The Anaheim Ducks came out of this season’s all-star break facing a rather difficult task. The team was on the outside looking in on the Pacific Division playoff picture and all of their games this week were against the teams ahead of them in the standings. Although it would not be an easy goal to accomplish, Anaheim could not feel satisfied unless they won all three division matchups.
The Ducks started off their conquest on the right foot securing a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks and moving past the Arizona Coyotes for 3rd place in the division. Anaheim then took on their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, on Thursday night and beat them too. It all came down to a Friday night showdown for 3rd place against Arizona, which the Ducks handled perfectly walking away with a 5-2 triumph. After winning all three of their must-win divisional games, Anaheim is now on a six-game winning
After winning all three of their must-win divisional games, Anaheim is now on a six-game winning streak and have also recorded victories in eight of their last nine contests. The team is currently in 3rd place in the Pacific Division, three points ahead of the Coyotes but also only one point behind the Sharks for 2nd place.
After a slow and concerning start to the 2015-16 season, Anaheim has found their groove and is beginning to gain the attention of a more positive variety across the National Hockey League. The Ducks are not only back in the playoff picture, where I believe they will remain, they are also beginning to look like the Stanley Cup contenders many people expected them to be.
The Offense is Back
For most of the season, the Ducks have been the lowest-scoring team in the entire league. If you look solely at statistics, it would appear Anaheim still holds that honor as they are still last in the NHL in both goals for and goals per game. However, the truth is that this team’s offense has caught fire as of late, scoring 34 goals in their past nine games. No longer have the Ducks had to rely on stellar play from their defense and goaltending. Anaheim has remembered how to score and play with confidence which relieves some pressure from the men on the backend of the ice.
Corey Perry has been the leader of the offense all season long, recording 21 goals thus far. He has looked extremely dominant recently, acquiring four goals and two assists in the past five outings. Luckily, other members of the team are starting to contribute offensively as well. Blueliner Hampus Lindholm has been showing the Ducks why he deserves a hefty raise this summer, scoring three goals in the last three games. Anaheim has pretty much seen offensive improvements up and down their roster which truly could not have happened at a better time.
Even when the Ducks could not buy a goal, I continued to preach that if they managed to start scoring, they would become one of the dominant teams in the league. Recently, this has been the 100% truth.
Goaltending and Defense Remain Strong
The consistent for the Ducks this season has been strong play from its defense and netminders. Anaheim remains one of the best defensive teams in the league only allowing 115 goals this season and 2.30 goals per game. Their blueline is full of reliable defensemen such as Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, Simon Despres, Josh Manson, and even Kevin Bieksa. In addition, they have Shea Theodore in San Diego due to way too much talent on defense.
Anaheim also has something most other organizations would kill for, two starter-caliber goalies. Both John Gibson and Frederik Andersen have been great. Having a one-two punch such as this takes so much pressure off both goalies and allows Bruce Boudreau to sleep a little easier at night knowing either netminder provides his team with a good opportunity to win.
Don’t Sleep On The Ducks
For the first half of the season, Anaheim was the most disappointing team in hockey. Many people picked them as Stanley Cup favorites and they were looking like the exact opposite. However, the mood has recently changed in Anaheim as the team has taken a drastic turn for the better. Many people may still be hesitant to view this club as the real deal but I am not one of them. What we have seen from this team over the past few weeks has been the real Anaheim Ducks.
It is unlikely the Ducks will be able to catch up and pass Los Angeles for first place in the division. However, all Anaheim needs to focus on is making the postseason. Once there are only 16 teams remaining in the quest for the cup, anything can happen and the Ducks must be taken seriously. Anaheim has the pieces necessary to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup and I see a long postseason run in their future.
Get excited Ducks’ nation, this team’s Stanley Cup dreams are far from lost.
John Gove is an experienced hockey writer who admires the game at all levels. Currently, John is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Dallas Stars.