fail to regroup quickly, their losing streak (which is now tied with their season-worst) will continue and the team could very well be looking at a complete sell-off of their veterans at the trade deadline. Puck drop against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals is Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7 PM.