In one way, the All-Star break is coming at somewhat of an inopportune time for the Anaheim Ducks, as the club enters the four-day break having won two straight and four of five overall. So any momentum being built up, if you believe in that sort of thing, will briefly be put on hold.
In any event, taking eight out of 10 points at the Honda Center should give the Ducks confidence over the final two-plus months of the season as they look to continue to lock things down at home. The next step will be for that strong play to translate more consistently on the road, where Anaheim has a very pedestrian record of 10-8-6.
Led by their lone All-Star representative, Rickard Rakell (somehow goaltender John Gibson was snubbed), as well as under-the-radar MVP candidate Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks are starting to score more and could be a dangerous team no one would want to see in the playoffs—as long as they manage to get in.
Ducks Rebound from Loss to Sharks
After a loss to the San Jose Sharks that spiraled out of control en route to a 6-2 final, Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle juggled his lines a bit, highlighted by moving veteran leader Corey Perry to the fourth line and rising youngster Ondrej Kase to the top line with Getzlaf and Rakell.
The move paid immediate dividends against the sliding New York Rangers, as, despite being outshot 44-31 for the game and 18-8 in the first period, Anaheim overwhelmed the Blueshirts and an unusually shaky Henrik Lundqvist with four goals in the opening frame. The Ducks took full advantage of Ranger turnovers that led to odd-man opportunities. Perry also delivered a power-play goal on a breakaway in the first period and later an assist on Rakell’s power-play marker in the third. Not bad after a fourth-line demotion.
Adam Henrique continued to be a noticeable contributor to his new team, also converting on a breakaway in the opening period after a pretty move completely froze goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who had relieved Lundqvist by that point. In keeping with things thematically, J.T. Brown, a more recent addition to the club, picked up his first goal of the season off a two-on-one rush, opening the scoring.
Gibson and the Ducks were able to thwart a Rangers comeback attempt and eventually skated away to a 6-3 victory after the Blueshirts had cut the lead to 4-3 entering the final 20 minutes.
Two nights later, Anaheim passed a stiffer test by defeating the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout, 4-3. The Ducks outshot the Jets by a 39-27 margin, including a 6-0 edge in an atypically dominant overtime where they controlled the puck pretty much the entire time and did everything but score.
Positives in that contest included yet another goal from Henrique, as well as Nick Ritchie picking up a goal for just the fourth time this season and the first time since Nov. 25. Coming off a 14-goal, 14-assist season in 2016-17, as well as a solid postseason performance, the 22-year-old power forward seemed poised to break out this season, but alas, it has not happened. Even though his goal was somewhat fluky in that it was a Henrique shot that happened to bounce off his skate, perhaps that’s the confidence boost Ritchie needs to reach a higher level of play for the remainder of the season.
Negatives, on the other hand, included a 0-for-4 performance on the power play after notching two with the man advantage against the Rangers. More notably and worrying, though, was Gibson exiting the game late in the third period with a lower-body injury after Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler collided with him in the crease. Thankfully, Ryan Miller stepped in and was perfect in the shootout. But with the severity of Gibson’s injury not yet known, the Ducks and their fans will have to hold their collective breath.
Rakell Scores Twice in All-Star Game
Despite a stellar season from Gibson and the MVP-caliber play of Getzlaf since his return from injury, Rakell was the Ducks’ only representative at the All-Star Game in Tampa, Florida. While perhaps better known for his slick hands and scoring touch, Rakell’s involvement in Saturday’s skills competitions was limited to the fastest skater contest. Connor McDavid, last year’s winner and this year’s runaway favorite, indeed took home the title once again. Rakell had a solid showing with a time of 14.181 seconds around the rink—about 0.7 seconds behind McDavid and good for fifth place out of eight skaters.
Rakell saved the really good stuff for the actual gameplay on Sunday, where he scored two goals in the final of the 3-on-3 tournament against the Atlantic Division, helping the Pacific take home the title in a 5-2 victory. There is a $1 million prize for the Pacific Division, which will be split up among the 11 team members. It thus seems reasonable to believe that Rakell’s Anaheim teammates will push for him to take them out to a few nice dinners.
Another highlight of the weekend was that Ducks fan Katie Hawley—a 17-year-old who has fought off cancer multiple times and is set for surgery to remove her thyroid in a couple of weeks—got to accompany Rakell during the All-Star weekend. On opening night, the Ducks honored Katie as the “21st Duck” to help put a smile on her face and lend their support. Rakell, her favorite player, had already formed a special bond with Katie, and that continued during the All-Star festivities.
“It’s been a special weekend for both of us,” said Rakell. “I had a lot of fun, and it’s been awesome for me to have (Katie) with me and just to put a smile on her face.”
Ducks’ Upcoming Schedule
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Ducks will find themselves on another eastern swing that begins in Boston on Tuesday, Jan. 30 against the red-hot Bruins. They’ll then head north of the border to Ottawa to take on the disappointing Senators on Thursday before continuing on to Montreal for a game against the also-disappointing Canadiens. That one is a matinee affair at 1:00 p.m. local time, so that’s 10:00 in the morning for Ducks fans back out west.
The Ducks, with 57 points through 50 games, are in a tight battle for both the second wild-card spot and the second and third positions in the Pacific Division. As it seems to be every year in the Western Conference, their playoff aspirations could come down to the wire, but of course, they’d surely like to do all they can to secure their position sooner.