‘Ducks Drill Down’ is a regular, ~weekly column that recaps the latest goings-on with the Anaheim Ducks.
After their first-ever game in Las Vegas, the Anaheim Ducks returned home from their five-game road trip. While their three games last week were bookended by shootout and overtime losses, a solid 3-0 victory over the slumping Ottawa Senators in between allowed them to pick up four of a possible six points during the week. A clean sweep and a reversal of their overtime struggles would have been nice, but the Ducks will take the points.
The better news is that they are slowly getting closer to icing an optimal lineup (Patrick Eaves’ indefinite absence notwithstanding), as their top two centers, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, both practiced last week.
Getzlaf, Silfverberg, & Kesler Nearing Returns
Getzlaf, recovering from a fractured cheekbone that has kept him out of action since Oct. 29 in Carolina, is further along than Kesler, as projected. His return could coincide with that of winger Jakob Silfverberg, who has not played since Nov. 29 in St. Louis after sustaining an upper-body injury. Interestingly enough for the veteran Getzlaf, who will finally be wearing a face shield, his first game back could be against none other than Carolina on Monday night. Hopefully he will last longer than he did against the Hurricanes on Oct. 29, when a puck hit him in the face and caused the fracture before the game was a minute old.
Signs are pointing toward Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg being with Ducks for Monday's game against Carolina. Top six in practice was Rakell-Getzlaf-Perry and Cogliano-Henrique-Silfverberg.
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) December 9, 2017
Now that actually looks like a formidable top six, especially with Henrique solidifying things down the middle. It’s a refreshing change for the Ducks, who have stumbled through this season held loosely together by Scotch tape and somehow managed a just-above .500 record at 12-11-7. Having some more depth up front will help assuage the blue line’s depletion after Sami Vatanen’s departure and the latest injury to defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who is on injured reserve and does not appear to be too close to returning.
Regarding Henrique, he has paid immediate dividends after coming over from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Vatanen. In just five games with the Ducks, the 27-year-old has picked up six points (three goals and three assists) while recording at least one point in every contest.
“I’ve felt good on the ice, which I think has been the most important thing for me,” Henrique said after notching two goals against the Senators on Dec. 6. “Adjusting to new systems, the new language, kind of all that. Getting on the same page with new linemates. So I think that’s been the biggest thing for me. And I felt good.
“Obviously the points are a nice touch.”
Kesler’s eventual return will present the Ducks with a deep center corps. Henrique could slide down to the third line, giving Anaheim scoring punch in the bottom six and thereby creating matchup problems for opponents. Faceoff specialist Antoine Vermette would serve as a quality fourth-line pivot.
Coming off offseason hip surgery and needing to adjust his skating to mitigate the stress placed on his lower body in his immediate return means Kesler will still need a bit more time. His return date is not certain, but his presence at practice is obviously a great sign, and perhaps points to general manager Bob Murray’s pre-Christmastime estimate as being not too far off.
Points Amidst Overtime Struggles
As the Ducks look forward to the returns of some of their key players, they continue to keep their heads above water in the standings. Taking four of six points is unquestionably a net positive, though Anaheim’s inability to put games away or gain the extra overtime point has to leave a somewhat sour taste.
The Ducks are just 2-7 in games decided beyond regulation, including a mark of 0-3 in the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime session. Against the Golden Knights last Tuesday, they held a 3-2 lead in the third period before yielding the tying marker with just 4:22 to go. They would go on to lose in a shootout.
After shutting out Ottawa, they fell in the overtime session to the Minnesota Wild. It was a different scenario, as Henrique tied the game at 2 for Anaheim with 6:25 left in regulation. So in that sense, the Ducks had to be happy to get the game to overtime. However, they let another chance for an extra point slip away when Minnesota’s Matt Dumba walked in alone to the front of the net before depositing the game-winning goal.
As good as it is for the Ducks to be getting something out of these games where they are icing a suboptimal lineup, they need to eventually start picking up the extra point when they have the opportunity, as a playoff berth could very well come down to the slimmest of margins.
After Monday’s home tilt against the Hurricanes (and the potential returns of Getzlaf and Silfverberg), the Ducks will head out for another long road trip as their home-heavy schedule from the early part of the season starts to come back into balance. They’ll be in St. Louis again on Thursday before playing the Capitals in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
Beyond that, they’ll round out the six-game trip the following week with four games against Metropolitan Division foes (the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins). It’s a tough stretch, but the Ducks should be better equipped to handle it from a lineup standpoint.