The Anaheim Ducks have had an uneven season that has looked downright ugly at times. Their inability to stay competitive in terms of shot and scoring chance differential had them trending down in the standings.
Lately, though, things have taken a turn for the better. The Ducks have won in four in a row and are 6-2-2 in their past 10 contests. Most recently, Anaheim notched a scintillating come-from-behind victory on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trailing 5-1 more than halfway through the second period, the game seemed lost for the Ducks, but they erupted for five unanswered goals—including three in the third period—to earn an unlikely 6-5 win that saw Ryan Miller tie John Vanbiesbrouck as the all-time wins leader among U.S.-born goaltenders.
Now with some breathing room above the (hockey) .500 mark at 14-10-5, Anaheim’s season might be getting back on track. Sunday’s miraculous comeback highlighted several reasons for optimism moving forward.
Rickard Rakell Lights the Lamp Again
Beyond the macro team issue of the Ducks usually being decisively out-chanced by their opponents, one of the micro issues behind their inconsistency has been a surprising lack of production from star forward Rickard Rakell. While he has been tallying some assists, the two-time 30-goal scorer had only found the back of the net four times in 28 games prior to Sunday’s game in Washington. That would equate to just 12 goals over a full 82-game season.
Rakell was able to chip in against the Caps, scoring one of Anaheim’s six goals as he followed up on his own rebound on a play off the rush. He also added an assist.
With the Ducks collectively on a high, perhaps Rakell can ride his individual success on Sunday and light the lamp on a more regular basis, as he has done in each of the past two seasons. The Ducks will need him to be a top scoring threat if they want to make the playoffs.
Pontus Aberg Is Not Slowing Down
Rakell figured to be the favorite to lead Anaheim in goals this season, as he did in each of the previous two. While he has had his struggles, another player has taken over the team lead in goals: Pontus Aberg.
Aberg’s ascension to becoming one of Anaheim’s top scoring threats is truly remarkable when one considers that A) he was a waiver-wire pickup this season, and B) he had only ever scored five goals in 68 career NHL games before joining the Ducks. After not scoring in his first five games with the Ducks, Aberg scored twice in each of the next two games. While that might have seemed like a flash in the pan, the 25-year-old has not slowed down.
The diminutive but tenacious Swede has tallied nine goals so far for Anaheim, including two in the third period Sunday against the Caps, the last of which was the game-winner with just over five minutes to go.
Aberg has managed to become more than just a spare part and even more than a solid depth option; he is a key weapon for the Ducks and represents the type of skilled, speedy, hard-working player they need as they continue to try to redefine themselves. The winger has a cap hit of just $650,000 and is set to become a restricted free agent following this season. If he keeps this up, he should earn a nice contract for next season and beyond.
Ryan Getzlaf Is Still Very Productive
Another hero in the “Miracle in D.C.” was, of course, team captain Ryan Getzlaf. The 33-year-old playmaker is over 900 games into his NHL career and is still going strong as a point-per-game player. He scored in Washington while assisting on two other markers, bringing his season point total to 22 in 23 games. This level of production comes despite the aforementioned struggles of one of his usual linemates, Rakell, and the Ducks’ inability to keep the puck for long stretches. Getzlaf just overcomes and finds a way to create offense.
Last season, he had 61 points in 56 games. The year before, it was 73 points in 74 games. He might not put up big goal-scoring numbers, but he is an assist machine because of his playmaking wizardry, and overall, is a model of consistency. On Sunday, he was one of the catalysts behind a charge that demonstrated some strong resolve on the part of the Ducks.
“Believe me, there wasn’t anybody on that bench accepting where we were just because we’d had some success previously in winning three in a row,” said head coach Randy Carlyle following the win. “That wasn’t even in their minds.”
For the Ducks, hopefully they can continue their upswing and look back at this win later on as a key defining point of their season.