‘Ducks Drill Down’ is a regular, ~weekly column that recaps the latest goings-on with the Anaheim Ducks.
In the midst of a six-game road trip, the Anaheim Ducks were in danger of letting their season slip dangerously far from their grasp. A promising 3-1 win in St. Louis was followed by blown two-goal leads in Washington and New Jersey before a 4-1 loss against the New York Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Suddenly 0-2-1 in their last three games, the Ducks were staring at the very real possibility of losing five in a row, given that the next two contests to finish up the road trip were against the potent New York Islanders and the struggling but still dangerous defending Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Two huge wins later, Anaheim now sits in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference as of the short Christmas break. As the Ducks finally come back home, they and their fans will take the ending of the road trip as a nice enough gift with everything they’ve endured so far this season.
Lindholm, Gibson Shine in Key Victories
The Ducks’ defense, which has been considered a major strength over the past few years because of its depth, took some involuntary blows early in the season with injuries and then a voluntary blow recently with the trading of Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for forwards Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi.
In any event, the blue line has had its share of struggles this season. One does not have to look any further than the Ducks’ brutal possession metrics (the Ducks have the fourth-worst 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage in the league), as the club hemorrhages shot attempts against and has forced goaltender John Gibson to stand on his head for a good handful of its victories this season.
One defender the Ducks need to step up and help solidify the back end is Hampus Lindholm, who has also missed pockets of time this season, including the very beginning of the campaign because of offseason shoulder surgery. Last Thursday against the Islanders, Lindholm delivered and then some in an area he’s less known for but in which he has high potential: offense. In particular, goal scoring.
The 23-year-old picked up a hat trick in a crucial 5-4 overtime victory against the Islanders, helping Anaheim stop the bleeding on a road trip that had nearly spiraled out of control. Rickard Rakell rescued the Ducks with a goal with just 1:15 left, as Anaheim had its net empty for an extra skater. Then Lindholm completed his hat trick with the overtime winner. It was a refreshing ending for a team that has struggled mightily in overtime and shootouts.
Saturday brought the Ducks to Pittsburgh for not only the last game of their east-coast swing, but also their final contest before the three-day holiday break. Anaheim played a much tighter game and was aided by goaltender John Gibson when there were breakdowns.
Taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to goals from rising offensive star Ondrej Kase and Rakell, the Ducks were able to build on it rather than give it away as they had in earlier games on the road trip. Andrew Cogliano and Cam Fowler added second-period goals—the latter coming with just four seconds remaining in the frame—to double the lead to 4-0.
Gibson was at his best in that middle stanza, stopping all 13 Penguins shots. He and the Ducks’ defense then kept Pittsburgh off the board in the third as Anaheim skated away with a 4-0 win.
Kesler & Perry on the Mend
While Lindholm and Gibson were critical in salvaging Anaheim’s road trip, captain Ryan Getzlaf also came through in a big way. The top-line center, who missed significant time with a fractured cheekbone, has been outstanding since his return, with nine points in seven games and a six-game point streak. He had four assists in the win over the Islanders in Brooklyn.
Speaking of Getzlaf and his return from injury, the Ducks could soon see center Ryan Kesler (recovering from offseason hip surgery) make his season debut, and then they will hopefully see Corey Perry (knee) back in the lineup shortly thereafter.
In his postgame, RC didn't give any timeline but sounded upbeat about having Ryan Kesler as "another addition to our lineup" and then Corey Perry "shortly thereafter." Again, no timeline but …
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) December 24, 2017
With the Ducks almost back to full health (besides winger Patrick Eaves), there are not going to be any more excuses for playing .500-level hockey. The expectation will be for them to climb up the Pacific Division standings and get into the playoffs with minimal end-of-regular-season drama. Winning at home on Dec. 27 against the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights would be a nice step in that direction.
After that, the Ducks will welcome the Calgary Flames to the Honda Center on Dec. 29 before closing out the 2017 calendar year at home against the Arizona Coyotes in a New Year’s Eve matinee.