With just eight games remaining the regular season the Anaheim Ducks are tied for first in the Pacific Division with the San Jose Sharks. Significant, yes, but there is a resounding message coming from players and coaches alike — being in first place or even winning the Pacific Division means nothing to the Ducks. They’re focused on getting their game sharp and peaking just in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Their disinterest in regular season titles aside, it’s worth mentioning that the Ducks and the Sharks appear to be going in opposite directions currently. The Ducks have won eight of their last 11 games and are currently riding a three game win streak, while the Sharks have spent most of March losing to Central Division opponents.
If the playoffs began today, the Ducks would draw the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. While they may be young, the Oilers are a quick and extremely talented group. Beating the Oilers four times is no easy task, especially in the opening round of the playoffs. The Ducks don’t match up particularly well against speed and shutting down Connor McDavid over the course of a playoff series may prove impossible.
On the other hand, if the Ducks can secure their fifth consecutive Pacific Division title, they will face the Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators or St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Ducks match up much better with any of these three opponents than they do with the Oilers.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are hot, winning nine of their last 10 games. However, five of these wins came against non-playoff teams, including two against the bottom-dwelling Colorado Avalanche, and the Ducks are responsible for the Blues’ lone in their last 10.
Despite having a poor record against the Predators in the postseason, the Ducks would look pretty good if they drew the Predators in the first round. The Predators top six forwards are highlighted by Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and everybody’s favorite diver James Neal. Defending against the Predators attack is much more manageable than stopping the Oilers’ top two lines. And we all know the Ducks would surely love to avenge their first round loss to the Predators last season.
The best possible scenario for the Ducks would be a first round series against the Flames. With the exception of Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames top six forwards lack grit, in my opinion. As talented as Johnny Gaudreau may be, his 5-foot-9, 157 pound frame is not exactly built for playoff hockey. Additionally, the Ducks will have the psychological advantage.
The last time the Flames won in Anaheim, Matthew Tkachuk was an unenthusiastic child hanging out with his dad at the ASG. pic.twitter.com/2TCw3rPrEs
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) November 7, 2016
Calgary will have to contend with the ‘Honda Center curse’ — the Flames’ NHL record losing streak in Anaheim. You would have to go all the way back to January 19, 2004 to find the Flames last win in what was then known as the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. To put that in perspective, Matthew Tkachuk was only a small child the last time the Flames won a road game against the Ducks.
Ready for Postseason
They haven’t mathematically clinched a playoff spot yet, but even if the Ducks suffered an epic collapse the Los Angeles Kings would still likely have to win every game left in their season to bump them. They appear to be ready to compete with whatever team they face when the playoffs begin, which bodes well for the club as the playoffs are just a couple of weeks away.
Ducks fans are finally seeing their team playing to their ability. Captain Ryan Getzlaf is leading by example, posting 16 points in his last 11 games. Corey Perry has scored four goals in his last nine games playing fewer minutes with lower skill-level teammates. The entire team is hitting their stride and just in time, as the real hockey is just around the corner.
John lives on California’s central coast and covers the Anaheim Ducks.