Everyone knew the Anaheim Ducks wouldn’t be the same team that they were last year going into 2016-17. How much different they’d be, however, was the dividing question. With three games in the books now, we may have some answers.
First and foremost: Anaheim isn’t anywhere near its final form, but rather an embryonic version of the team it hopes to eventually be. Rickard Rakell, who general manager Bob Murray finally managed to re-sign last week, won’t be playing for another three weeks. For the time being, head coach Randy Carlyle will continue constructing this team’s foundation.
Ryan Getzlaf figures to be a key piece of that foundation. 2015-16 was difficult for Anaheim’s captain. He struggled to find the back of the net and was heavily criticized for his team’s lackluster start. The Ducks are off to another difficult start (winless through three games), but Getzlaf seems to have legitimately improved his game.
The 11th-year pro is firing pucks at the net with reckless abandon, a trend that began last season but has taken to another level so far. That’s good news for Anaheim, since he possesses a lethal shot. As long as he’s healthy and playing with the determination we’ve seen so far, Anaheim’s lack of depth up front shouldn’t matter quite as much.
Ducks Still a Work in Progress
Anaheim is a work in progress. Their power play still looks good once set up in the zone, but zone entries have been maddening to watch. The coaching staff seems to want the puck carrier to make a drop pass to a streaking forward, but the on-ice execution has been clunky at best.
Sami Vatanen and Getzlaf are finding nice chemistry with the man advantage, completing cross-ice passes on multiple occasions against New York. However, Carlyle’s insistence on having Kevin Bieksa out on the power play has slowed the pollination of that chemistry.
Defensively, the Ducks are a mess. That falls on Carlyle, to a large degree. He’s been lauded for his “detail-oriented” approach to the game, yet there have been sequences where the Ducks have looked absolutely lost in their own zone. Look no further than the first period against the Islanders, where the shot attempts were 28 to 8 in favor of New York, for proof of that. John Gibson kept the team afloat, but there’s only so much he can do if that trendline holds (history suggests it might).
So, Carlyle has his work cut out for him. He’ll have to forge a playing style from the ground up. There’s essentially no trace of the style of play we saw last year. Rakell’s return will help, but it won’t be anathema. The Ducks didn’t get much of a training camp with players recovering from the World Cup, but the same can be said for some of their division rivals.
Essentially, there’s no excuse for lack of preparation. This team seems anything but a finished product, which runs completely counter to the front office’s “win-now” mentality. “Win-now” also means “ready-now.” Can anyone argue this team looks ready to take down a Pittsburgh or Nashville in a seven-game series? The early returns wouldn’t suggest so.