Ducks Drill Down: Henrique Arrives as Ducks Struggle to Survive

‘Ducks Drill Down’ is a regular, ~weekly column that recaps the latest goings-on with the Anaheim Ducks.

It was a busy, news-heavy week for the Anaheim Ducks, and not just because the club played four road games in six nights. The Ducks also executed a major trade, acquiring centers Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for blueline mainstay Sami Vatanen.

This off-ice transaction is aimed at helping the depleted Ducks up front, but on the ice, they are still awaiting better results following a rough week that saw them lose three of four.

Ducks Welcome Henrique, Bid Farewell to Vatanen

Before the now-infamous slew of injuries hit the Ducks, they already had a need for a top-six forward—particularly a left-handed shot, given their abundance of righties at the top of the lineup (Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Eaves, Jakob Silfverberg, and Ondrej Kase all shoot right-handed). Henrique might not have the explosiveness or upside of a Matt Duchene or an Alex Galchenyuk, but he fits the bill.

Adam Henrique, age 27, comes to Anaheim after having spent his NHL career with only the New Jersey Devils. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The dire situation with respect to the Ducks’ forward corps exacerbated their need for a forward who could provide offense, so general manager Bob Murray pulled the trigger Thursday morning to acquire Henrique, dealing from a position of strength in sending Vatanen the other way. Henrique, who had spent his entire NHL career with the Devils before this transaction, expressed excitement after getting over the initial surprise of being dealt.

“It could be big,” Henrique said with respect to the notion of playing on an eventually healthy Ducks team. “Obviously looking forward to the opportunity to play with the caliber of guys on this team. There’s a great opportunity here. It’s a winning organization. They look to win now and that’s an exciting thing for me.”

It’s a “hockey trade” that provides each team with something it desperately needs. Parting with Vatanen is tough, but the Ducks’ depth on the back end and Vatanen’s declining efficacy over the past couple of years make that price a bit easier to swallow.

Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks, NHL
Sami Vatanen heads to the Devils after being a mainstay on the Ducks’ blue line since 2013. (Photo: Andy Martin Jr.)

Blandisi also helps Anaheim’s depth right now, adding some stability to the bottom six as other forwards like Derek Grant and Chris Wagner have had to elevate their roles in the wake of so many top players being out of the lineup. Blandisi has appeared in both of Anaheim’s games since the trade.

For a more in-depth look at this trade and what it means for the Ducks, click here.

Ducks Dealing With a Tough Road

On the ice, the Ducks’ five-game road trip that kicked off Monday night in Chicago has not been kind. It began with an ugly effort against the potent Blackhawks, as Anaheim yielded seven goals en route to a 7-3 defeat that featured an Alex DeBrincat hat trick for the Hawks. The Ducks have been bleeding shots against all season, but goalie John Gibson has been able to mask that issue much of the time. That wasn’t the case against the Hawks, with Gibson letting in four goals on 22 shots before Ryan Miller relieved him in the second period.

Gibson, however, is the least of Anaheim’s concerns. Head coach Randy Carlyle lamented his team’s inability to play hard enough to stifle Chicago’s quick puck movement.

“We allowed them to play their give-and-go game,” Carlyle said. “We really didn’t get involved in the hockey game physically at all. And they just moved the puck around us, and we got frustrated.”

The Ducks’ next game, Wednesday night in St. Louis, brought a better result. They still allowed 39 shots against, but Gibson was in better form, turning aside 37 to help the Ducks to a 3-2 victory—no insignificant feat against a Blues team tied with the Winnipeg Jets atop the Central Division. 

John Gibson Ducks
John Gibson backstopped the Ducks to a 3-2 victory in St. Louis following a poor outing in Chicago. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Anaheim’s depth scoring stepped up, with Antoine Vermette netting two goals and rookie Kevin Roy adding another. The Ducks actually led 3-0 late in the third period before the Blues scored two late goals to make Anaheim sweat it out. Alas, the Ducks ended up with the two points, which they will take however they come at this point.

Friday evening in Columbus brought another challenge against one of the league’s better teams, and the Ducks were unable to ride the momentum of their victory against the Blues to another one against the Blue Jackets. Henrique and Blandisi, a day after the trade, each made their Anaheim debuts in this one, and Ondrej Kase also returned to the lineup for the first time since exiting against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 7 with an apparent concussion. Brandon Montour also helped Ducks fans breathe a sigh of relief, as he suited up for the first time after exiting the Chicago game with an elbow injury that apparently was not too serious.

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour
Brandon Montour returned to the lineup against the Blue Jackets following a brief absence. (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

While it was not an ugly team effort like Monday in Chicago, the end result was nevertheless a 4-2 loss. Anaheim held a second-period lead, as Henrique helped put the Ducks ahead 2-1 early in the frame, springing Roy with a pass for a breakaway that Roy converted. With the game later tied 2-2 with under five minutes to go in the third period, Josh Anderson put the Jackets ahead, spoiling Anaheim’s chance to get at least one point in the standings. Nick Foligno added an empty-netter for the final tally.

The Ducks’ Andrew Cogliano took the loss particularly hard, knowing how desperate his team is for points.

“I don’t know if we played good enough to win but we played good enough to get it to overtime and get a point,” Cogliano said. “It’s embarrassing we let a goal up with a few minutes left. I was a part of that. It’s absolutely unacceptable.

“Playing a good team like that you have to get it to overtime. It’s embarrassing.”

The next night in Nashville—the site of the Ducks’ playoff elimination in the Western Conference Final last season—Anaheim was at least able to pick up a point. The Predators, though, ultimately took the second point in the shootout, spoiling another fine start from Ryan Miller (33 saves), who has been a great backup so far this season. 

Besides gaining the point, there was some good news for Anaheim. Henrique scored his first goal as a Duck in the second period, on the power play. (UPDATE: The scoring credit for this goal was changed on Monday to Corey Perry, from Henrique and Montour. So Henrique is still looking for his first goal with the Ducks.) Cam Fowler lit the lamp for the second straight night and also added an assist, as he seems to be getting back to top form and jumping in on the offense more after missing a month with a knee injury between late October and late November.

Anaheim Ducks center Adam Henrique
Henrique picked up an assist against the Blue Jackets and added his first goal with the Ducks against the Predators. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

The bad news, besides the loss, was that the Ducks squandered the 2-1 third-period lead that Fowler’s goal afforded them. In addition, this wouldn’t be a ‘Ducks Drill Down’ column without another injury to mention; this time it’s Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg suffered an upper-body injury against St. Louis and did not play in either of the Ducks’ next two games.

It doesn’t seem to be serious, but another injury is the last thing Anaheim needs right now, especially since Rickard Rakell, who has been out of the lineup since Nov. 24 with an upper-body injury, was placed on injured reserve last Friday. With their top-six forward group absolutely decimated, that makes Henrique all the more valuable.

Looking Ahead

At 11-11-4, the story of the Ducks’ season has been their ability to tread water while they try to get back at least close to full health. This road trip has been a struggle, with Anaheim picking up only three of a possible eight points. They close it out with a stop in Vegas Tuesday night on their way back home. The Ducks will look to avenge a 4-2 home loss to the Golden Knights on Nov. 22 that was more lopsided than the final score would indicate.

After that, the Ducks are back in action in Anaheim the very next night, taking on the Ottawa Senators. They will then host the Minnesota Wild on Friday, Dec. 8.