Ducks Drill Down: Insult and (of Course) Injury

‘Ducks Drill Down’ is a regular, ~weekly column that recaps the latest goings-on with the Anaheim Ducks.

Forgive the Anaheim Ducks if they are feeling less thankful than some other NHL teams following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Yes, they should be thankful to be hovering around .500 considering the comical number of injuries they’ve suffered this season. But recency bias might cloud that sentiment.

After winning three straight games, the Ducks have now dropped their last three contests heading into Monday’s road tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Ducks Hit a Rut

Anaheim finds itself with a 10-9-4 record after regulation losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, plus a shootout loss in Los Angeles against the Kings.

Both the Golden Knights and Jets are having surprisingly good seasons to this point, especially the expansion Knights, who remarkably lead the Pacific Division. Vegas, in making its first visit to Honda Center on Nov. 22, looked the part against an apparently unprepared Ducks team.

Not only did the Knights take down the Ducks 4-2, but they outshot them by an obscene margin of 49-19. Goaltender John Gibson continued his strong play and was the only reason this one didn’t get out of hand on the scoreboard, as he stopped 45 shots total and 31 of 32 through two periods. At that point, Anaheim led 2-1, which was a very poor indicator of how the game was actually going. The Ducks had actually led 2-0 on goals by Josh Manson (who has found a scoring touch lately) and Derek Grant before Vegas got the fortune it deserved with one goal in the second and three in the third.

John Gibson’s strong play wasn’t enough to salvage a terrible performance from the rest of the team against the Golden Knights. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Sure, the Ducks might not be at optimal health, but this type of performance is inexcusable regardless. Head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged as much.

“What we were doing out there was not anywhere near what we’re capable of doing,” said Carlyle after the game. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us right now.”

Two days later, the Ducks might not have had as ugly a performance, but the result was the same against the red-hot Winnipeg Jets, who boast a bevy of young talent that is starting to jell and fulfill its potential.

The shots-on-goal margin only saw a 36-31 deficit for the Ducks, but they fell behind very early in this one and were unable to muster a comeback. The Jets’ Nikolaj Ehlers scored twice in the game’s first five minutes. The closest the Ducks would get after that was to 2-1 after Francois Beauchemin notched his first goal of the season in the second period, but Bryan Little extended Winnipeg’s lead to 3-1 later in the frame before Kyle Connor salted things away with an empty-netter in the final stanza.

After this one, Carlyle seemed to be a bit more encouraged and cited a couple of specific areas the Ducks need to shore up.

“We’re not going to throw our hands up in the air,” said Carlyle. “There were some good points in the game. We have to be better in the start, and our special teams have to give us a chance in the game.”

Randy Carlyle Ducks
Randy Carlyle continues to try to piece together a winnign lineup for the depleted Ducks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The next day, Anaheim took a quick trip up the freeway for its second game of the year against the Kings on. The Ducks played a much tighter and even game against their SoCal rivals and held a 1-0 lead for the majority of the contest after Nick Ritchie scored midway through the first period. Backup goalie Ryan Miller made his return to the lineup and had posted a goose egg until just 1:32 remained in the third period, when the Kings’ Dustin Brown tied it up to force overtime.

After a scoreless overtime, Miller, who finished with 33 saves, found himself in his third shootout in just five appearances this season. He and the Ducks would come up short, as LA’s Trevor Lewis scored the deciding tally in the fourth round of the shootout.

It was a better game for the Ducks after a lackluster pair of games on home ice, but they need to stop the bleeding soon.

Rakell Injured

Naturally, the Ducks could not escape the week without some bad news on the injury front to overshadow the good news of Miller returning.

Forward and leading scorer Rickard Rakell was scratched before the game in LA because of an upper-body injury, joining other offensively potent forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Ondrej Kase, and Patrick Eaves on the shelf. Rakell will also miss at least the Ducks’ next game and possibly more, per Carlyle.

Carlyle acknowledged Anaheim’s poor luck in the injury department but refused to use it as an excuse.

“We’re missing five guys out of our top nine forwards,” Carlyle said. “But other teams have injuries too and it’s not an excuse. … When you’re in this business, you expect surprises, you just don’t expect so many of them in a short period of time.”

Hopefully Rakell’s injury will be a very short-term thing, as the Ducks will sorely miss his offensive abilities. In the meantime, the club has recalled forward Kalle Kossila from the AHL.

Rickard Rakell Ducks
Rickard Rakell joins the club of injured Ducks players. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In other news, Sunday provided the icing on the cake of what was a forgettable Thanksgiving week for the Ducks. A Twitter video in questionable taste added insult to injury, as a clip posted by the club’s official account Sunday morning featured an apparently nude Ryan Kesler, who said in the video that he was commemorating the NHL’s 100th birthday in his “birthday suit.”

The Ducks often post fun videos and media to entertain and engage fans, and this one was undoubtedly an attempt in that same vein, but it crossed the line just a bit. The club did the right thing and removed the tweet and video before posting an apology.

While not a major story in the grand scheme of things, it was just another negative aspect to what was a rough week for the team.

Looking Ahead

The Ducks have played 15 of their first 23 games at home. Things will begin to balance out a bit this week, as their Monday evening showdown in Chicago is the first contest in a five-game road trip. The trip will take the Ducks to St. Louis Wednesday night, Columbus Friday, Nashville Saturday, and back west for Vegas the following Tuesday.

The status of Rakell will be something to watch. If all goes well, he’ll return to the lineup sometime during the five-game stretch, even though he will not be with the club to start the trip. In the meantime, Anaheim will need to get back in the win column to avoid falling too far behind in the standings.

The good news for the Ducks is that even though they’ve lost three straight, their last couple of games had some good moments upon which they can build as they continue to try to withstand the injury storm.